Washington: Changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support may lengthen telomeres, which are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life, a new study has revealed.
Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. They are combinations of DNA and protein that protect the ends of chromosomes and help them remain stable. As they become shorter, and as their structural integrity weakens, the cells age and die quicker.
The study was conducted by Dean Ornish at UC San Francisco and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, investigated the effect of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease.
The lead author said that our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate and can be altered by following a healthy lifestyle.
For five years, the researchers followed 35 men with localized, early-stage prostate cancer to explore the relationship between comprehensive lifestyle changes, and telomere length and telomerase activity.
Ten of the patients embarked on lifestyle changes that included: a plant-based diet; moderate exercise; stress reduction, and were compared to the other 25 study participants who were not asked to make major lifestyle changes.
The group that made the lifestyle changes experienced a "significant" increase in telomere length of approximately 10 percent. Further, the more people changed their behaviour by adhering to the recommended lifestyle program, the more dramatic their improvements in telomere length, the scientists learned.
By contrast, the men in the control group who were not asked to alter their lifestyle had measurably shorter telomeres - nearly 3 percent shorter - when the five-year study ended. Telomere length usually decreases over time.
The new study was designed to determine if the lifestyle changes would affect telomere length and telomerase activity in these men over a longer time period.
"Telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases," Carroll said. "We believe that increases in telomere length may help to prevent these conditions and perhaps even lengthen lifespan."
The study is published in The Lancet Oncology.