by Vesanto Melina
When you consider the diseases and deaths of older people in your family, does it seem like your life might follow a similar pattern? Well, it turns out that changing your lifestyle can actually change your genes. Through lifestyle choices, we can turn on the genes that keep us healthy and turn off the genes that contribute to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and the oncogenes that promote prostate, breast and colon cancer.
Studies have shown that within three months, a shift in habits can alter more than 500 genes. One researcher on this subject, Dr. Dean Ornish, revolutionized medicine with his powerful evidence that four lifestyle choices – adopting a plant-centred diet, getting moderate and regular exercise, reducing stress and not smoking – could turn around heart disease. Starting with prostate cancer, Ornish has extended his research into the exploration of various cancers.
One study was co-conducted with Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the 2009 Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres, the protective ends of our chromosomes that control aging. They are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces that keep your shoelaces from unravelling. The telomeres keep your DNA from unravelling. As our telomeres get shorter, our lives get shorter and the risk of disease and premature death increases. Blackburn investigated the actions of telomerase, the enzyme that can replenish and counteract the shortening of telomeres.
Short telomere length in blood cells is associated with ageing and ageing-related diseases, such as cancer, stroke, vascular dementia (Alzheimer’s), cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. For example, men with shortened telomere length in prostate-cancer-associated stromal cells are at a substantially increased risk of metastasis or dying from prostate cancer.
I had the privilege of being a staff dietitian on some of Ornish’s groundbreaking research on the reversal of cardiovascular disease through the four lifestyle changes noted above. Participants adopted low-fat diets centred on whole plant foods. Simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes were shown to turn around disease indicators within a short period of time, not just by affecting symptoms, as drugs do, but by also addressing the underlying causes.
Whoopi Goldberg says, “74 is the new middle age.” This month, I turn 75 and I hope I am just two-thirds of the way along the path! On March 31, I will be speaking in Vancouver on creating a life lengthening lifestyle. I’ll also address the latest tips about dietary sources of iron, optimal serum ferritin levels, keeping blood glucose level throughout the day, protective phytochemicals and practical tips for excellent protein intakes on plant-based diets. This event takes place in Vancouver`s first cohousing community, a modern form of village that was first developed in Denmark in the early 1970s. Cohousing effectively solves some of the problems of isolation that can occur in modern urban living and allows for the psychosocial support that has been shown to reduce risk of chronic disease.
Vesanto Melina Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books.www.nutrispeak.com