Research into Reversing Aging

Research into Reversing Aging
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The first dietary intervention shown to boost telomerase activity.

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All right, let me close out with one final round. First, a bit of background. Each one of us has 46 strands of DNA in each of our cells, coiled into chromosomes. At the tips of each chromosome, at the end of each DNA strand, there’s a cap, like the tip of a shoelace, which keeps our DNA from unraveling and fraying. That cap is called a telomere.

Every time our cells divide, though, a bit of that cap is lost. And when it’s completely gone, the cell stops dividing, or dies. So telomeres have been thought of as kind of our life “fuse.” They start shortening as soon as we’re born, and when they’re gone, we’re gone. In fact, forensic scientists can take DNA from a bloodstain, and tell you how old the person was, based on how long the telomeres are.

The thought is, if we can slow down this ticking clock, slow down this shortening, we may be able to slow down aging and live longer. So, what do we have to do? Stop smoking—#1—which has been shown to significantly eat away our protective telomeres. But is there anything in our diet that’s accelerating the process, speeding up aging? We didn’t know, until last year.

120-food-item questionnaire. Two foods were associated with telomere shortening—accelerated aging; you tell me which ones. In alphabetical order: coffee, fried foods, high-fat dairy, non-fried fish, processed meat, red meat, refined grains, or high fructose corn syrup-containing soda. I’ll give you a hint; one of them was processed meat. But which was the other one?

It was the fish, nipping at our DNA. Eating fish appeared to age people’s DNA six years, and processed meat 14 years, in terms of how short the telomeres were of fish- and lunch-meat-eaters.

So, fish and bacon appear to speed aging up. But is there any way to slow aging down, or even actually turn back the cellular clock, and actually repair and lengthen our telomeres back up? Yes, but it appears we have to eat vegan.

Dr. Dean Ornish wasn’t satisfied with just reversing heart disease and cancer, so now he’s trying his hand at reversing aging. There’s a tree, called a bristle cone pine, which is the oldest living thing on earth. There’s one in California that started growing around the time the Egyptian pyramids were being built, about 5,000 years ago. And the tree is still going strong. Scientists found an enzyme in its roots called telomerase, which could actually rebuild the telomeres, and humans have the enzyme, too.

The problem is that no one had ever found a way to boost its activity. But that’s because no one had ever tried a whole foods, plant-based diet before. In a study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, Ornish found that after just three months of a whole foods, plant-based diet—along with exercise—one could significantly boost telomerase activity.

The accompanying editorial celebrated this breakthrough, and hoped that this “exciting outcome…[would] encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid or combat cancer and age-related diseases.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

 

All right, let me close out with one final round. First, a bit of background. Each one of us has 46 strands of DNA in each of our cells, coiled into chromosomes. At the tips of each chromosome, at the end of each DNA strand, there’s a cap, like the tip of a shoelace, which keeps our DNA from unraveling and fraying. That cap is called a telomere.

Every time our cells divide, though, a bit of that cap is lost. And when it’s completely gone, the cell stops dividing, or dies. So telomeres have been thought of as kind of our life “fuse.” They start shortening as soon as we’re born, and when they’re gone, we’re gone. In fact, forensic scientists can take DNA from a bloodstain, and tell you how old the person was, based on how long the telomeres are.

The thought is, if we can slow down this ticking clock, slow down this shortening, we may be able to slow down aging and live longer. So, what do we have to do? Stop smoking—#1—which has been shown to significantly eat away our protective telomeres. But is there anything in our diet that’s accelerating the process, speeding up aging? We didn’t know, until last year.

120-food-item questionnaire. Two foods were associated with telomere shortening—accelerated aging; you tell me which ones. In alphabetical order: coffee, fried foods, high-fat dairy, non-fried fish, processed meat, red meat, refined grains, or high fructose corn syrup-containing soda. I’ll give you a hint; one of them was processed meat. But which was the other one?

It was the fish, nipping at our DNA. Eating fish appeared to age people’s DNA six years, and processed meat 14 years, in terms of how short the telomeres were of fish- and lunch-meat-eaters.

So, fish and bacon appear to speed aging up. But is there any way to slow aging down, or even actually turn back the cellular clock, and actually repair and lengthen our telomeres back up? Yes, but it appears we have to eat vegan.

Dr. Dean Ornish wasn’t satisfied with just reversing heart disease and cancer, so now he’s trying his hand at reversing aging. There’s a tree, called a bristle cone pine, which is the oldest living thing on earth. There’s one in California that started growing around the time the Egyptian pyramids were being built, about 5,000 years ago. And the tree is still going strong. Scientists found an enzyme in its roots called telomerase, which could actually rebuild the telomeres, and humans have the enzyme, too.

