Dean Ornish, MD, is the founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. He is clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Ornish received his medical training in internal medicine from the Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He received a BA in humanities summa cum laude from the University of Texas in Austin, where he gave the baccalaureate address.
For more than 32 years, Ornish has directed clinical research demonstrating, for the first time, that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease, without drugs or surgery. He directed the first randomized, controlled trial demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may stop or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer. His research showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes affect gene expression, “turning on” disease-preventing genes and “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease. In collaboration with Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, he also showed that these lifestyle changes can lengthen telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that control how long we live.
He is the author of six best-selling books, including New York Times’bestsellers Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease; Eat More, Weigh Less; Love & Survival; and his most recent book, The Spectrum.
The research that he and his colleagues conducted has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Circulation, TheNew England Journal of Medicine, the American Journal of Cardiology, The Lancet Oncology, and elsewhere.
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[00:01] REENA JADHAV: Hey everyone it’s Reena Jadhav here from health bootcamps and the live longer podcasts and today it is my true honor to have with us a brilliant physician, bestselling author, creator of the famous scientific backed program to reverse heart disease through diet and lifestyle Dr. Dean Ornish. Dr. Dean welcome.
[00:20] DR. DEAN ORNISH: Thank you! It’s a great pleasure to be here.
[00:23] REENA JADHAV: So I will definitely share a little more about you. Now Dr. Dean Ornish is also the president of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito. But do you know what he is most famous for, is being the personal physician consultant and former class president Bill Clinton who by the way looks very fit. He was on news the other day and he looks pretty. I think he is continuing with your diet Dr. Ornish.
[00:46] DR. DEAN ORNISH: Yeah he has been on it. Well actually, we began working with him back in ’93 when he became president and I was introduced to Hillary Clinton. We met for an hour at the White House and at the end of the meeting she said we went through your research she said, “Will you train the chefs to cook for us?” And I said, “Say that again?” Well of course, I will be honored so I ended up training the White House chefs, the Camp David chefs, the Air Force One chefs, the Navy One chefs. And then they asked me to be one of his consultant’s physicians. So what you have is our annual physical exam but doesn’t have the naval hospital coming for that. And then we just became friends and I continued to work with them as a consultant and then about nine years ago when his bypasses clog up he was told that it was all in his genes. And I said no it’s actually not all in your genes then I sent them an email and I said, “I’m not to blame but to empower you because of its all in the genes you are just a victim and you are one of the hardworking guys on the planet, your heart is the victim. So we met and he went on the whole foods plant based diet and we found that could reverse not only heart disease but so many other conditions. And he’s done very well with that and you know I think whatever your politics with a former president of the United States strictly one who is known for not eating particularly healthy foods these changes from a decade now and benefits so well from that I think that really sets a great example for everyone.
[01:58] REENA JADHAV: Absolutely and then you went on to become an Obama appointee to the White House advisory group as well.
[02:03] DR. DEAN ORNISH: Yes I was appointed by president Clinton to a White House advisory commission on complementary alternative medicine policy and by president Obama to this commission called the White House presence Advisory group on integrated, Public health and preventive medicine so I feel very grateful for those opportunities.
[02:23] REENA JADHAV: Absolutely, you’ve been so amazing in your research and we’re going to talk about that in a minute but the first thing I want to mention is the fact that the Ornish diet has been named the number one best heart healthy diet by the US news and World Report seven years in a row. And we are going to talk about the spectrum today; this is the spectrum book theory interview. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the Ornish diet too. You believe that chronic disease can be reversed in your recent talk, ‘change your lifestyle change your genes’ was very inspiring because I feel like we live in this health care system that often says, “Well did your parents have it well no wonder you have it”. Or you know this trend to blame genetics as the cause for why someone got heart disease or like in my case when I had colon cancer, the first thing all the experts said, “Oh it must run in your family!” No it doesn’t no one on either side of my family had ever had cancer I was the first and then they were stunned like they didn’t know what to say after that but you were the first one to say, “No it’s not true”. And that we can absolutely reverse chronic disease we absolutely can get back and back our health in our own hands. Let’s talk about that lets get started with what prompted you to write ‘The Spectrum?’
