WASHINGTON Sweeping lifestyle changes including a better diet and more exercise can raise the body's levels of an enzyme closely involved in controlling the aging process, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.
The small study involved 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer who underwent three months of lifestyle changes. They had blood levels of the enzyme telomerase 29 percent higher after these three months than when they began.
Telomerase fixes and lengthens parts of chromosomes known as telomeres that control longevity and are also important for maintenance of immune-system cells.
The research in the journal Lancet Oncology was led by Dr. Dean Ornish, head of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, and a well-known author advocating lifestyle changes to improve health.
The lifestyle changes included a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products, moderate exercise such as walking for half an hour a day, and an hour of daily stress management methods such as meditation.
"This is the first study showing that anything can increase telomerase. If it were a new drug that had been shown to do this, it would be a billion-dollar drug. But this is something that people can do for free," Ornish said in a telephone interview.
Shortening of telomeres is seen as an indicator of disease risk and premature death in some types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer.
Previously published findings from the same group of men showed they experienced dramatic changes at the genetic level.
As expected, they lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and saw other health improvements.
They also had changes in activity in about 500 genes. The activity of disease-preventing genes increasing while some disease-promoting genes, including those involved in prostate cancer and breast cancer, shut down, the researchers said.
(Editing by Alan Elsner and Julie Steenhuysen)