by Vesanto Melina
Canadians are now living longer. In recent years, the average life expectancy of women has reached 84 years while that of men now averages 80. Yet our last decade or two of old age can be spent suffering from serious illness, mobility issues, and be limited by dependence on pills and feeding tubes. On the other hand, we may feel productive, experience vibrant health, and enjoy the company of children, grandchildren and friends.
We have the power to choose.
In the 1990’s, Dr. Dean Ornish spearheaded groundbreaking research that showed how comprehensive lifestyle changes can reverse chronic illnesses without drugs or surgery. The research involved 48 patients with moderate to severe cardiovascular disease who were randomized into two groups. The control group was given standard medical advice such as cutting back on fat, bacon and eggs. The experimental group made four lifestyle changes:
- Don’t smoke. (pretty obvious now).
- Get moderate daily exercise such as meeting a friend for a walk through the park instead of sitting at a doughnut shop.
- Limit stress and sleep well.
- Eat a mainly or entirely plant-based diet.
For the study, angiograms were done at the beginning and end of a year, and the lifestyle changes showed powerful effects. In the control group that followed standard advice, arteries became more clogged. In the experimental group, coronary arteries that had been blocked opened up within a year. I had the privilege of being a staff dietitian in some of Ornish’s retreats with patients who were regaining their health in Berkeley, California.
More recently, Ornish has used these same healing lifestyle interventions for men with mild to moderate prostate cancer and found that, in addition to cardiovascular improvements, their telemeres lengthened. Telemeres are the ends of the chromosomes that control cellular aging and keep our DNA from unravelling. They have been likened to the protective plastic ends of shoelaces that prevent frayng. As our telemeres shorten, our lives tend to get shorter, and the incidence of chronic diseases increases.
The more that people adopt these four lifestyle changes, the more their telemeres lengthen. This helps reverse aging at a cellular level. These potent lifestyle interventions for reducing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, various types of cancer, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease have attracted the interest of researchers worldwide.
Various types of fasting are another effective way to maintain and regain health – and a time honoured tradtion.
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver Registered Dietitian, and co-author of award-winning books that are classics on plant-based nutrition. She is an internationally known speaker, and a personal and government consultant.