[03:39] DR. DEAN ORNISH: Let me come in on a couple of things you just said first of all we will get into that but first is that it is not my belief it’s my experience. Justin Campbell once said, “I don’t have faith I have experience”. In my case, I have 40 years of research to show that and I think what it sets our work apart from others is that a lot of conflicting claims out there. Everyone has got an opinion about diet because we all have to eat but 40 years ago I made a conscious decision to say the whole point of science is to figure out what is true and what it isn’t and what works and what doesn’t and for whom under what circumstances. So I spent a lot of my time in the last 40 years doing randomized trials and demonstration projects to kind of figure that out and it’s a very powerful way of how to cutting through a lot of things that may sound good but really when you actually test them may not be. And one of them that you mentioned is so often people say things oh I just got bad genes what can I do? And what we have learned is that our genes are pre dispositioned but our genes are not our fate and that even if your mother and father and sister and brother and aunts and uncles all die early from heart disease there is no reason that it emanates you it just means that you need to make bigger changes in order to prevent that or even to reverse it that someone else does. So the spectrum book really came out during all these studies which were that in all the studies I thought incorrectly as it turned out that the younger patients who have less severe disease would do better when they change their lifestyle. And it turned out it wasn’t how old they were, it wasn’t how sick they were it was simply a function of one thing which is how much they change their diet and lifestyle and the more they change, the more they improve both in how they felt which makes it kind of a virtuous positive cycle. As you start to make changes in your lifestyle, you feel better and it comes on your own experience you literally connect the dots between what you are doing and how you feel-when I eat this, I do this I don’t do that I feel good. When I do that I don’t feel so good so maybe I will do more of this and less of that and then it comes out of your own experience you believe that. But also we found out that in every metric we look at every in point measure, the more you change your diet and lifestyle, the more you improve whether it’s the amount of blockages in your arteries, the amount of the hypo steric we found in life changes and that could not only slow but reverse heart disease. We can also and only in the first randomized trial, which we did in collaboration with the Cardiology East guest chaff and Chardon cannon at the time. One of the things that we have learned is if you are doing something disruptive it’s good to work with the people who are considered the thought leaders and the most credible physicians and scientists. We found the same lifestyle changes that could reverse heart disease, could slow, stop and reverse the progression of men with prostate cancer by extension women’s breast cancer. We found type 2 diabetes can be reversed, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity so often when people get put on drugs to lower their blood pressure, their cholesterol or their blood sugar, they say doctor how long do I have to take these. What does the doctor need to say like forever right? Last year I showed a cartoon I have been drawing for decades which has been a guiding principle for me which is what’s the cause rippling doctors busy mopping up the flora and the sickle cell but nobody is turning off the faucet. How long do I come up from the flora like forever? Why don’t we turn off the faucet? In to a much larger degree than we once realized, the faucet is the underlining causes of many of these chronic diseases are what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get, how much load and support we have and we reduce down to its essence eat well, move more, stress less, love more boom that’s it! And the more diseases we study and the more underlying biological mechanisms we look at, the more reasons we have to explain why these simple changes are so powerful and how quickly they can occur. We found out that recent lifestyle changes could reverse not only heart disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer it could actually in one of similar a mechanism we might explain that so we looked at their genes as we talked about earlier and we found out that in just 3 months over 500 genes were changed. In fact at regulating and trending on the genes were keeping us healthy, down regulating and trending off the genes cause so many of these mechanisms that are involved in so many of these chronic diseases. Chronic inflammation, sedated stress, heptoses, changes of the microbiome, changes in ontogenesis and so on and