Research Overview

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During the past 35 years, Dean Ornish, MD and his colleagues have conducted a series of scientific studies demonstrating —for the first time- that integrative changes in diet and lifestyle can:

  • Reverse heart disease
  • Turn on health-promoting genes & turn off disease-promoting genes
  • Lengthen telomeres, the end of chromosomes that control aging
  • Slow, stop, or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer

These research findings are published in leading peer-reviewed medical journals.

The Preventive Medicine Research Institute is also a member of the Association of Independent Research Institutes (AIRI, a nationwide association of eighty-nine (89) independent, not-for-profit research institutes. These institutes are an integral part of the United States research community.

Research Highlights

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Dr. Ornish's 35 years of clinical research proved how the lifestyle program he recommends improves most chronic diseases, including:

 

Telomeres

Increase Telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that control cell ageing

A pilot study, published in The Lancet Oncology, shows that comprehensive lifestyle changes may increase the length of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that control cell ageing. This is the first study to show that any intervention might lengthen telomeres over time. If the findings are confirmed by larger randomised controlled trials, scientists will begin to have a better understanding of how lifestyle changes may have the potential to reverse ageing on a cellular level.

Lifestyle changes lengthen telomeres
Lancet Oncology (PDF)

Telomerase

Increase Telomerase, the enzyme that maintains telomere length

Results of this study, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, showed, for the first time, that changing lifestyle significantly increases telomerase. Telomerase is the enzyme responsible for maintaining telomere length. Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes that influence how long we live. This is the first time that any intervention, even drugs, has been shown to significantly increase telomerase.

Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study.
Lancet Oncology (PDF)

Telomerase and the Benefits of Healthy Living
Lancet Oncology (PDF)

Gene Expression

Turn on health-promoting genes & turn off disease-promoting genes

In this study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org), we found that over 500 genes were affected by lifestyle changes. In fact, certain disease preventing genes were up-regulated, or turned on, and certain disease promoting genes, including oncogenes involved in cancer, were down-regulated, or turned off. The results of this study suggest that comprehensive lifestyle changes may cause changes in gene expression that could be beneficial to the general population as well as to those with prostate cancer.

“Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention.”
Preceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): www.pnas.org (PDF)

Prostate Cancer

Slow, Stop, or Reverse the Progression of Early-Stage Prostate Cancer

We examined the effects of intensive lifestyle changes on men with early stage Prostate Cancer after 1 year. After 1 year, none of the men in the experimental group underwent conventional treatments compared to 6 in the control group. Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) decreased 4% in the experimental group compared to a 6% increase in the control group, and prostate cancer cell growth was inhibited almost eight times as much in the experimental group compared to the control group. These results indicate that intensive lifestyle changes may effect the progression of early low grade prostate cancer.

“Intensive Lifestyle Changes May Effect the Progression of Prostate Cancer”
Journal of Urology (PDF)

“Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PDF)

“Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study”
Lancet Oncology (PDF)

“Relationship of Dietary Protein and Soy Isoflavones to Serum IGF-1 and IGF Binding Proteins in the Prostate Cancer Lifestyle Trial”
Nutrition and Cancer (PDF)

 

Heart Disease

Reverse & Prevent Heart Disease

We examined the ability of patients enrolled in the Lifestyle Heart Trial to sustain intensive lifestyle changes for a total of five years and the effects of these lifestyle changes on coronary heart disease. We measured adherence to lifestyle changes, changes in coronary artery percent diameter stenosis, and cardiac events. Outcomes in the experimental group showed significant improvement relative to controls. Additionally, compared to 1 year follow up, 5 year follow ups showed greater improvement relative to controls.

“Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease”
Journal of the American Medical Association (PDF)

“Changes in Myocardial Perfusion Abnormalities by Positron Emission Tomography After Long-Term, Intense Risk Factor Modification”
Journal of the American Medical Association (PDF)

“Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease?”
The Lancet (PDF)

“Effects of Stress Management Training & Dietary Changes in Treating Ischemic Heart Disease”
Journal of the American Medical Association (PDF)

“Improved Stenosis Geometry by Quantitative Coronary Arteriography After Vigorous Risk Factor Modification”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“Statins and the Soul of Medicine”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“Improvement in Medical Risk Factors & Quality of Life in Women and Men With Coronary Artery Disease in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Trial”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“Long Term Effects of Lifestyle Changes on Well-Being and Cardiac Variables Among Coronary Heart Disease Patients”
Health Psychology (PDF)

“The Contribution of Changes in Diet, Exercise, and Stress Management in Coronary Risks in Women and Men in the Multisite Cardiac Lifestyle Intervention Program”
Annals of Behavioral Medicine (PDF)

“Lifestyle Changes and Clinical Profile in Heart Disease Patients with an Ejection Fraction of ≤40% or ≥ 40% in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project”
The European Journal of Heart Failure (PDF)

“Effects of Pomegranite Juice Consumption on Myocardial Perfusion in Patients with Coronary Heart Disease”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“Angina Pectoris and Atherosclerotic Risk Factors in the Multisite Cardiac Lifestyle Intervention Program”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“Socioeconomic Status and Improvements in Lifestyle, Coronary Risk Factors, and Quality of life: The Multisite Cardiac Lifestyle Intervention Program”
American Journal of Public Health (PDF)

“Relation of B-Type Natriuretic Peptide Levels to Body Mass Index After Comprehensive Lifestyle Changes”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“Dean Ornish, MD: A Conversation With the Editor
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)


Diabetes & Pre-Diabetes

Reverse and Prevent Type 2 Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

Patients with diabetes were able to follow the Ornish program and show the same improvements in coronary risk factors and quality of life as those without diabetes.  Patients showed statistically significant decreases in their HgbA1c, and many were able to reduce their diabetes medication.

“Comparison of coronary risk factors and quality of life in coronary artery disease patients with versus without diabetes mellitus”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

“The effectiveness and efficacy of an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in 24 sites”
American Journal of Health Promotion (PDF)


Weight Loss

Lose Weight and  Improve BMI

Patients who participated in the 12 week Ornish program showed statistically significant improvements in their in their weight and their BMI, reporting an average 20 pound weight loss in 12 months

“The effectiveness and efficacy of an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in 24 sites”
American Journal of Health Promotion (PDF)

“Improvement in medical risk factors and quality of life in women and men with coronary artery disease in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

 

Cholesterol

Lower Cholesterol

Patients who participated in the 12 week Ornish program showed statistically significant improvements in their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerdies.  In fact, patients lowered their LDL-cholesterol levels by an average of 40%.

“The effectiveness and efficacy of an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in 24 sites”
American Journal of Health Promotion (PDF)

“A Very-Low-Fat Vegan Diet Increases Intake of Protective Dietary Factors and Decreases Intake of Pathogenic Dietary Factors”
The American Dietetic Association (PDF)

 

Blood Pressure

Lower Blood Pressure

Patients who followed the Ornish program lowered their systolic and diastolic blood pressure after only 12 weeks, and many were able to decrease their blood pressure medication

“The effectiveness and efficacy of an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in 24 sites”
American Journal of Health Promotion (PDF)

 

Depression

Relieve Depression

Our research showed that patients with depression and metabolic syndrome were able to make significant intensive diet and lifestyle changes. In fact, 73% of patients with depressive symptoms became non-depressed after only 12 weeks, with both men and women showing similar improvements in depression.

“Lifestyle changes are related to reductions in depression in persons with elevated coronary risk factors”
Psychology and Health (PDF)

“The effectiveness and efficacy of an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in 24 sites”
American Journal of Health Promotion (PDF)

 

Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Projects

Optimize Outcomes & Cost-Savings

“Improvement in Medical Risk Factors and Quality of Life in Women and Men With Coronary Artery Disease in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

We examined baseline and 3 month medical and psychosocial characteristics of women and men enrolled in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. Results showed significant improvements in diet, exercise and stress management, as well as improvements in medical and psychosocial characteristics. These improvements occured in spite of gender differences in medical, psychosocial and sociodemographic status. These results suggest that programs focusing on intensive lifestyle changes can be successfully implemented in diverse regions of the United States, and may be particularly helpful for women with heart disease, who generally have higher mortality and morbidity rates than men after a cardiac event.

“Avoiding Revascularization with Lifestyle Changes: The Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project”
American Journal of Cardiology (PDF)

We examined the potential of intensive lifestyle changes as a direct alternative to revascularization procedures on patients enrolled in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. Results showed that patients in the experimental group were able to avoid revascularization for at least 3 years without increasing cardiac morbidity and mortality. These changes also came at a significantly lower cost than a revascularization procedure. These patients also reported experiencing reductions in angina similar to what was reported after a revascularization.

“The Effectiveness and Efficacy of an Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in 24 Sites”
American Journal of Health Promotion (PDF)

 

Journal Articles

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Telomerase

Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, Weidner G, Epel E, Kemp C, Marlin R, Yglecias L, Carroll P, Blackburn E.Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Lancet Oncology, 2008; Sept 15.

Gene Expression

Ornish D, Magbanua MJ, Weidner G, Weinberg V, Kemp C, Green C, Mattie MD, Marlin R, Simko J, Shinohara K, Haqq CM, Carroll PR. Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2008; 105(24):8369-74.

Cardiac Health

Ornish D, Scherwitz L, Billings J, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease Five-year follow-up of the Lifestyle Heart Trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998; 280: 2001-2007

Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary atherosclerosis? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. The Lancet. 1990; 336: 129-133

Gould KL, Ornish D, Scherwitz L, et al. Changes in myocardial perfusion abnormalities by positron emission tomography after long-term, intense risk factor modification. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1995; 274: 894-901.

Pischke CR, Weidner G, Scherwitz L, Ornish D. Long-term effects of lifestyle changes on well-being and cardiac variables among CHD patients. Health Psychology, 2008; 27(5): 584-592

Schulz U, Pischke CR, Weidner G, Daubenmier JJ, Elliott-Eller M, Scherwitz L, Bullinger M, Ornish D. Social support group attendance is related to blood pressure, health behaviors, and quality of life in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. Psychology, Health, and Medicine, 2008; 13(4): 423-37

Frattaroli J, Weidner G, Merritt-Worden T, Frenda S, Ornish D. Reductions in angina symptoms and improvements in risk factors in the Multisite Cardiac Lifestyle Intervention Program: Results from the 12-week follow-up. American Journal of Cardiology, 2008; 101: 911-18 

Pischke CR, Weidner G, Elliott-Eller M, Ornish D. Lifestyle changes and clinical profile in CHD patients with ejection fraction <40% and >40% in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. European Journal of Heart Failure, 2007; 9: 928-34

Dewell A, Ornish D. Plant-based dietary patterns in the control of obesity and cardiovascular risk. Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, 2007; 1: 9-15

Daubenmier JJ, Weidner G, Sumner MD, Mendell N, Merritt-Worden T, Studley J, Ornish D. The contribution of changes in diet, exercise, and stress management to changes in coronary risk in women and men in the Multisite Cardiac Lifestyle Intervention Program. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2007; 33(1): 57-68

Pischke CR, Weidner G, Elliot-Eller M, Scherwitz L, Merritt-Worden TA, Marlin R, Lipsenthal L, Finkel R, Saunders D, McCormac P, Scheer JM, Collins RE, Guarneri EM, Ornish D. Comparison of coronary risk factors and quality of life in coronary artery disease patients with--vs--without diabetes mellitus. American Journal of Cardiology, 2006; 97(9): 1267-1273

Pischke CR, Marlin R, Weidner G, Chi C, Ornish D. The role of lifestyle in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 2006; 30(2): 176-182

Sumner MD, Elliott-Eller M, Weidner G, et al. Effects of pomegranate juice consumption on myocardial perfusion in patients with ischemic coronary heart disease: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. American Journal of Cardiology. 2005; 96: 810–814

Koertge J, Weidner G, Elliott-Eller M, et al. Improvement in medical risk factors and quality of life in women and men with coronary artery disease in the Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. American Journal of Cardiology. 2003; 91: 1316-1322

Ornish D. Concise Review: Intensive lifestyle changes in the management of coronary heart disease. In: Braunwald E, et al, eds. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (online) 1999

Ornish D. Avoiding revascularization with lifestyle changes: The Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. American Journal of Cardiology. 1998; 82: 72T-76T

Ornish D. Dietary treatment of hyperlipidemia. Journal of Cardiovascular Risk. 1994; 1: 283-286

Scherwitz L, Ornish D. The impact of major lifestyle changes on coronary stenosis, CHD risk factors, and psychological status: results from the San Francisco Lifestyle Heart Trial. Homeostasis. 1994; 35: 190-204

Ornish D. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. 1993; 72: 38-48

Ornish D. Can atherosclerosis regress? Cardiovascular Risk Factors. 1992; 2(4): 276-281

Gould KL, Ornish D, Kirkeeide R, et al. Improved stenosis geometry by quantitative coronary arteriography after vigorous risk factor modification. American Journal of Cardiology. 1992; 69: 845-853

Barnard N, Scherwitz L, Ornish D. Adherence and acceptability of a low-fat, vegetarian diet among cardiac patients. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation. 1992; 12: 423-431

Ornish D. Lessons from the Lifestyle Heart Trial. Choices in Cardiology. 1991; 1(5): 1-4

Ornish D. Reversing heart disease through diet, exercise, and stress management. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1991; 91: 162-5

Ornish D. Can you prevent-- and reverse-- coronary artery disease? Patient Care. 1991; 25:25-41

Scherwitz L, Graham LE, Ornish DM. Self-involvement and the risk factors for coronary heart disease. Advances. 1985; 2: 6-18

Scherwitz L, Graham LE, Ornish DM. Self-involvement and the risk factors for coronary heart disease. Advances. 1985; 2: 6-18

Sacks FM, Ornish DM, Rosner B, McLanahan S, Castelli WP, Kass EH. Dietary predictors of blood pressure and plasma lipoproteins in lactovegetarians. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1985; 254: 1337-1341

Ornish DM, Scherwitz LW, Doody RS, et al. Effects of stress management training and dietary changes in treating ischemic heart disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1983; 249: 54-59

Ornish DM. Mind/heart interactions: for better and for worse. Health Values. 1978; 2: 266-269

Prostate Health

Ornish D, Weidner G, Fair WR, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Journal of Urology. 2005; 174(3): 1065-70

Daubenmier J, Weidner G, Marlin R, Crutchfield L, Dunn-Emke S, Chi C, Gao B, Carroll P, Ornish D. Lifestyle and health-related quality of life of men with prostate cancer managed with active surveillance. Urology, 2006; 67: 125–130

Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner M, Chi CS, Ornish D. A very low fat vegan diet increases intake of protective dietary factors and decreases intake of pathogenic dietary factors. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008; 108(2): 347-56

Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner MD, Marlin RO, Barnard RJ, Ornish D. Relationship of dietary protein and soy isoflavones to serum IGF-1 and IGF binding proteins in the Prostate Cancer Lifestyle Trial. Nutrition and Cancer, 2007; 58(1): 35-42

Dunn-Emke SR, Weidner G, Pettengill EB, Marlin R, Chi CS, Ornish D. Nutrient adequacy of a very low-fat vegan diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005; 105(9): 1442-6

Kronenwetter C, Weidner G, Pettengill EB, et al. A qualitative analysis of interviews of men with early stage prostate cancer: The Prostate Cancer Lifestyle Trial. Cancer Nursing. 2005; 28(2): 99-107

Ornish D, Lee KL, Fair WR, Pettengill EB, Carroll PR. Dietary trial in prostate cancer: Early experience and implications for clinical trial design. Journal of Urology. 2001; 57(4 Suppl 1): 200-201

Health Policy

Ornish D. Was Dr. Atkins right? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004; 104(4): 537-542

Stephenson J. Low-carb, low-fat gurus face off. Interviews with Dr. Ornish and Dr. Atkins. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003; 289(14): 1767-1773

Ornish D. A conversation with the editor. American Journal of Cardiology. 2002; 90(3): 271-298

Ornish D. Statins and the soul of medicine. American Journal of Cardiology. 2002; 89(11): 1286-1290.

Senate Finance Committee Testimony (PDF)

Book Chapters

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Ornish D, Hart J. Intensive Risk Factor Modification. In: Hennekens C, Manson J, eds. Clinical Trials in Cardiovascular Disease. Boston: W.B. Saunders, 1998 (companion to the Braunwald standard cardiology textbook)

Billings J, Scherwitz L, Sullivan R, Ornish D. Group support therapy in the Lifestyle Heart Trial. In: Scheidt S, Allan R, eds. Heart and Mind: The Emergence of Cardiac Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 1996: 233-253

Moyers, B. "Changing Life Habits: A Conversation with Dean Ornish." In: Healing and the Mind. New York: Doubleday, 1993

Ornish DM. Heart disease. In: How Your Mind Affects Your Health. New York: Institute for the Advancement of Health, 1990

Ornish DM. Stress and coronary heart disease: new concepts. In: Carlson RJ, Newman B, eds. For Your Health. New York: C.V. Mosby, 1987

Abstracts

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Merritt T, Ornish D, Scherwitz L, Billings J, Elliott M, Lipsenthal L. The effects of intensive lifestyle changes on coronary heart disease risk factors and clinical status in self-selected heart patients. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation. 1995; 15: 353

Gould KL, Buchi M, Kirkeeide RL, Ornish D, Stein E, Brand R. Reversal of coronary artery stenosis with cholesterol lowering in man followed by arteriography and positron emission tomography. J Nucl Med. 1989; 30: 345

Ornish DM, Gotto AM, Miller RR, et al. Effects of a vegetarian diet and selected yoga techniques in the treatment of coronary heart disease. Clinical Research. 1979; 27: 720A

Selected Letters

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Ornish D. New Heart Studies Question the Value of Opening Arteries. The New York Times, March 27, 2004

Ornish D. A diet for the heart. The New York Times, November 22, 2002

Ornish D. What if it’s all a big fat lie? The New York Times Sunday Magazine, July 21, 2002

Dunn-Emke S, Weidner G, Ornish D. Benefits of a low-fat plant-based diet. Obesity Research. 2001; 9(11): 731

Ornish D. High-fiber diets and colorectal adenomas. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2000; 343: 736-738

Ornish D. Very-low fat diets. Circulation. 1999; 100(9): 1013-5

Ornish D. Should a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet be recommended for everyone? The New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 338(2): 127-129

Ornish D. Serum lipids after a low-fat diet. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998; 279(17): 1345-6

Ornish D. Dietary fat and ischemic stroke. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998; 279(15): 1172

Ornish D. More on low-fat diets. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 338(22): 1623-1624

Ornish D, Brown SE. Treatment of and screening for hyperlipidemia. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1993; 329(15): 1124-5

Ornish D. What if Americans ate less fat? Journal of the American Medical Association. 1992; 267(3): 362

Ornish D. "Dietary saturated fatty acids and low-density or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol." The New England Journal of Medicine. 1990; 322: 403

Ornish DM, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Lifestyle changes and heart disease. The Lancet. 1990; 336: 741-2

Selected Editorials


Ornish D. The Atkins-Ornish-South Beach-Zone Diet. TIME magazine, June 13, 2004

Ornish D. The case for low fat. TIME magazine, August 26, 2002

Ornish D. A diet rich in partial truths. The New York Times, July 13, 2002