The problem is that no one had ever found a way to boost its activity. But that’s because no one had ever tried a whole foods, plant-based diet before. In a study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, Ornish found that after just three months of a whole foods, plant-based diet—along with exercise—one could significantly boost telomerase activity.

The accompanying editorial celebrated this breakthrough, and hoped that this “exciting outcome…[would] encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid or combat cancer and age-related diseases.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

 

52 responses to “Research into Reversing Aging

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    1. I would be interested in knowing if they made distinctions between canned (ie canned tuna), processed or smoked fish. I could see that maybe some of the same treatments applied to processed meats could apply to these. It could be possible that a significant percentage of respondents’ fish intake could correspond to canned tuna. I also wonder if uncooked fish (sushi) has the same effect as cooked fish.

  1. Dear Dr. Greger,

    Thank you for bringing this exciting research to the attention of your followers. I admire your tireless devotion to the very important cause of lifestyle medicine.

    I have a specific concern, however, that when I followed the link to the cited article by Dean Ornish, I discovered that he is not advocating a strictly vegetarian diet. In fact, he used a whole foods, plant-based diet, which included fish oil supplements daily (This made me cringe because of your other video on highest PCB levels present in fish oil?!).

    While the article presented an intriguing pilot study, nothing in it even suggested that vegetarianism was responsible for the increased telomerase activity.

    You may wish to consider this feedback to improve the accuracy of your video.

    Thanks,
    BPC

    1. I agree with your concerns about fish oil and no longer recommend for my patients. I was present at a McDougall Advanced Study Weekend where Dr. Ornish presented. He was asked about his fish oil recommendation. His response was, in my opinion, dismissive and didn’t address the issue. Based on the best current science I would avoid fish oil and if you feel that you should take an omega 3 supplement I would follow Dr. Greger’s recommendation of an algae based product… see video http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/algae-based-dha-vs-flax-2/, not to mention the lack of adequate labeling see http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/fish-oil-in-troubled-waters/.

    2. Dr. McDougall’s website has an article or newsletter or one of his “hot topics”, in which he supports his claim that the people eating the traditional Japanese diet with fish are healthy in spite of eating the fish, not because of it.

      No need for me to elaborate; Dr. McDougall writes and supports it well enough for anyone interested to go straight to the source.

      1. And, that source would be: the February 2003 newsletter, article “Fish Is Not Health Food”.

        There: I made it easy for you. *And* surprised myself that I so clearly remembered something from that long ago. Hm… Must have made an impression.

    1. If you heat fish it will form oxidized cholesterol and this will shorten telomeres: Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2010 Jun 1;2:1164-8. Telomere length and its associations with oxidized-LDL, carotid artery distensibility and smoking. Nawrot TS, Staessen JA, Holvoet P, Struijker-Boudier HA, Schiffers P, Van Bortel LM, Fagard RH, Gardner JP, Kimura M, Aviv A. Department of Molecular and Cardiovascular Research, Laboratory of Hypertension, University of Leuven, Study Coordinating Centre, Leuven, Belgium.

    2. They have the longest lifespans compared with cultures that eat many animal products. Okinawans, the Japanese people with the longest lifespans don’t eat a lot of fish. And since the nuclear disaster I wouldn’t trust any fish within 25,000 miles of Japan. Not a problem for me anyway, since I’m vegan. Here’s one source about what Okinawans eat: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14305/these-people-live-longer-than-anyone-here-are-9-things-they-do.html

  2. One of the best studies on longevity was done on residents on Okinawa. Many folks assume that because they lived on an island that they consumed alot of fish. Actually the long living study participants ate a small per cent of fish… they ate about 70% sweet potatoes. Fish has omega 3, EPA & DHA(antiinflammatory substances) which they get from algae they eat. Unfortunately fish also comes with cholesterol, saturated fat and all sorts of chemicals including mercury, arsenic, drugs, pcb’s and other organic chemicals including fire retardants. Therefore it is not surprising that fish has an adverse effect on our telomeres. See http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/hair-testing-for-mercury/, http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/dioxins-in-the-food-supply/, & http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/prozac-residues-in-fish/. We are learning more about aging see… http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/mitochondrial-theory-of-aging/ so keep tuned to Nutritionfacts.org for updates.

  3. Do you think that the fish caused a shortening of telomeres due to the contaminants themselves? Or do you think it was independent of the contaminants?

  4. Good questions. I don’t know. The sample size of the study was small. If it had been larger it might have helped answer your question(s). The Ornish study involved diet and exercise. So there may be confounding variables as well. I view them as more evidence which supports the “paradigm” that eating a whole food plant based diet with B12 supplementation is the best way to eat… for individuals, families, communities, nations and the world.

    1. O I am well aware of the benefits of a whole foods plant based diet, I am just curious to know if the contaminants in fish increased telomere shortening. I would think the nitrosamines in processed meats would be the culprit in rapid telomere shortening.