so the more diseases we looked at, the more of these mechanisms we looked at, the more reasons we had to explain why these simple changes are so powerful and how quickly people can heal better. We also found, we did a study with Dr. Wessel Blackburn who got the Nobel Prize for her pioneering work with telomeres and telomeres are the ends of our chromosomes that control how long we live. They are a little like the plastic tips on the ends of your shoe lace that keep your shoe lace from moving around I mean they actually keep our DNA’s from unweaving and as when we get older they replicate and tend to get shorter and shorter. And as our calories get shorter, our lives get shorter and the risk of pretty much dying from everything that is not corresponding, we found out for the first time that in just three months it cloners the enzymes that repairs and lengthens telomeres went up by 30% which we published in the last sem. And we found out for 5 years it actually got longer for the first time. We were synced for the length of publishing they called it reversing and aging the cellular level and genetics structured studies we did that with Craig Venture the first to discover Geno and we not just published the first studies from the same lifestyle changes that can down regulate ontogenesis, which is another mechanism that’s involved in all these. So the Spectrum idea came from this finding that the more you change the more you improve at any age which is really a very empowering and motivating finding that it is never too late to be making these changes however, whatever age you are. And so if you reverse a life threatening condition, that’s the pound of cure. That is why we first approve all these things because people didn’t go far enough but if you are otherwise healthy you just want to lose a few pounds or see if you can get your cholesterol or your blood pressure wiped down, it’s not all unhappy you have a spectrum of choices and so the more you change the more you improve. Part of what I learned, I chaired a google health with Mercer Meyer years ago, 10 years ago and we were trying to come up with these really complex algorithms for personalizing a diet lifestyle program and it got so corky. And I started to say, “We are making this so complex we should make it radically simple because it is really that simple.” You kind of think it has to be complex a new drug, a new laser, something really high-end device to be powerful.
[10:07] REENA JADHAV: Something that can be commercialized right?
[10:08] DR. DEAN ORNISH: Yes, something to make money at and I think making a contribution to use this very high tech expensive state of the art scientific measures to prove how powerful its very simple and low tech and low cost interventions to be. So what we found was that instead of making radically so complex they can make radically so simple and we have also learned and I also learned that by making mistakes along the way and learning from them. I used to tell people eat this, don’t eat that, don’t do this, and don’t do that and they immediately went and did the opposite. But we think more than being healthy we want to go free uncontrolled as soon as I tell somebody what to do they go do the opposite. It goes back to the first dietarian invention you know, when God said don’t eat the apple and that didn’t go so well, so in everything I have learned is that fear is not a very good motivator this is not a sustainable motivator. It is a great motivator for like a month or 6 weeks after you have been diagnosed with something bad pretty much anything that they tell you and then people stop doing it and the reason is that we all know we are going to die someday but it is not something we think about almost all the time. It is maybe when you have a heart attack or something that is going to bug you to denial then literally for like a month or so and so efforts to try motivate people to change their fear are not really sustainable. But what are sustainable are pleasure and joy and love and support and feeling good and their clause is underlined by logical mechanisms and such dynamic. When you make these changes to the degree you make them, you feel so much better so quickly, it refrains the reason from making them from fear of dying which is not sustainable to joy and pleasure and feeling that which are. And the other thing we have learned which you mentioned before we just started doing this interview is that when you did this thing does it really give you a sense of meaning and purpose. Like one of the doctors told you, “Ok if you get better what are you going to do with your life?” You made your life too, which I love, is to increase awareness because the meaning of awareness is always the first step in healing and you are doing some beautiful things with these podcasts and YouTube and so on. And so the awareness is really important but the meaning is