Meet Dr Dean Ornish, the world-renowned physician who used Indian lifestyle management techniques such as yoga, meditation, a vegetarian diet, introspection and selftransformation to ‘bypass the bypass’. In the process he transformed the perception of illness and wellness in the West, says Jamuna Rangachari
By bypassing the bypass, his revolutionary programme that provenly reverses heart disease, Dr Dean Ornish also bypassed the dominant Western allopathic system and replaced it with a holistic system based on Indian philosophy. For the upcoming New Age, Dr Ornish’s achievement is no mean feat, for it proves beyond doubt that prevention is a far more potent medical intervention than expensive invasive techniques such as cardiac surgery. Dr Ornish conducted a randomised controlled trial known as the Lifestyle Heart Trial, with data published in the British medical journal, Lancet, in 1990. He selected a group of people suffering from coronary artery disease, and put them on a regimen of yoga, meditation, low-fat largely vegetarian diet, and exercise. After one year, it was noted that their coronary arteries had increased in width as compared to the control group which had even more narrow coronary arteries at the end of the trial.
Dr Ornish has many influential subscribers to his approach including former US President, Bill Clinton, who adopted his diet shortly after his coronary surgery in 2010. The late Steve Jobs counted Dr Ornish among his close friends. Remarkably, some insurance companies such as Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, West Virginia, even support his work.
The inspiration for Dr Ornish’s holistic approach is the well-known Indian guru, Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga, whose ashram, Yogaville, based in Buckingham,
|“Replace ‘I’ with ‘we’ and illness becomes wellness.”
- Swami Satchidananda
Virginia, is famous for the LOTUS temple. Ornish’s family members were disciples of Swamiji and in his book, Love & Survival, 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health, Ornish shares that a conversation with the wise swami saved him from committing suicide.
What Ornish has accomplished for heart diseases he is now attempting to do for cancer and Type 2 diabetes as well, and thus further shift the perspective from illness to wellness. Dr Ornish is also the author of several best-sellers including Dr Dean Ornish’s Programme for Reversing Heart Disease, Eat More, Weigh Less among several others.
He is president and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, as well as Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the recipient of several honours and awards and was recognised as “one of the most interesting people of 1996” by People magazine, featured in the “TIME 100” issue on alternative medicine, and chosen by LIFE magazine as “one of the 50 most influential members of his generation.
Excerpts from a telephonic interview :
What made you take up the mission of preventing lifestyle diseases?
I got interested when I was participating in bypass operations and realised that health is not just a consequence of surgery, but of addressing the cause of the disease.
As a young man, I watched the eminent heart specialist Dr. Michael DeBakey perfect his technique for coronary-bypass surgery. While DeBakey’s procedure was greeted as a stunning medical breakthrough, I noticed that many patients were returning for a second, and sometimes a third, operation – their bypasses having clogged up. I then realised that bypass surgery was like cutting the wires on a fire alarm without putting out the fire. It did not address the underlying cause of the problem.
Your Bypass the Bypass programme was revolutionary in promoting an alternative approach to healing heart ailments. How do you think it has contributed in making the US more receptive to alternative healing modalities?
People often think that advances in medicine have to be a new drug, a new laser, or a surgical intervention to be powerful – something really high-tech and expensive. They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lives each day – what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke, how much we exercise, and the quality of our relationships – can make a powerful difference in our health, our well-being, and our survival.
Today, we have proven that with lifestyle changes, the blockages actually began to reverse and yes, not just the US but the entire world has become more aware.
In what ways have you applied the concepts behind the bypass programme to other ailments as well?
We have published a randomised controlled trial in collaboration with Peter Carroll, MD (Chair of Urology at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco) and William Fair, MD (Chair of Urologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, now deceased) showing that the progression of early-stage prostate cancer may be stopped or perhaps even reversed by making similar changes in diet and lifestyle. This was the first randomised controlled trial showing that the progression of any type of cancer may be modified just by changing what we eat and how we live. What’s true for prostate cancer may be true for breast cancer as well.
What are the concerns and issues you are pursuing at the moment?
Well, Type 2 diabetes has become almost an epidemic and this is extremely worrying as it affects the quality of one’s life. Now, we are working on how to address Type 2 diabetes, and have found very good results on the studies.
Your beautiful book, Love and Survival, made the important point that relationships play a crucial role in our well-being. Would you like to share more on that?
