During a pilot study of prostate cancer patients, scientists from the University of California found that those who adopted a healthy diet, exercise regime and learned 'stress management' techniques such as meditation or yoga developed younger-looking chromosomes over the course of five years.
In the small study of just 35 patients, each of whom had a non-aggressive form of prostate cancer, ten men were tasked with a dramatic lifestyle change, eating a plant-based diet of whole foods, taking moderate exercise, using stress management and attending regular group support classes. The remaining 25 made no change to their lifestyle.
Researchers then examined changes in the volunteers' telomeres, structures that prevent the DNA within chromosomes from being damaged. Over time these telomeres shorten, causing cells to age and die more rapidly.
Lead researcher Professor Dean Ornish, whose study was published in The Lancet Oncology journal, said: "The implications of this relatively small pilot study may go beyond men with prostate cancer.
"If validated by large-scale randomised controlled trials, these comprehensive lifestyle changes may significantly reduce the risk of a wide variety of disease and premature mortality. Our genes, and our telomeres are a predisposition, but they are not necessarily our fate."
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