important too so when you do this work I presume that gives you a sense of meaning and what I find is that’s an important part of getting better. This goes all the way back to Victor Franke’s pioneer work ‘man in search of meaning’ about concentration camp survivors you know you have some survivors some genuine but it wasn’t necessarily the strongest or the healthiest that survived. You could have two people on the same bunker one lived, one didn’t, and it wasn’t always one that was the strongest or healthiest it was usually one with the strongest sense of meaning and purpose. I have to survive so that I can… and you fill in the blanks really be reunited with my love or so to bear witness whatever it has to be. So I always ask patients now who come to see me or who go through the program that we are training in hospitals and clinics and physician groups around the country and insurance companies and anyone who comes after that. But I always say why do you want to live longer? People go, “Gosh no one has ever asked me that before.” Then they go, “I don’t know I guess I want to watch my kids grow, I want to dance at their wedding and walk them down the aisle, I want to write a book, and I want to make love with my spouse whatever it happens to be. You know if you can get people and touch that sense of meaning, which is really in synthesis of their depression. They may not be predominant in our cultures as heart disease and diabetes as loneliness and depression and isolation. I was so depressed when I was in college that was my doorway into focus on this area which I am helping to free this whole lifestyle medicine just use lifestyle changes not only to help prevent but actually to treat and even reverse those common chronic diseases. And so we have to not just give people information or even focus on their behavior, we need to work with these deeper issues, which often are depression, loneliness, and isolation because telling someone who is lonely and depressed if you tell me when I was 19 and I was telling myself that I was going to live longer if I just live these lifestyle changes I would tell you, “You don’t get it I just want to get through the day.” And so you have to focus not just on the behaviors I mean if information were enough nobody would smoke, I didn’t know smoking was bad for me no. So I asked you why you are a smoke, or I drink too much, I work too hard or I abuse substances you know, we have this epidemic and so on. I would say save some melodeon after then they’d say they are not meladine you don’t get it. They are very adaptive because they lowers our pain, our loneliness, our depression. A few weeks ago the minister of loneliness was appointed in the United Kingdom. I had several meetings with that Murphy when he was the treasury general and he did make loneliness and disruption of social networks one of those two major focus of his tenure as treasury general. He was creating awareness that, I read a book about this that preceded the spectrum back in 1998 called ‘Love and Survival’ that reviewed what was within hundreds and now thousands of studies showing the people that are lonely and depressed are many times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a sense of love and connection.
[15:08] REENA JADHAV: I in fact having gone from my experience realized that the way we have been going about addressing our health crisis now. The health care crisis, the health crisis is actually upside down and in fact, I created something called the health pyramid. We have had the food pyramid but I actually think it’s the health pyramid and the health pyramid is the base of my health pyramid is in fact calm and in feeling like you are in control like the second phase of calm is feeling like you are being in control. Like you are satisfied, like your joy is to be here and then it is sleep and then it is actually joy and to your point I personally believe that if those 3 foundations are not strong everything else just topples why? Because you end up having the cravings, the addictions. When you asked someone why you smoke and you dig deep enough you asked the question why five times and it always comes down to some sort of a base fuel I am going to get fired or I am going to get C’s and my parents are going to hate me or whatever that is we are starting to see a lot more depression and mental illness in the teen group, in the college group and lifestyle has a lot to do with it. Sleeping incredibly late or not sleeping or sleeping 4 or 5 hours and thinking that somehow your body is going to thrive on that mode of lack of repair so I think the point you have made is just so important anyone who is watching this or listening to this please check out the health pyramid as well in terms of the articles and the thoughts behind it and to what Dr. Ornish is now sharing because I think diet is instrumental if not your foundation this week.
