Friday, April 16, 2010

Dean Ornish on Sustainable Lifestyle Choices

Imagine this. A friend has been diagnosed with an early stage, slow growing prostate cancer. After talking with his phyician he decided to start making some lifestyle changes instead. He started exercising. Then he changed his eating habits, took fish oil. First one thing, then another. After three months of significant lifestyle interventions something astonishing happened. His genes changed.    
I don't know about you but the thought that the lifestyle changes -- like my cycling for example, or your daily 3-mile run -- may actually change my genes sends chills up my spine.  And this was only one of the incredibly hopeful points that Dean Ornish, MD, founder of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research Institute ( and clinical professor of medicine at UCSF made Tuesday at a lecture sponsored by MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program Lecture Series (CIMER).  Here's what Dr. Ornish had to say:

1) Our genes are not our fate.  
The example above is from an actual study conducted at PMRI and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science ( 2008.  Thirty men with low-risk prostate cancer -- who had decided not to undergo conventional treatment -- were biopsied at the beginning of the study and then three months after making comprehensive lifestyle changes.  Those changes in part included meditation, yoga-based-stretching, and a weekly support group in addition to a plant-based diet and moderate exercise.  
        In a column published in Newsweek the same year, Dr. Ornish wrote, "We found that many disease-promoting genes (including those associated with cancer, heart disease, and inflammation) were down-regulated or 'turned off,' where as protective disease-preventing genes were up-regulated or 'turned-on.'...Dr. Craig Venter's pioneering research is showing that one way to change your genes is to synthesize new ones.  Another may be to change your lifestyle."
       Another thing that the researchers found, is apparent in the example. "Your body has a remarkable capacity for healing itself & doing so much faster than we imagined."  Conditions once considered impossible to change...may not be. 

2) Sustainable lifestyle changes are based on joy, pleasure and freedom.
Thirty years of investigating the power of lifestyle choices have revealed what works. "Fear is not a sustainable motivator.  There's no point in giving up something unless you gain something in returned,” he said. “I’d rather see us thinking about lifestyle as an actual treatment plan and not a preventative measure.”  Promoting health, instead of preventing illness, for example.
        Dr. Ornish eventually channeled his findings into a program and book titled, The Spectrum, a scale of choices in diet, exercise, stress reductions and nutritional supplements that can be applied for chronic diseases, including cancer.  "To the degree that you move in a healthier direction along this spectrum," said, " you're likely to look better, feel better, lose weight and gain health.  Then it's much easier to maintain the changes."  He wants to see people make informed choices -- not from fear -- but from an understanding of what they can do for their own health. “It's not ‘all or nothing,’ he said.  “We need to put together programs for eating and living based on what's right for the individual.” 
3)  Community builds health.
“Anything that removes our sense of community decreases health.  What ultimately frees us from our suffering  are altruism. Compassion. And love.  We can’t always cure but we can ALWAYS help people heal.”
For more information on Dean Ornish, MD, and the Preventative Medicine Research Institute:


Annemieke said...

Dera Jody,

Thank you (again) for sharing this with us!! It is amazing to think you can actually change your genes by you lifestyle. very hopeful news. You teach me so much mt=y dera friend

Debbie said...

Great post Jody and very hopeful! Thanks for sharing this in such a concise way for us. It is amazing all the information out there about how important lifestyle changes are for everyone and how even small changes can have a positive and preventative affect on our bodies.

Running the race said...

Jody, you have put into words what I have been thinking all along. I wonder why we don't have more professionals in the health care profession promote this. When I ask the question, the answer I keep getting is "there is not enough research or medical evidence to support this."

Please don't misunderstand me. I have done what the doctors have asked me to do in regards to my breast cancer but there comes a point when I want to not another pill, it is about changing my life style! Thank you

Jody said...

Thank you Annemieke and Deb. Love you both and your awesome support. I thought this was such hopeful news, too and in fact, have been thinking about it ever since I heard Dr. Ornish speak.


Jody said...

The good news is that this "movement" is gaining legs across society. In fact, Dr. Ornish spoke so fluently, so quickly, and in such huge paragraphs of information that I couldn't get everything down. Two things will continue to drive this. 1) the health care crisis and 2) the health care crisis:)

The health care crisis isn't about the government. The health care crisis is the recognition by all of us that the way the US was headed, and the lifestyle we export to other countries, is not sustainable economically, spiritually, emotionally or physically.

We need to work toward of better way of being and living.

And in practical terms, what Dr. Ornish had to say indirectly for the scarcity of preventative research was this: "Evidence based medicine has often been reimbursement based medicine."

Once Medicare begins funding preventative programs like nutrition counseling, etc. then we will see a massive change.

Thanks for your wonderful comments,


Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this post. Doing work with women who are recovering from or battling cancers (and.or their supporters) makes this hit home in a new way. Health is not in a pill. It's bigger and more wholistic than that. Being wrapped in love, joy, clarity, purpose, awareness of being, TRULY nourishing foods and friends - this is health and healing. And much of this cost nothing (except the food ;) ). Thank you for this! I will be visiting often!!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Hello!! This is such a great post! We are a company in Philadelphia that actually got it's name from a diagnosis of a "deviant gene" in a former cancer patient. We are using our apparel to support women through their process of healing and restoration. How awesome the hope in this - that changes in the way you think, operate, and what/who you surround yourself with can transform you and kick start the healing process. Thanks for sharing!!

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Joe said...

Jody - Great looking blog site and very good comments about the evening on the 12th. I'm trying to write it up for my newsletter and you've done a great job of capturing the essence of it.

Wanted to say that Dr. Ornish's talk was captured and a video of his talk is on the M.D. Anderson CIMER site at

I also noted you live in Houston and I was casting around for a "Spectrum" lifestyle support group. Knowing most of my own failings I won't be able to keep this up on my own. Let me know if there is such a thing. There are many of the elements of this approach in the Place... of Wellness but there is not one integrated collection.

I'm running a patient information and support site and newsletter for PCa patients who've been treated at the MDACC Proton Therapy Center.
In Gratitude, Joe L

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