Disease risk, progression, and premature mortality—in many types of cancer and in cardiovascular and infectious diseases—have been linked to telomeres, which are protective DNA-protein complexes that keep cells genetically stable. The cellular enzyme telomerase is an important part of the body's maintenance system for these essential complexes. For example, a previous investigation found that increased stress among caregivers of Alzheimer's patients was associated with lower telomerase activity and telomere shortening.
In a recent pilot study funded by NCCAM and several other sponsors, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco investigated the effects of lifestyle changes on telomerase levels in 24 men with low-risk prostate cancer. The participants underwent a comprehensive lifestyle modification that included:
- Improved nutrition (a very low-fat diet supplemented with soy, fish oil, selenium, and vitamins C and E)
- Moderate aerobic exercise
- Stress management (yoga, breathing, meditation, imagery, and progressive relaxation techniques)
- Increased social support.
After 3 months, the study participants' telomerase activity had increased 29.8 percent. Decreases in psychological distress and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were associated with the increase in telomerase activity.
This is the first longitudinal study to suggest that lifestyle modifications (or any intervention) might significantly increase telomerase activity. The researchers emphasize that additional research is needed and recommend larger randomized controlled trials to confirm the findings.
Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, et al. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. The Lancet Oncology.; 9(11):1048–1057.2008
Damjanovic AK, Yang Y, Glaser R, et al. Accelerated telomere erosion is associated with a declining immune function of caregivers of Alzheimer's disease patients. Journal of Immunology.; 179(6):4249–4254.2007