More on diet and prostate cancer from Dean Ornish

According to a report in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (also available on SFGate) results from a limited study by Blackburn, Ornish, and others on 30 prostate cancer patients were published today in Lancet Oncology.  Supposedly these data indicate that “major lifestyle changes may prevent early cell death and lengthen human life.” However, the researchers caution that with such a limited number of patients their study is only preliminary, and they call for a much larger and strictly controlled research project.

The research team studied the levels of an enzyme called telomerase in prostate tissue from 30 cancer patients who had volunteered to follow a low-fat diet, exercise moderately, and reduce their stress. (These are the same 30 patients in whom Ornish et al. reported significant changes in the cancer-causing genes within the prostate tissue earlier in June this year.)

In the current report, after 3 months, 24/30 patients showed a significant increase in their telomerase levels — suggesting the possibility that the cell-protecting telomeres in their cells were being restored.

The telomerase enzyme was discovered by Blackburn and her colleagues in 1984. It repairs telomeres that are in the process of dying and thus prevents cell death. Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes in the body, but they shorten naturally and will die unless the telomerase enzyme acts to repair them and increase their length. Indeed shortened telomeres may be an indicator of disease risk and premature death in many types of cancer.

Dr. Jue Lin, a molecular biologist in Blackburn’s laboratory, is supposed to have stated that their team had already been looking at the relationship between human stress and cellular aging as telomeres die. The volunteer patients in the separate prostate cancer study led by Ornish seemed appropriate for Blackburn’s team to learn what was happening to the telomerase they were studying, Jue said.

Jue also stated that the association between the extremely healthy habits of these patients and the increased amount of telomerase proved highly significant. “But at this point one can only speculate that the change in lifestyle is a cause of the increase in telomerase levels,” she said.

The patients at Ornish’s research institute spent three days in a residential retreat where they learned stress-reduction techniques and undertook to follow a diet that included only 10 percent caloric content from fat and was low in refined sugars and rich in fruits, vegetables and natural foods, plus vitamin supplements and fish oil. They also did moderate aerobic exercises and learned relaxation techniques. All these eating and exercising habits, plus yoga and meditation, have long been part of the programs Ornish prescribes as effective for preventing and even reversing heart disease.

The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink notes that the regimen prescribed by Ornish is considered “rigorous” by many. We have limited information on the percentage of people who can maintain such a diet and lifestyle for extended periods of time, even if they could be shown to extend survival. It is generally well known that the majority of patients (prostate cancewr and others) aren’t even able to maintain a daily one-drug regimen, let alone a rigorous diet and lifestyle regimen.

One Response

  1. For those who are interested, BioHermit offers his opinion about the value of this study on his blog in an article entitled, “Does Anti-aging Stand For Anti-cancer or Pro-cancer?” If you want to know what a “biohermit” is, you’ll have to ask the author.

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