Dean Ornish Lifestyle Research

Autumn 2017, Living Well Magazine

For a decade Dean Ornish has studied prostate cancer and the effects of lifestyle interventions on the progression of the disease. The long-term studies have consistently shown that intensive lifestyle changes have been shown to decease Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) readings, increase telomere length, and slow the progression of prostate cancer.

A combination of exercise, stress management, group support, and choosing a vegan diet* have been shown to have remarkable results. The Ornish program for cancer measured changes in PSA levels at one-year, two-year, and five-year intervals, observing the predicted effects of radical lifestyle interventions. Significant decreases in PSA levels were recorded, as was an increase in telomerase activity. 

Telomeres can be compared to small protective caps of DNA and protein at the end of each chromosome. They are an essential part of cell structure, and affect cellular aging. As telomeres shorten, their structural integrity deteriorates and cells age and die more quickly. The shortening of telomeres has been associated with a broad range of disease, including cancer, stroke, obesity, vascular dementia and cardiovascular disease.

Professor Ornish, leading author, and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute, believes that his findings indicate that telomere length may increase with lifestyle interventions. He says, “Research indicates that longer telomeres re associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.” (UCSF, 2013).

The study recorded data from men with early prostate cancer, who had chosen not to undertake any conventional treatment. Ninety-two patients were randomised to either the lifestyle (experimental) group, or to a control group with minimal lifestyle changes. The experimental group were asked to walk for thirty minutes, six times a week; partake in gentle yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR); attend group support for one hour weekly; and choose a vegan diet of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and soy, supplemented by vitamin E (400IU daily), selenium (200mcg daily) and vitamin C (2gms daily). Only ten percent of calories came from fats, including the only non-vegan component of the diet, a supplement of 3gms of fish oil daily.

After one year, PSA levels had decreased by 4% in the lifestyle group and increased by 6% in the control group. After two years, 27% of patients in the control group had required treatment for cancer progression, but only 5% of the lifestyle group needed other treatment. It seems that the programme not only down-regulated gene expression for prostate cancer, it increased telomerase activity (telomerase being enzyme that lengthens and repairs telomeres). These results are incredible.

The follow up study after five years, investigating the long-term effect of lifestyle change on telomere length in men who had biopsy-proven, low-risk prostate cancer, showed a significantly increased telomere length in participants who had adhered to the lifestyle changes. The control group underwent active surveillance only, and showed a notable decrease in telomere length.

Ornish says, “Our comprehensive lifestyle intervention was associated with relative telomere length after five years of follow-up, compared with controls, in this small pilot study. Larger randomised controlled trials are warranted to confirm this finding.”  There seems little doubt that these breakthrough findings will be confirmed by larger studies. Meanwhile, it seems clear that lifestyle choices have a huge impact on health, and a few simple changes can have a profound and long-lasting effect.

*Ornish does recommend a supplement of fish oil. It is acknowledged that this is not a vegan food.

Research/References: 
Ornish D. Weidner G. Fair WR. et al. Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Journal of Urology. 2005;174(3):1065-9.
Ornish et al. Journal of Urology 2005;174:1065-70.
Ornish D, Lin J, Chan JM, Epel E, Kemp C, Weidner G, Marlin R, Frenda SJ, Magbanua MJ, Daubenmier J, Estay I, Hills NK, Chainani-Wu N, Carroll PR, Blackburn EH. Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2013 Sep 16. doi:pii: S1470-2045(13)70366-8. 10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8

This article first appeared on the OutsmartCancer.org website.  The OutsmartCancer.org website is a new Australian resource for anyone affected by cancer, both directly and indirectly. Housing a comprehensive collection of evidence-based information across Lifestyle Medicine, Conventional Medicine and Complementary Therapies, OutsmartCancer.org addresses the important for a whole-person approach to cancer treatment, management and prevention.