Excerpt: Dean Ornish's 'The Spectrum'

Also, in perhaps the ultimate example of what happens when you don't address the underlying cause of a problem, patients who undergo heart transplants often need another one just a few years later. It's a little like changing your oil filter without also changing the oil--it just clogs up again fairly quickly.

Since these patients were just waiting around for a new heart anyway, we offered a few of them the opportunity to go through our program of comprehensive lifestyle changes while waiting for a donor. After one year, some improved so much that they no longer needed a heart transplant! It's amazing to me that these low-tech interventions of comprehensive lifestyle changes may be, at times, even more powerful than the most high-tech interventions such as a heart transplant. Unlike our other research, this is anecdotal data but it is still intriguing.

We published findings on a larger number of patients with impaired ability of their hearts to pump and found that they improved as much as those with hearts that were not as impaired when they entered our program.

Art Smith (no relation to Chef Art Smith) is a seventy-one-year-old man with heart disease so severe that he was told that he was a candidate for a heart transplant in 1992. "I had trouble walking even twenty feet then, I was so short of breath."

In 1994, he entered the program for reversing heart disease based on my work at the Alegent Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha (in other words, the healthiest end of the Spectrum). "I followed it to a 'T,' " he said. "I had so much more energy and was feeling so much better that I was able to go on a heart walk for four miles around the lake. My wife and son were with me, and they couldn't believe how well I was doing."

According to his wife, Shirley, "He had more pep. He was a new man. It gave us new hope. I couldn't believe how much our lives changed for the better. I didn't think he'd ever go back to work again."

As Art explained, "I went back to work driving a bus and wheeling wheelchairs for handicapped people for five years, twelve-hour days, four to five days a week. It was a really big change from when I couldn't walk more than twenty feet. Now, even fifteen years after I started your program, I never get short of breath."

Art not only felt better, he was better. A state-of-the-art test called a PET scan revealed that his heart was receiving significantly more blood flow after one year of being on the program for reversing heart disease.

Also, the PET scan showed that a lot of his heart muscle that had looked as if it were dead, or scar tissue, was actually "hibernating"--some dead tissue interlaced with heart muscle that was alive but not functioning. After a year of making comprehensive lifestyle changes at the healthy end of the Spectrum, much of his heart muscle that was hibernating began to "wake up" and function again. Another test called an echocardiogram confirmed that his heart muscle was pumping blood so much more effectively that he no longer needed a heart transplant!

Unlike our earlier studies, which were randomized controlled trials, these heart-transplant patients are only anecdotal case reports. Nevertheless, they indicate just how powerful these simple, low-tech, low-cost changes in diet and lifestyle can be.

In other words, when you go all the way to the healthy end of the Spectrum, your body often has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself.

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