SAUSALITO, Calif., Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Shorter telomeres -- DNA-protein complexes at the end of chromosomes -- increase disease risk, but this may be reversed via lifestyle, a U.S. researcher says.
Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, say telomere shortness in human beings is emerging as a prognostic marker of disease risk, progression and premature mortality.
Severe stress such as caring for a spouse or parent with dementia has been shown to shorten telomeres of the caregiver, but Ornish says that telomere shortening is counteracted by the cellular enzyme telomerase -- via lifestyle changes.
"We aimed to assess whether three months of intensive lifestyle changes increased telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells -- PBMC," Ornish says in a statement.
Thirty men with biopsy-diagnosed low-risk prostate cancer were asked to make comprehensive lifestyle changes and telomerase enzymatic activity was measured.
The lifestyle changes include: eating a diet of 10 percent fat; little refined sugar; eating lots of produce; taking vitamins and fish body oils, a half-hour of exercise daily, stress management, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
The study, published online ahead of print in the November The Lancet Oncology, found lifestyle changes significantly increase telomerase activity.