Love and intimacy – our ability to connect with ourselves and others, is at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing.
If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country
|“The progression of early-stage prostate cancer may be stopped or perhaps even reversed by making similar changes in diet and lifestyle.”|
would be recommending it for his or her patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe it – yet, with few exceptions, we doctors do not learn much about the healing power of love, intimacy, and transformation in our medical training.
When we understand how important these issues are, then we can do something about it. These include: spending more time with our friends and family; communication skills; group support; confession, forgiveness, and redemption; compassion, altruism, and service; psychotherapy; touching; commitment; meditation.
Do you foresee a change in the way medicine and health in general, is addressed?
It is changing. One has realised the strong connect between the body and the mind and even the spirit. This is even being documented so people are becoming more aware.
Awareness is the first step in healing. When we become more aware of how powerfully our choices in diet and lifestyle affect us – for better and for worse – then we can make different ones. It’s like connecting the dots between what we do and how we feel.
Very often, healing is augmented with belief in a higher consciousness. What are your views on this?
I have experience that joy and inner belief augments better health. So, yes, a positive frame of mind always helps. There is a deep spiritual hunger in this country. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease, but also what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease: There is a profound sense of loneliness, isolation, alienation, and depression in our culture with the breakdown of the social structures that used to provide us with a sense of connection and community. It is, to me, the root of the illness, cynicism, and violence in our society.
How important a role does diet play in healing?
This is very important. We have directed a series of scientific research studies showing, for the first time, that the progression of even severe coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making comprehensive lifestyle changes. These include a very low-fat diet such as predominantly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural, unrefined forms.
What, in your opinion, is the first step one should take, while embarking on a change in their health? Most people can make progressively bigger changes in nutrition and lifestyle to achieve their goals – often without medications. If moderate changes in diet and lifestyle aren’t sufficient to lower your cholesterol sufficiently, bigger changes in diet and lifestyle usually are. How much you want to change is entirely up to you. If you’re trying to reverse heart disease or prevent the recurrence of cancer, you may need the “pound of cure”—that is, bigger changes in diet and lifestyle than someone who just wants to lower their cholesterol levels a few points or lose a few pounds. If you have a strong family history, or if genetic testing shows you to be at higher risk, then this information can be a powerful motivator to make bigger changes in diet and lifestyle than you might have otherwise made. Also, it may be possible to tailor pharmacologic interventions more effectively and efficiently.
Who are the doctors/ hospitals who have supported your alternative approach?
Many hospitals are now educating the patients on all the aspects of making informed choices. Insurance companies such as Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia support our workshops and programmes.
Swami Satchidananda has influenced your worldview. Would you like to share about what you got from Swamiji?
He said when we replace the ‘I’ in Illness with ‘We’, Illness becomes Wellness’. This is applicable to all of us, always. Yoga, stress relief and all such aspects too I learnt from him.
How has this mission – both of general health and overall well-being – changed you as an individual?
Ironically, some of the behaviors that many people think are fun and sexy – like smoking cigarettes, overeating, abusing alcohol, and chronic stress – are the same ones that leave them aging faster and feeling tired, lethargic, depressed, and impotent. How fun is that?
When you eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, exercise, meditate, and have more love in your life, then your brain receives more blood and oxygen, so you think more clearly, have more energy, need less sleep. Your brain can grow so many new brain neurons in only three months that your brain can get measurably bigger! Your face gets more blood flow, so your skin glows more and wrinkles less. Your heart gets more blood flow, so you have more stamina and can even begin to reverse heart disease. Your sexual organs receive more blood flow, so you may become more potent – the same way that drugs like Viagra work.
For many people, these are choices worth making – not just to live longer, but also to live better. Life is to be fully enjoyed.
I am not hundred per cent there but I try to apply all these findings in my own life.
Do you have anything else to share with our readers?
Well, I would like to say that people have different needs, goals and preferences. What matters most is your overall way of eating and living. If you indulge yourself one day, you can eat more healthfully the next. If you’re a couch potato one day, exercise a little more the next. If you don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes, do it for one minute—the consistency is more important than the duration. Then, you’re less likely to feel restricted. Studies have shown that those who eat the healthiest overall are the ones who allow themselves some indulgences.
Do also view my website: www.ornish.com
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