  5. I just discovered your website a few days ago(Dr. McDougal e- mail) and have shared it with multiple friends. I was familiar more than 15 years ago with some of Dr. McDougal’s work, also the China study, the recent “forks over Knives”, some of the TED.com videos of Dr. Ornish. I just wanted to thank you for all the information you have put together here and also the way you present it. My wife is Chinese so this type of plant strong diet is easy for us and quite normal. What I like is that you bring in a lot of new ideas as to the why’s and how things work. thanks again for all you effort.

  6. This is a very interesting video! My concern is that if the telomerase activity was significant, wouldn’t this cause a flaw in the blood/dna aging procedure? IE: They wouldn’t be able to correctly identify a persons age by their blood, because they wouldn’t know if that person was vegan or not.
    What do you think? Do you know how significant this telomerase activity is?

  7. I’m just wondering, when Ornish says that a vegan diet along with exercise can boost telomere strength – how much exercise must one do? I’m a vegan, but I really super enjoy sitting. It’s so awesome, is sitting.
    Just wondering.
    And thanks for all these great videos. It’s a great service you are doing. Thank you!
    Ellen Reid

      1. That’s not possible for most people, especially as people age. Actually 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise plus as much activity as possible throughout the day does wonders. Mild – moderate – rigorous are all relative to the capabilities of the individual. For exercise, some aerobic activity at least 5 daya, strength training 2-3 days (full-body), and stretching at least 5 days.

  8. The study discussion states: “Food groups such as whole grains, nuts, fish, fruit, and vegetables and prudent dietary patterns rich in these foods were inversely associated with several age-related diseases and total rate of mortality (14–19, 21–29, 46).” Yet the results found that “With the exception of nonfried fish (P = 0.04), processed meat consumption (P = 0.001), and the dietary pattern scores for fats and processed meat, which were each inversely associated with telomere length.” This “inverse association” found between fish and telomere length was ignored in the discussion.

    Additional studies have found fish consumption to correlate with increased telomere length. It would be nice to see more recent data on this topic.

  9. According to this article http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18996878 telomerase activity increases in the presence of cancer cells…if Dr Ornish’s research was done on subjects with cancer…might not the increase in telomerase activity indicate that the cancer was progressing and not an indication that the telomere’s were lengthening
    ? I would love to believe that we can lengthen our telomere with a low fat whole foods vegan diet but I don’t see how this proves it…Please help me understand! I’m looking online and not finding anything other than maybe eating more folate rich foods!

  10. I’m looking into intermittent fasting for its supposed health benefits. Have you come across any research in this area? Although caloric restriction is generally associated with longevity, I do not wish to be malnourished and nutrient deficient.

      1. Ah yes I have seen this one! (Ive seen almost all of them haha), but I am interested more in the negatives of fasting despite the already prevalent benefits of veganism. I would like to incorporate it into my life regardless.

        1. I do not know of direct research other then benefit with water fasting and hypertension
          http://www.scribd.com/doc/32727377/Medically-Supervised-Water-only-Fasting-in-the-Treatment-of-Hypertension
          http://www.scribd.com/doc/32727203/Medically-Supervised-Water-Only-Fasting-in-the-Treatment-of-Borderline-Hypertension

          But Jeff Novick, a very prominent and well informed plant based dietician does discuss fasting here. “Fasting is not required or necessary for good health. However, in certain conditions, fasting can be of benefit.”
          http://drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=5852&highlight=fasting

  11. According to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, the higher the blood levels of fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids in patients with coronary heart disease, the longer the telomeres. Their study, published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that leukocyte telomere length (LTL) was positively associated with higher (not lower) blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/715449)

    Far from causing a shortening of telomere length, fish oil appears to increase it.

    1. Wonder if they get the same results from Krill, Flax & Chia, as “fish-derived” omega 3? Side-stepping the negative effects apparently associated with eating “fish” by getting Omega 3’s elsewhere?

      Of course, I don’t know whether plant-derived sources ever have EPA/DHA or just ALA…

  12. I am wondering if there is such a thing as too much fruit. I eat approximately 7-8 servings of fruit per day. My husband says too much fruit can have a bad effect on my blood sugar. Is this true? The rest of my diet is pretty healthy. Incidentally, I also eat around 4-5 servings of vegetables per day.

  13. This would bring us into a bigger question as to why Japan and in particular Okinawa have one of the longest lived and healthy populations when they consume alot of fish. The Okinawan diet includes the consumption of all things pork as well. I have adopted the eating of bitter melons and okinawan sweet potatoes and await more studies into this subject.

