Healthy Lifestyle Lengthens Telomeres?

Diet, exercise, and stress management may lengthen telomeres, a new study shows, though some scientists are skeptical.

By | September 18, 2013

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY HUMAN GENOME PROGRAMLifestyle changes meant to increase physical fitness, lower stress, and alter diet were associated with lengthened telomeres in a small group of men, according to a study published yesterday (September 17) in The Lancet Oncology.

Telomeres are protective assemblages of DNA and protein at the ends of chromosomes. They guard the chromosomes from disintegration, and shorten with age. Telomere length is considered a marker of cellular health. “The more people changed their lifestyle, the more their telomeres got longer,” study coauthor Dean Ornish from of the University of California, San Francisco, told NPR.

Ornish and his colleagues recruited men with low-risk prostate cancer to either receive help changing their lifestyles or to be part of a control group and receive no lifestyle intervention. Members of the intervention group were taught to eat a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, and legumes, and received meals during the early months of the study. They engaged in moderate exercise, attended support groups, and were taught stress management techniques, including yoga and meditation.

At the end of a five-year period, 10 men from the intervention group and 25 from the control group provided blood samples, which the researchers used to measure the length of their telomeres. The researchers found significantly longer telomeres in members of the intervention group than in controls.

However, some scientists who were not involved in the study urged caution when interpreting its findings. Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University told New Scientist that the researchers measured telomere length using a method of questionable accuracy.

Medical journalist Larry Husten pointed out in a Forbes article that the study drew its conclusions from a very small group of men and that, since there were so many interventions applied, it was unclear which ones had actually helped.

And Nir Barzilai of Albert Einstein College of Medicine said that it remains unclear whether longer telomeres led to better health or whether telomere length was simply a marker of better health. “Either you’re healthy, so you have longer telomeres. Or you have longer telomeres, and that's why you’re healthy,” he told NPR. “You can pick and choose what you believe in and make an argument.”

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Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 481

September 19, 2013

Excerpt: “You can pick and choose what you believe in and make an argument.”

Thanks for acknowleding that.

I've made my argument for the belief that telomere length reflects the required epigenetic effects of the sensory environment on nutrient-dependent, pheromone-controlled, microRNA/messenger RNA-balanced thermodynamic intercellular signaling and intranuclear interactions that enable alternative splicings and stochastic gene expression exemplified in the experience-dependent de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes during the adaptive evolution of species from microbes to man. Obviously, my argument includes what is currently known about the complexity of systems biology and ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction -- and organism-level thermoregulation required for telomere stability. See, for example, Nutrient-dependent / pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model.

For comparison, others have argued for mutation-driven evolution, which was finally refuted in a scientific experiment (reported last week). Those who chose to continue arguing for the role of mutations in evolution must now do so in the absence of any evidence that mutations become fixed in the organized genome of any species that has adaptively evolved. However, if experimental evidence ever does show that mutations are fixed (e.g., species-wide) in any species, it could then be compared to nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled fixation of new alleles in species from microbes to man.

Why wait? You can still argue for mutation-driven evolution and against nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution, as many have been doing for more than five decades. The problem is that their argument lacks any biological basis whatsoever, and finally an experiment has shown that.

But don't let the lack of biological facts stop you. “You can pick and choose what you believe in and make an argument.” --  Nir Barzilai

Yes, as always, you have permission to argue based on your beliefs and to avoid discussion of biological facts, especially if any of them incorporate the physiology of reproduction into models of adaptive evolution (see, for example: From Fertilization to Adult Sexual Behavior (1996), which includes our section on molecular epigenetics, and see: Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology.

Ladies and Gentleman, start your belief-based arguments for mutations theory (or simply continue them in the absence of biological facts). Fifty-plus years may not be enough time for a paradigm shift. I can wait!

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