Change Lifestyle, Change Genes
3 Months on Ornish Diet Changes 500 Genes, Many With Anticancer Effects
June 16, 2008 -- If you change your lifestyle, you change your genes.
You can't get different genes, but how you act can change how your genes
act, report Dean Ornish, MD, and colleagues at the University of California,
San Francisco (UCSF).
Ornish is a clinical professor of medicine at UCSF and also a diet guru
who's been telling us for years that by improving our lifestyle we can prevent
and even reverse many chronic diseases.
Now, Ornish is joined by UCSF professor and chairman of urology Peter
Carroll, MD; UCSF prostate-cancer geneticist Christopher Haqq, MD, PhD; and
others. The goal of this pilot study was to see whether the Ornish lifestyle
could help 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer who chose not to undergo treatment
unless their cancer got worse.
It's too soon to say whether the men's lifestyle changes kept their cancer
at bay. But genetic analysis revealed profound differences in noncancerous
prostate tissues in just three months.
More than 500 genes changed the way they worked. Genes with beneficial
effects, including some tumor-suppression genes, became more active. Genes with
deleterious effects, including some cancer-promoting genes, were switched
"It is absolutely intriguing this lifestyle change can have as much
effect as the most powerful drugs available to us now," Haqq said in a news
conference. "We medical oncologists are always looking for drugs that can
do this. It is delightful to find that diet and lifestyle can have profound
effects and work as well as drug therapies with fewer side effects."
Ornish says the findings may motivate people who think there's nothing they
"People say, 'Oh, it is all in my genes, what can I do?' That's what I
call genetic nihilism," Ornish said in a news conference. "This may be
an antidote to that. Genes may be our predisposition, but they are not our
Motivated by having prostate cancer, the men in the study went all the way
Ornish diet. They ate a low-fat, plant-based, whole-foods (minimally
processed or refined foods such as whole grains) diet. They walked at least 30
minutes six days a week and walked at least an hour three days a week. Every
day they did an hour of simple yoga-based techniques including
meditation, and imagery. And they participated in a weekly support group
designed to increase
intimacy and social support.
Whenever Ornish lays out his full program, he sees people's eyes glaze over.
Most people are not going to be able to make this kind of a change overnight,
if ever. But Ornish says it's silly to defeat yourself with an all-or-nothing
approach. Adopting just the changes one can make, and making more changes only
when you're ready, is a much more realistic path to health.