    1. To add some more controversy. Current countries with highest average life expectancy as well as number of centenarians per 100,000 are Spain and France. France having a really fatty diet. I don’t know about Spain.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centenarian

      Something else I found interesting was the high number of Centarians for Thailand (my home country) even though currently they do not have a very high average life expectancy (Rank 115, 74years).

      http://www.infoplease.com/world/statistics/life-expectancy-country.html

    1. There are lots of veggie roll sushi options that would work nicely when following a whole-food, plant-based diet. :)

        1. So sorry for the confusion! Eating fish appeared to age people’s DNA six years. From this information, I believe it’s safe to assume that this would include sushi that contains fish products.

  14. I am not really sure where this comment should be posted, but I wanted to put something out there. I am a thin (less than 115 pounds at 5’5″) Type 2 Diabetic. I have been a vegetarian almost all of my life, vegan off and on during that time, and for the last couple of years a WFPB exercising vegan. Although my primary care physician has strongly suggested using metformin and lipitor, I’ve been able to keep my HbA1C just below the “allowable” limits (but not low enough for my liking!) without drugs. Interestingly, I recently read an article indicating research is being conducted about using mefformin to reverse aging (lengthen telomeres). While this doesn’t have direct applicability to nutrition and lifestyle medicine, I am now wondering whether it would be helpful or hurtful to take metformin. While my natural inclination is “just say no to drugs!” I am wondering if there is any basis for fact in the use of metformin, or whether it is another big Pharma push. Thank you for whatever light you can shed on this topic.

  15. Hello Lisa,
    Thank you for your excellent question. I am a family physician with a private practice in lifestyle medicine and also a volunteer moderator for this website. I’ve been a practicing family doc since 1990, and wrote lots of prescriptions up until I opened my new practice this past January. I probably prescribed more metformin than any other medication. That’s because it actually works quite well, to lower serum glucose levels and (contrary to most other drugs for diabetes) patients also usually lose weight instead of gaining weight. However, metformin does have side effects: loose stools or diarrhea in almost 50%, nausea in about 25%. [Bear with me until I get to your question about aging]……

    This video by Dr. Greger points out that for preventing pre-diabetes from turning into full-blown diabetes, eating a whole foods plant-based diet works even better than metformin: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-prevent-prediabetes-from-turning-into-diabetes/.

    In terms of treating patients like you, who already have diabetes, many patients can completely reverse their diabetes using a whole foods plant based diet alone, as Dr. G. shows in this video: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/reversing-diabetes-with-food/.

    So, for clarification, I’m wondering what exactly is your hemoglobin A1c level? If it has dropped into the “pre-diabetic range” of 5.7 to 6.4, then I would say that taking metformin is probably not worth considering. If it’s between 6.5 and 6.9 — called “acceptable control”, then doing something besides your good diet is optional. If it’s 7.0 or above, then you should be looking for other ways to lower it — stricter diet, more exercise, or maybe metformin.

    Now to get to your main question about whether metformin actually has an anti-aging effect. I searched PubMed (free database of medical articles) using the search strategy “metformin aging”, and there were a LOT of articles. Here are four full-text reviews of the subject, which discuss both the anti-aging and anti-cancer properties of metformin.

    1) http://www.phmd.pl/api/files/view/196050.pdf — This is a great review article about how metformin works. Look at Figures 1 and 2, which show the mechanisms of action: mTOR inhibition, decrease in glucose level, decrease in insuling levels, decrease in IGF-1 level, decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, increased immune response to cancer cells. Those are almost exactly the same mechanisms as those by which a WFPB diet works: look at this video by Dr. G: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/prevent-cancer-from-going-on-tor/; also look at the video under which you are commenting.

    2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5685485/ — Looks at anti-aging effects of metformin in roundworms (!), but gives an excellent review of articles about various beneficial effects of metformin, including decreasing rates of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and cognitive disorders. Again, Dr. G. has done lots of videos showing how a WFPB diet helps with each of those conditions.

    Two more good review articles:
    3) http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(16)30229-7?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1550413116302297%3Fshowall%3Dtrue — Looks at various human studies of metformin that target age-related diseases.

    4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209240/

    So, what I am saying is this:
    – Eating a WFPB diet will increase your lifespan, and can cure your diabetes;
    – Metformin also has the potential to increase lifespan (in people who eat a standard American diet), and can definitely assist in treating your diabetes if diet and exercise alone are not able to do the job for you;
    – I don’t know if metformin would add anything to someone who really keeps to an optimal WFPB diet and has a optimal exercise regimen.

    I hope this helps.
    Dr.Jon
    PhysicianAssistedWellness.com
    Volunteer moderator for NutritionFacts.org.

  16. Mention of the long living pine tree reminded me I’ve seen mention of pine sap in a Chinese Taoist dietetical text. We eat pine nuts, plus resins of some trees such as maple syrup, and there is some resin used as a spice in Persian cooking. So who knows, perhaps there is something to some variety of pine sap. I’ll look more into it and see if it’s been studied.

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