Control Your Lifestyle, Control Your Genes


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).

via Newsweek

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.)

Gene Graph

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)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Gene Expression

Gotta Love that Genome

Gene Expression: Location, Location, Location

What is The Primal Blueprint?

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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14 thoughts on “Control Your Lifestyle, Control Your Genes”

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  1. OOOHH ya beat me to it.
    I read about the study late in the week and was absolutely excited/astounded/speechless about it.
    It’s awesome results.
    And now we have scientific evidence that healthier living CAN benefit you… and help stave off terrible diseases!

  2. Sorry, but ANYTHING Ornish is involved with is biased and shouldn’t be believed. He’s a total quack involved with militant animal rights/ vegan groups and shouldn’t be trusted with telling you how to feed your dog, let alone healthy eating for humans.

  3. Quinadal,

    Ornish isn’t my favorite either, but it doesn’t negate the results of the study. Sure, the soy and the whole grains in the study diet are suspect/inadvisable, but the basic principle holds. That’s what the post says. Making your lifestyle even *that* much better will make a significant and healthy difference.

  4. Oh I agree about improving your lifestyle, BUT his idea about ‘improving’ it is totally wrong and shows his complete lack of knowledge about what’s ‘healthy’

  5. Wow, MDA quoting Ornish??? Is it a full moon? Kidding. He makes an excellent point (one which isn’t negated by his alternate dietary views) and I’m glad you concur.

    Incidentally Quinadal, there are lots of folks out there who’ve gotten excellent (and healthful) results by following Ornish’s advice. Really, the quibble between Ornish and the Paleo crowd is a matter of a few degrees. Adopting either diet would be a HUGE change for the better for your average folk.

  6. I would be interested to hear how Ornish is “totally wrong” when the study he published validates the improvements his suggestions made in people’s health at a genetic level. He must be at least partially right.

    And there is nothing wrong with advocating for animal rights. It is reasonable to believe that causing suffering to animals is wrong and should be limited, even if one also believes that meat is necessary for human health. That doesn’t make anyone a “quack,” it makes them concerned about needless suffering, which is a pretty basic, definsible, and reasonable position.

    FYI, I know nothing about Ornish, eat meat, and am simply observing the inconsistencies of the poster.


  7. I agree with you about animal suffering being wrong and it being avoided as much as possible. BUT, that’s animal WELFARE, not animal rights. Animal rights fanatics believe that animals are abused just by being pets, no matter how well cared for or loved they are. They also believe that humans have no right to kill or use animals for ANY reason, including food. Some of them are so crazy, that they believe honey is wrong because it abuses the bees or wool is wrong, because we don’t have the right to *steal* it from the sheep!

    Ornish advocates an almost fat free diet and ignores ALL of the facts of animal fat being necessary to human life.

  8. “Ornish advocates an almost fat free diet and ignores ALL of the facts of animal fat being necessary to human life.”

    Hey stupid: did you forget fish oil IS animal fat.