THINK THAT CHRONIC disease is irreversible? Think again! Thirty years ago, Dr. Dean Ornish came up with a radical but simple idea that threatened the very foundation of our whole conception of disease. He believed that heart disease, cancer, and any chronic illness could actually be reversed with diet and lifestyle changes. Medication and surgery can slow and treat disease, but Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle program could actually reverse and undo the damage. This was medical heresy.
But he had the courage to suggest that if you eat a high-quality, nutrient-dense, plant-based diet , get regular exercise, practice stress management such as yoga and meditation, and connect to a community, you can reverse heart disease and unclog your arteries. Unfortunately, all people heard was “cut out all fat.” He was misrepresented and misunderstood. People missed the WHOLE point of his work.
…there is no such thing as junk food. There is junk and there is food. So eat real food and you will be fine.
What Dr. Ornish thought and then proved has the potential to change medicine as much as the discovery of antibiotics or vaccines. If only people would have listened to him then, we would not be in the healthcare mess we are today. Thirty years ago, Dr. Ornish told us WHAT to do in his book Reversing Heart Disease. And he proved that it worked.
Now, in his groundbreaking book, The Spectrum, he tells us WHY it works and how to personalize your diet and lifestyle to match your needs and your genes. The secret of reversing disease, he shows us, is changing your genes. And that doesn’t mean wearing Levi’s instead of Gap jeans, or picking new parents, or splicing in some new recombinant gene into your genetic code to unclog your arteries or reverse cancer growth. It means recognizing that absolutely everything you do interacts with your genes and literally changes the way they are “read” or expressed. Health is the result of your genes expressing themselves well, disease is the result of poorly expressed genes.
The way food talks to your genes and controls your health is called nutrigenomics. The quality of the food you choose to eat is probably the most important thing you do every day to control your genes. How and what you eat determines which genes are turned on and off. It matters whether you eat whole, real food, or processed, high-sugar, and high-fat food. It matters whether your diet contains phytochemicals or toxic chemicals. And it matters whether the way you eat balances your blood sugar or causes swings in blood sugar.
In The Spectrum, Dr. Ornish explains how and why the choices we make everyday influence our health through our genes. The future of medicine, he says — as I also explained in my book UltraMetabolism — is personalized medicine. And in The Spectrum, Dr. Ornish explains how to customize your diet and lifestyle to match your genes and your needs. He shows you how to identify your risks, look at your current state of health, and then match your approach to those needs.
If you were a 25-year-old athlete with no family history of heart disease, your approach would be different from a 65-year-old man who has type-2 diabetes and has had two heart attacks. The whole idea of good and bad food, with a few exceptions such as trans fats, is outdated.
As Dr. Ornish explains, there is a spectrum of choices for being healthy and feeling well. A little chocolate or a few cookies or some great ice cream is not what’s going to kill you or make you sick. It is the overall way we eat and live. And remember, there is no such thing as junk food. There is junk and there is food. So eat real food and you will be fine.
Dr. Ornish does an amazing job of explaining that all nutritional science is pointing to basically the same thing. The media and the food industry contribute to nutrition confusion, and often paralysis, to make headlines or sell their products. But Dr. Ornish gets beyond all the low-fat, low-carb, high-carb, high-fat blah, blah, blah about this or that diet.
He says what we all know — that we evolved to eat a whole, real, unprocessed, nature-made diet. And in that there is a spectrum of choices that can promote health and well-being. What we need to eat is what we have been eating for 150,000 years. Dr. Ornish also talks about “exercise-omics” and “stress-omics”, or how your genes are also controlled by exercise and stress. Scientific research has shown that your emotions actually control how your genes work. Think negative thoughts, live in anger and hostility, and you will turn on disease genes. Live in forgiveness, kindness, love, and community and you will turn on anti-aging, disease-reversing genes. He was the first to suggest and then to prove that dealing with the causes of illness is far more effective, and far cheaper than conventional treatment — not only to prevent disease but to reverse it.
Functional medicine is a system of addressing the underlying causes of illness by understanding the interaction between your genes and your environment. It is a way to personalize medicine. In talking about his own compelling and groundbreaking research, and in reviewing the pioneering work of others in this field, he gives us both an understanding and a roadmap for preventing and reversing disease. He gives us a way to feel well now, increase energy, lose weight, improve mood, feel more connected to your own life’s purpose and meaning, and even have better sex.
Dean Ornish is a friend for whom I have enormous respect. The two qualities I see most in Dean are courage and compassion. These are rare qualities in our fear-based, homogenized society. He knew that for this program to be accessible for everyone, it must be reimbursed by insurance. So he went to Medicare to have them fund a demonstration project based on his previous published research in major medical journals. He was told he first had to have the approval that it was safe. He asked, safe in comparison to having your chest split open or balloons blown up in the arteries, or taking medications that damage the liver and muscle, cost billions of dollars, and are largely ineffective? No, they told him.
He needed a letter from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute saying it was safe to eat fruits and vegetables, walk, meditate, and quit smoking! Due to his persistence — and the truth — his program is now approved. He is giving away his model of care for heart disease FREE to allow people to access it, and to create a research collaboration across the world to further our understanding of how and why food is the best medicine. The only thing on I disagree with Dean is that this is NOT alternative medicine.
This the best medicine for the problem — the most effective and the least expensive, with scores of positive side effects including energy, vitality, weight loss, and improved mood and mental functioning. He presents his story with wit and humor, keen intelligence, and a treasure of tools for successfully implementing his ideas.
These tools include clear nutrition guidance, guided meditations by his wife Anne (with an additional DVD included), an exercise prescription, and more than 100 wonderful, delicious life-giving recipes by a master chef. So, bravo Dr. Ornish!
I encourage everyone to buy this book now. And buy one for everyone one you love. It is the gift of life. You can pick up a copy of this book now by going to Amazon.
Now I’d like to hear from you… Have you read Dr. Ornish’s books?
Did you believe that it is possible to reverse chronic disease?
What results have you noticed?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD