Dean Ornish


American Physician,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

Author Quotes

Question: What do you think is the most simple, overlooked thing people can do for their health?
Answer: Love more. What you eat, how you respond to stress, how much you exercise, whether or not you smoke, how much love and support you have. But of all those, probably the love and support. Study after study has shown that people who are lonely and depressed are 10 times for likely to die or get sick. You're more likely to smoke and abuse yourself if you're lonely and depressed. It's not enough to just work at a behavioral level and give people information; you have to work at a deeper level.

I believe in the value of science as a powerful means of gaining a greater understanding of the world we live in. But I also understand its limitations. What is verifiable may not necessarily be what is most important.

Patients on an Atkins diet in this study showed more than double the level of CRP (C-reactive protein), which is a measure of chronic inflammation and also significantly higher levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone. Both of these increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

But never underestimate the power of telling people what they want to hear — like cheeseburgers and bacon are good for you. People are drawn to Atkins-type diets in part because, as the study showed, they produce a higher metabolic rate. But a low-carb diet increases metabolic rate because it’s stressful to your body. Just because something increases your metabolic rate doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

After a lifetime of being overweight... through childhood, the teen years, my twenties, thirties, and forties,... finally, at the age of 55, I experienced a "normal" appetite on a low carb diet. For all of those decades I "overate" because I was hungry...It certainly is NOT a problem of weak willpower.

Calories do count — fat is much denser in calories, so when you eat less fat, you consume fewer calories, without consuming less food. Also, it’s easy to eat too many calories from sugar and other refined carbs because they are so low in fiber that you can consume large amounts without getting full.

In 35 years of medical research, conducted at the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, which I founded, we have seen that patients who ate mostly plant-based meals, with dishes like black bean vegetarian chili and whole wheat penne pasta with roasted vegetables, achieved reversal of even severe coronary artery disease.

When diet and lifestyle - often the underlying causes of poor health - are adjusted, the body has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself, much more quickly than we had once thought possible. On the other hand, if we literally bypass the problem with surgery or figuratively with medications without also addressing its underlying causes, the same problem may recur, new problems may emerge, or we may be faced with painful choices - sort of like mopping up the floor around an overflowing sink without turning off the faucet first.

When most people think about my work, they think about diet. To me, diet has always been the least interesting part of it... It's really about helping people use the experience of suffering -- both the physical suffering and psycho-social suffering, which is often harder to measure, but often more meaningful -- as a catalyst for transforming their lives for the better. It's a conspiracy of love.

Part of the value of science is to raise our awareness... People who are lonely and depressed are three to 10 times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a strong sense of love and community. I don't know any other single factor that affects our health -- for better and for worse -- to such a strong degree.

Because the biological mechanisms that affect our health and well-being are so dynamic, when people change their diet and lifestyle, they usually feel so much better, so quickly, it reframes the reason for changing from fear of dying to joy of living. Also, the support that patients give each other is a powerful motivator.

What's sustainable is joy, pleasure and freedom.

We are grateful to Medicare for making it possible for physicians and other health professionals to create sustainable models of health care that empower people to change their lives for the better.

My colleagues and I at the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute conducted a randomized controlled trial in collaboration with Dr. Peter Carroll [chair of urology, UCSF] and the late Dr. William Fair [chair of urology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center] showing that comprehensive lifestyle changes may slow, stop, or even reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer -- and the only side-effects are good ones.

Seventy five percent of the $2.7 trillion in health care costs, which are really 'sick care' costs, are from chronic diseases that can be largely prevented, or even reversed, through simply changing diet and lifestyle,

When we understand the connection between how we live and how long we live, it’s easier to make different choices.

People don’t dislike change, they dislike being changed.

I don't understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.

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American Physician,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