Lifestyle Changes May Affect How Quickly Cells Age

September 16, 2008 09:27 AM
by Cara McDonough
A study led by Dr. Dean Ornish shows that social, dietary and exercise-related lifestyle changes may increase a cell enzyme that helps to slow aging.

Improving Cell Health

Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that affect how quickly cells age—the shorter the telomeres become, the more quickly cells die and, therefore, the shorter a person’s life becomes. Telomerase, an enzyme, repairs and lengthens telomeres.

A press release from the journal The Lancet Oncology, which will publish the study, reports that the data collected by Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues may be the first to conclude that “comprehensive lifestyle changes” significantly increase telomerase, thus improving cell health.

Ornish, who is with the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Sausalito, Calif., and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study of 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer. The men were asked to make several lifestyle changes, including attending a three-day retreat; eating a diet low in refined sugars and rich in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, with only 10 percent of calories derived from fat; and engaging in several other activities, such as moderate aerobic exercise, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.

Telomerase levels were measured at baseline, and again after three months, when researchers discovered that, in the 24 participants with sufficient data for analysis, telomerase in the blood had increased by 29 percent.

Increases of the enzyme were also associated with decreased levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower stress.

The study authors said that “The implications of this study are not limited to men with prostate cancer. Comprehensive lifestyle changes may cause improvements in telomerase and telomeres that may be beneficial to the general population as well,” according to the press release.

Background: The role of telomerase in aging, cancer

Another recent study conducted by The Wistar Institute, a biomdedical research institute in Pennsylvania, revealed the three-dimensional structure of the active region of telomerase, illustrating specifically how the enzyme works in aging, as well as in cancer. The research was reported in the August edition of the journal Nature.

Scientists who led the research hope it could one day be useful in cancer therapies. 

Telomerase is active in embryonic stem cells and other cells that multiply frequently, but is switched off almost entirely in normal adult cells “to prevent the dangers of runaway proliferation,” according to HealthDay news. However, in cancer cells, the ability to activate telomerase is often regained.

The enzyme is beneficial, however, for its role in the aging of cells. When telomerase is dormant in adult cells those cells eventually die, but when it is active cells continue dividing and go on living, which is why “scientists believe that preserving telomerase under controlled conditions could possibly lead to new anti-aging therapies,” reports HealthDay.

Related Topic: Extending the human lifespan

Extending the human lifespan has always been a popular topic and the subject of research that can sometimes sound unbelievable.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a researcher at Cambridge University, reported in January that he believes it is possible to slow down the aging process allowing humans to add years—possibly hundreds—to their lifespan.

His theory, called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), holds that there are seven components to aging and if each of the seven factors is handled correctly, the aging process stops. He believes that 200 could soon become a reasonable life expectancy, although he has many critics who say his ideas are unfounded.

Other theories are less dramatic. In June, a new study suggested that moderate consumption of red wine may be effective in extending life. The compound resveratrol, an ingredient in some red wines, has been found to activate protein agents that preserve and protect tissues in the human body.

The findings prompted some researchers to begin taking daily capsules resveratrol, while others wondered if there is enough data on the compound’s effectiveness and safety.

Key Players: Dr. Dean Ornish

Reference: Ornish’s study


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