Results of a dramatic study highlighting (guess what) gene expression were published last week by the National Academy of Sciences, and suddenly the popular media is suddenly paying very close attention. The study, which followed 30 men with low risk, early prostate cancer, demonstrates the dramatic role of lifestyle intervention in gene expression and corresponding disease regression. The study was a collaborative research effort at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco.
One of the researchers, Dr. Dean Ornish offered his personal observations on the study in an article for Newsweek magazine. He began his commentary with the phrase: “Here’s some very good news: your genes are not your destiny.” Hmmm… Where have we heard that before? (Couldn’t resist.)
Dr. Ornish and his colleagues assigned an “intensive” lifestyle intervention program for the 30 subjects in the study. The participants had previously decided to refuse conventional cancer treatment on personal grounds that were unrelated to the study. Dr. Ornish described the intervention regimen of diet, exercise, and psychological therapies:
The changes included a plant-based diet (predominant fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy products, and whole grains low in refined carbohydrates), moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes per day), stress management techniques (yoga-based stretching, breathing techniques, meditation, and guided imagery for one hour per day), and participating in a weekly one-hour support group. The diet was supplemented with soy, fish oil (three grams/day), vitamin E (100 units/day), selenium (200 mg/day), and vitamin C (2 grams/day).
After three months of the intervention regimen, the researchers conducted several tests on the subjects, including new biopsies, and examined normal prostate tissue samples. The results were striking. The men showed signs of improved health, including lower blood pressure and weight loss. However, the activity measured in the genes themselves showed the most profound change. Of the more than 500 genes traced, 48 disease-fighting genes had “up-regulated” and 453 disease-promoting genes had “down-regulated” since the lifestyle intervention. Within these changes, researchers found “significant modulation of biological processes that have critical roles” in the formation of tumors.
This graph displays the activity changes observed by the researchers, with the green markers indicating genes that had down-regulated and the red those that had up-regulated. (Incidentally, the down-regulated genes included those like Selectin E that are also associated with inflammation and breast cancer as well as prostate tumors.)
Graph Source (PDF)
As Dr. Ornish explains in his commentary, the results of this and other research support the power of lifestyle intervention in halting or reversing other diseases as well, including “coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and other chronic conditions.”
Those of you who have been following the gene expression posts lately and the news of Mark’s upcoming book likely aren’t surprised by this news. However, seeing the real life examples of relatively simple changes never cease to amaze. While the Primal Blueprint offers a tweaked version of the researchers’ intervention regimen (that sticky carb issue, for example), the main components are in agreement: a healthy, low glycemic diet; regular exercise; strategic supplementation; and effective stress management. It’s true what we’ve been saying all along: your genes aren’t your fate. A day to day commitment to your health matters and can make more difference than you think, including when you’re facing an ominous diagnosis like cancer and it seems the deck is stacked against you. The Primal Blueprint is all about hope, empowerment, self-initiative, and the fruits of everyday “labors,” no matter what the immediate health circumstances.
Your thoughts on all this and what it says to you? Send along your comments and questions on the study or the Primal Blueprint’s message on gene expression.
Ethan Heln Flickr Photo (CC)
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