Healthy lifestyle triggers genetic changes

Healthy lifestyle triggers genetic changes

By Will Dunham / Reuters
June 16, 2008


Comprehensive lifestyle changes
including a better diet and more exercise can lead not only to
a better physique, but also to swift and dramatic changes at
the genetic level, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

In a small study, the researchers tracked 30 men with
low-risk prostate cancer who decided against conventional
medical treatment such as surgery and radiation or hormone
therapy.

The men underwent three months of major lifestyle changes,
including eating 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.

As expected, they lost weight, lowered their blood pressure
and saw other health improvements. But the researchers found
more profound changes when they compared prostate biopsies
taken before and after the lifestyle changes.

After the three months, the men had changes in activity in
about 500 genes — including 48 that were turned on and 453
genes that were turned off.

The activity of disease-preventing genes increased while a
number of disease-promoting genes, including those involved in
prostate cancer and breast cancer, shut down, according to the
study published in the journal Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences.

The research 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.

"It’s an exciting finding because so often people say, ‘Oh,
it’s all in my genes, what can I do?’ Well, it turns out you
may be able to do a lot," Ornish, who is also affiliated with
the University of California, San Francisco, said in a
telephone interview.

"’In just three months, I can change hundreds of my genes
simply by changing what I eat and how I live?’ That’s pretty
exciting," Ornish said. "The implications of our study are not
limited to men with prostate cancer."

Ornish said the men avoided conventional medical treatment
for prostate cancer for reasons separate from the study. But in
making that decision, they allowed the researchers to look at
biopsies in people with cancer before and after lifestyle
changes.

"It gave us the opportunity to have an ethical reason for
doing repeat biopsies in just a three-month period because they
needed that anyway to look at their clinical changes (in their
prostate cancer)," Ornish said.

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