What’s the most exciting trend in health care today? It’s the idea of Lifestyle Medicine, that is, using comprehensive lifestyle changes—either in combination with drugs and surgery or often as an alternative—to prevent and reverse many of the most common chronic diseases that plague our country today.
There is a convergence of forces that makes this the right idea at the right time. Randomized controlled trials have shown that drugs and surgery are less effective than had once been believed in treating and preventing the most common chronic diseases. At the same time, lifestyle medicine interventions are proving to be more effective than had previously been documented.
THE HEALING POWER OF LIFESTYLE MEDICINE
For almost four decades, my colleagues and I at the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco, have conducted clinical research proving the many benefits of comprehensive lifestyle changes. This research has culminated in Ornish Lifestyle Medicine™ – the first and only program scientifically proven to reverse the progression of heart disease. The lifestyle changes upon which the program is based include:
- Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet (naturally low in fat and refined carbohydrates);
- Using stress management techniques (including yoga and meditation);
- Incorporating moderate exercise (such as walking); and
- Embracing social support and community (love and intimacy).
- In short—eat well, move more, stress less, and love more.
Many people tend to think of advances in medicine as only those that are high-tech and expensive, such as a new drug, laser, or surgical procedure. They often have a hard time believing that something as simple as comprehensive lifestyle changes can make such a powerful difference in our lives—but they often do.
In our research, we’ve used high-tech, expensive, state-of-the-art scientific measures to prove the power of these simple, low-tech, and low-cost interventions. These randomized controlled trials and clinical research studies have been published in the leading peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.
- Reverse the progression of even severe coronary heart disease. There was even more reversal after five years than after one year and 2.5 times fewer cardiac events;
- Reverse the progression of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and obesity;
- Slow, stop, or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer;
- Beneficially changes the expression of your genes in over 500 genes in only three months;
- Lengthen telomeres, thereby begin to reverse aging at a cellular level;
- Substantially reduce the need for bypass surgery and stents, saving $30,000 per patient in the first year and cutting health care costs by 50% in the first year.
THE LIMITATIONS OF DRUGS AND SURGERY
Drugs and surgery can be lifesaving, especially in treating infectious diseases and when patients are unstable—such as in the middle of a heart attack. But their limitations in treating many chronic diseases are becoming increasingly well-documented.
Recently, for example, a randomized controlled trial was published in The New England Journal of Medicine showing that after ten years, men with early-stage prostate cancer who underwent surgical removal of their prostates or radiation treatments did not live longer than those who did nothing. However, we conducted a randomized controlled trial showing that comprehensive lifestyle changes may slow, stop, or even reverse the progression of prostate cancer.
As another example, a meta-analysis of eight randomized controlled trials showed that stents and angioplasties do not prolong life or prevent heart attacks in most stable patients.
In the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study, comprehensive lifestyle changes worked better than drugs at preventing type 2 diabetes. In two of our studies, reducing blood sugar with drugs did not prevent premature mortality and the horrible complications of diabetes.
Therefore, comprehensive lifestyle changes may reverse the progression of heart disease, early-stage prostate cancer, and type 2 diabetes, and lead us to a healthier, happier life.
Dean Ornish, M.D. is Founder & President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. For more information and free resources, visit www.ornish.com.
This article is a part of the 2016 Holiday - Radical Generosity issue of Whole Life Times.