[16:46] DR. DEAN ORNISH: Well it’s true and I ask people why you do these things and they said because it helps me deal with my pain, my loneliness, my depression it’s the talk of your pyramid if you will. I have got 20 friends in this pack of cigarettes and they are always there for me and nobody else is taking all my 20 friends what are you going to give me? Or food fills that void a well-known a food writer told me that fat calms my nerves and numbs the pain or video games numb the pain they help you or your alcohol numb the pain or working all the time is a more social acceptable way of numbing the pain. You did five startups; you had a pretty good sense of how effective that is really numbing your distance in yourself from that but what we have learned is that the pain is not the problem. The pain is the messenger saying hey, listen up, pay attention, you are not doing something that is in your best interest and so in your life you used your pain, your illness as a doorway for transforming your life that normally got you back to where you were before but actually it took you so much further in terms of what really matters in life. And so that to me really is what’s key is that we need to help people get in touch with that and it is not even deeper we use meditation. I mean my program is basically a whole fruit based diet that is natural, low in fat and carbs it’s not one of the other meditation and yoga and exercise and what we call social support which usually involves intimacy order reducing down to its essence, eat well move more and just love more boom that’s it! But within that the stress less it’s not just the stress, the ancient rabiisim the rabbi’s and priests and nuns they developed meditations so long to unclog their arteries or get their blood pressure down whenever you can do all those things. It will help you perform better if you are a lead athlete. There are really powerful tools for calming down our mind and body enough to experience more than inner sense of peace, joy and well-being. Where healing occurs, it is deepest love on my limited experience so that is this technique of meditation they don’t bring you a sense of peace or well-being or even health that is our nature to be healthy and peaceful until we disturb it. That is a very different concept than so much of our western culture teaches us I mean the whole advertising industry is based on the idea that if only you have a successful startup, if only I can get in a medical school. If only I have more whatever more money, more power, more beauty, more accomplishment, more sex whatever, if I only have what I don’t have then I could be happy, then I could be healthy, then I wouldn’t feel so stressed. Now once you set out that sort of looking at the world, however it turns out you are going to feel bad I mean even though you think about it like that because until you get it you are stressed like I hope I get it. Since we know, the stress not only comes not just from what we do but how we react to what we do the stakes are high, it is not just what you are losing it’s like being a winner or loser if you don’t get in losers nobody want to be with right? If you don’t get rid of your stress then someone else gets really stressed it makes you feel like we live in this doggy dog zero sub game world and even if you don’t get it I mean even if you do get it I should say. It’s very seductive it’s like I got it now I am good, I am happy but then it generally doesn’t last its usually followed by well now what? It doesn’t really provide what I thought it would nor so a big deal it doesn’t provide a lasting sense of meaning so you will say ok that didn’t do, maybe this will. People say I make sure I got a dozen projects running at the same time so that I can be focusing my attention to something else. So when you meditate and you quiet down your mind and you experience that sense of inner peace, it’s important to remind yourself that that’s our natural state, that we are born with a sense of ease until its gets unease. I studied for many decades with an ache medical teacher named [inaudible] would say, “What are you a Hindu? No he would say I am an undo. The idea is that these things sound so brilliant enough that we have it already it’s one of the great ironies of life that we end up the process of running after all the things that we need to make this peaceful end up disturbing what we already have that we just stopped doing them. That really refrains what we do so the paradox is that when I was a freshman in college I could take all the meaning out of everything that is why I got supersonic depressed you know, who cares, why bother, so what, nothing matters, the guilt all those kind of existential ex you might say. But later I realize that just like I can take all the meaning out, I can review my choices with meaning and one way to do that is consciously choose not to eat certain foods or not to reveal them in honest relationship or whatever you are choosing not to do because what you gain is so much more than what you give up. And so all religions have dietary guidelines and are all different from each other but I think the reason is just the act of choosing not to do something that you otherwise couldn’t do imputes those choices with meaning. There is a wonderful story that my friend Rachel Raymond talks about in her book she wrote on Caucasian table ways about three people who were building a cathedral and one says I am chopping stone no other will be doing this tell the day I die it’s a hard life. Another one says I am doing this work so that I can get paid so that I can provide for my family who I love so dearly and the third one says I am building this cathedral that will inspire people for thousands of years to come. It is the same work but what meaning do we administer that makes the difference not only the quality of our life but even our survival because the more lonely and depressed you are, you are three to ten times more likely to get sick and die from stroke. So the spectrum book was based on this finding that the more you change the more you improve and people don’t like to be told what to do. So if you don’t have a life threatening illness again I want to emphasize if you do have a recognition you really do have to make this big changes it’s the pound of cure but if you don’t what matters most is your overall way of eating and living. So if you indulge yourself one day eat healthier the next, if you don’t have time to exercise do a little more the next, if you don’t have time to meditate for an hour do a minute whatever you do basically is for your benefit. And again to experience that benefit then you get a dysfunctional cycle like oh when I did this I feel so good, when I do that I feel not so good so let me do more of this and less of that and then it comes out and you don’t experience something like what some book or doctor told you but rather you literally connect the dots between why you do it and how you do it.
