Four Keys to Reversing Chronic Disease

As the Founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute and a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, Dr. Dean Ornish, MD has quite a lot to say about lifestyle medicine. Through treatment of tens of thousands of patients and publication of peer-reviewed research, he has demonstrated the body’s remarkable capacity for self-healing without prescription drugs or invasive medical procedures. The title of his latest book captures his seminal message: Undo It! – How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases.

What does his lifestyle medicine entail?

ornish health plan

When following these straight-forward guidelines (along with non-smoking!) studies showed that folks reduced their risk of chronic disease by 78%, broken down as follows:

  • 93% reduced risk of diabetes
  • 81% reduced risk of heart disease
  • 50% reduced risk of stroke
  • 36% reduced risk of all forms of cancer

Dr. Ornish reports that a Mutual of Omaha study found that 80% of the people eligible for heart bypass or stents avoided the procedure through adherence to lifestyle medicine guidelines. Further, a Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield study showed a 50% reduction in healthcare costs for lifestyle medicine participants.

Why does it work?

It turns out that our lifestyles have a much greater impact on our health than our genes. When we care for our bodies in accordance with Dr. Ornish’s recommendations, we:

  • Minimize inflammation, thereby avoiding chronic activation of our immune systems
  • Minimize oxidative stress, thereby preventing damage to our tissues, blood vessels, cells, and DNA by free radicals
  • Downregulate harmful DNA expression (e.g., genes that give rise to cancer or atherosclerosis) and upregulate protective gene expression
  • Enhance our microbiome for improved digestion, immune response, and metabolic function
  • Avoid overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system caused by chronic stress (a.k.a., the fight-or-flight response)
  • Keep blood flowing for a sharper brain, healthy skin, healthy heart, improved sensory response, and optimal sexual function
  • Keep our telomeres nice and long!

What are keys to success?

Dr. Ornish notes that fear-based strategies have proven ineffective in encouraging folks to adopt healthy lifestyles. The program must be pleasurable, meaningful, and enjoyable. It must illumine a pathway to a life that can be savored. To that end, Dr. Ornish recommends making big changes for the sake of reaping the benefits of improved healthy as quickly as possible. Moderate changes just don’t make folks feel good enough fast enough to have a lasting impact.

Dr. Ornish and his team had good results. Ninety-four percent of participants complete the 9-week program. Over eight-five percent still follow the program a year later.

Undo It! has LOTS of great information along with concrete suggestions for implementing the program. In particular, it provides a host of delicious recipes, illustrated examples of useful exercises, and practical guides for de-stressing. It’s well worth a place on the bookshelf.