Dr. Oz Criticized for Bogus Telomere Test

On July 22, 2013, Dr. Oz dedicated an entire show to the concept of anti-aging and revealed the results of a 3-month long experiment done on three women. Their telomere length was recorded at the beginning of the experiment and again at the end. While we here at TA65 Canada rejoiced in the fact that Dr. Oz was now making the term “telomere” a household term, we were surprised beyond belief at the results the three women had simply by making diet and exercise changes. Only days later, Dr. Dave  Woynarowski, the world’s leading anti-aging expert refuted the tests Dr. Oz and Dr. Ornish used in their tests with the following statements:

I have gotten a bunch of questions over the past week concerning diet and telomeres.  When this kind of thing happens it usually signals someone with media clout has said something that is going “viral”.  Kinda like the ridiculous fish oil prostate cancer thing of 2 weeks ago.
It took little digging to find out the source was Dr Oz via Dr Ornish. The double O twins are both well known, well watched and well respected. Dr Ornish actually co-authored a paper with Nobel laureate Liz Blackburn detailing his findings viz a viz dietary intervention a while back.
Since I don’t watch Dr Oz I honestly don’t know what was said and I can only rely on blogs and press releases. Apparently Dr Ornish also wrote a book a while back and the suggestion is that using the diet and life style changes can rebuild your DNA and lengthen your telomeres. There were 3 women on the Oz show who were brought on stage. Each and every one of them had an improvement in their inflammatory markers, their cholesterol and a very marked increase in their telomeres in just 3 short months.
This is when I get a little skeptical and suspicious. See I kinda know a thing or two about telomeres and loads about diet’s effect on the body and lab work as well.
I do not doubt for a minute that dietary and life style intervention will improve your lab work. But I am 100% sure those women did not in reality change their telomere length one by as much as 15 percent in 3 months. With all due respect to Dr. Ornish if this were true then his book truly contains the Fountain of Youth.
Here is what I know to be true:
- The study Dr Ornish did with Dr Blackburn was published after his book was written.
- This study measured telomerase activity, not telomere length as well as several other things like inflammation and cholesterol in 30 men with low grade prostate cancer.
- Telomerase activity may or may not equate to telomere lengthening (telomere length was not part of this study for reasons I can only guess at, one of which was the 3 month duration of that study.)
- Telomere length even by the most precise measurements varies by 5%. This is part of a normal biologic system variance. If you are going to get around this you have to have a test that is within that level of accuracy and you have to let more than 3 months go by.
- The only test capable of doing that is Life Length’s HT-QFISH assay developed by Maria Blasco. In 2008 that test was not available. I am also pretty darn sure that none of the women on the Oz show had this test.
From this I can reasonably conclude the following: The tests used on Dr Ornish/Oz’s women must have been a Q-PCR. Commercially this test can vary by up to 1000 base pairs meaning it is not accurate enough or repeatable enough to be used to follow individual telomere measurements. Nor does it measure the all important % of short telomeres. It only measures median telomere length which by itself can be very misleading for the individual.
The average person loses anywhere from 50 to 200 base pairs of telomere length per year. Assuming an average telomere length of Dr Ornish’s test subjects of 7000 base pairs, the woman in particular who increased her telomere length 15% would have gained over 1000 base pairs in telomere length. Now median telomere length and forecast lifespan is meaningful only when the sample size is gigantic meaning in the 10’s of thousands. I am sure Dr Ornish did not have that big a database. If he did, and that woman really gained that much telomere length she turned back the clock by somewhere between 15 and 20 years based on the gains in her telomere length.
Sorry but that is not possible. Basically the women on the Oz show actually know very little if anything about their telomeres. The changes in length can easily be explained by the inaccuracy of the testing method.
 I can only conclude that Dr Ornish’s interventions with diet and lifestyle are meaningful for inflammation and cholesterol (which is in my estimation a marker of inflammation as well for most people). This is good. This is not a bad thing.
But I would bet money that if a really accurate and meaningful test were done such as the Life Length assay ( in the USA, elsewhere) at a 3 month interval you would see almost no change. I would also bet that if you waited say a year, the changes you would see could indeed be more like no change in telomere length or biologic age. Again in this case no change is not a bad thing at all.
I find it hard to believe that 2 such bright people like Drs. Oz and Ornish don’t know all this already.
Summary: You can do near magical things with diet and life style. I haven’t read Dr Ornish’s book but based on his reputation and the company he keeps I would bet his advice is sound.
You cannot however lengthen your telomeres that much that fast with these changes. You probably cannot do this kind of thing that fast with ANYTHING we currently know about.  As a matter of fact the best you can hope for is to slow down the loss. You are not reversing the aging process and not rebuilding your DNA or telomeres, you are limiting the damage. Again this is a good thing.
How can you rebuild your telomeres? A published peer reviewed study on TA-65 showed you can reduce the percentage of short telomeres in meaningful fashion in people on TA-65 after a year’s worth of use. A mouse study and cell culture studies have shown the same thing with parallel results in the same organ systems.
I have been on TA-65 high dose for 4.5 years which is long enough to see a meaningful change. Over that time I have had 3 successive telomere tests 2 of which were the Life Length assay.
My results are as follows: median telomere length increased by 700 base pairs. Biologic age (based on % short telomeres) has reversed by 7 years.
These kinds of numbers over this kind of time frame are far more likely to be real and accurate that what you see on TV or read.
I really wish we could turn back the clock with healthy lifestyle and diet. Not doing these things can only accelerate the aging process. But if these things actually reversed your biologic age that much the women on the Oz show will be crawling around in diapers in another year or so.
Not even TA-65  can do that!