[22:52] REENA JADHAV: You control your own health yeah. I mean one thing that you just said I want to emphasize that. I really do believe that it is our culture that’s killing us. I didn’t realize to which extent until when I got sick, I got into meditation in a big way because I realized if I didn’t detach myself from my symptoms I’d never get in the heal zone. So okay how am I going to fool myself into thinking I am healthy again when I can see my 28 symptoms and I really liked Sad Guru. He is someone who is out of India and he is out there spreading his life like I had watched his videos on you tube and sort of really felt in love with what he was trying to say and one of the things he tried to say that really resonated with me and I thing for everyone out there that’s sick and is trying to reverse something. Find someone that resonates with you and follow that right because everyone wants something resonates. For me what resonated was very simple statements he said someone asked him why am I even here? What’s the purpose of life which at your point I think we go through it at some point. And he said yeah the purpose of life is just to be, to enjoy, this is you are born here almost as a gift like why do you need to do anything else? You were meant to enjoy life and his mantra is you have to get up and you have to go play like his big is into play. You have to go play I went into a couple of his long sort of meditation retreats, playing is a big part of it, and I hadn’t played in years and decades. Chasing a ball-who has time for that?
[24:27] DR. DEAN ORNISH: That is the prescription that I am most attracted to be the ones who lead a happy life. The [inaudible] said my religion is happiness because they have found that although we tend to think spirituality is being kind of dry, masking, balding, and boring, that’s the way it’s being found that’s how individuals enjoy life. My teacher liked to make fun as I mentioned, we were born fine and we define ourselves by getting stuck in all these definitions that separate us from other people, I am this, I am that. We have a lot of these going on in the political arena that once you demonize someone as being fundamentally different than you the other then you can do bad things to them. Those Muslim rapists, those terrorists whatever and to me the essence of healing is that one level will separate but another level we are part of something larger that connects us whatever name you will give to that even if you give it a name like cubistic its basically an unpalatable experience. In medication, prayer and other antagonizes can give you that direct experience to that interconnections and all the things that flow from that algorithms, love and compassion, forgiveness which is what refers to as the pallium philosophy. You find in all spiritual pass of life once you get past the different cases of people fighting, they can tear each other over; it’s the sense that we are already interconnected with each other and that what allows us to lead a happy life it’s that you realize that you have that already and then you can go out and really just play. It’s kind of like watching a movie that we are the light behind the projector as well as all the images that are projected on that and you can really only play with that at the deepest level if you really can experience both and so to me illness and suffering in general can be a doorway for transforming our lives in the most powerful ways by giving us or even asking those questions which I mean you are a perfect example of that. If you hadn’t gone through this experience, you would be doing what you were doing before and you are probably a lot happier now than you were then if I am correct.
[26:26] REENA JADHAV: Absolutely I am healthier, happier and more energetic. I haven’t had coffee in over two years, no alcohol and I jump out of bed in the morning.
[26:39] DR. DEAN ORNISH: That is the purpose as well and you feel so good. And so that’s why I love doing this work because we all are going to die it’s just a question of when and so for me it’s not just how long we live but how well we live like I said who want to live longer without having fun!
Dr. Dean Ornish, MD
Phone: 415-332-2525, x-229
Phone: +1 (877) 888-3091
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