Excerpt: Dean Ornish's 'The Spectrum'

I learned that more money is spent out of pocket for alternative medicine than for traditional medicine. Why? Many people have become disenchanted with conventional medicine and have embraced a variety of alternative interventions. However, they may find themselves disillusioned with some of these approaches as well because many of them do not have scientific evidence to support their claims.

Seen from this perspective, our program is (as of this writing) one of the most scientifically documented alternative medicine approaches. It integrates the best of traditional and nontraditional approaches to health and healing.

I also understand the limitations of science. As Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted"--for example, love and joy, as I'll describe later--but many things that are meaningful are also measurable. Also, part of the reason that the public receives so much conflicting information is that there is a lot of bad science out there. In this book, I'll show you how to critically analyze some of these studies.

In our cardiac studies, beginning in 1977, we found that there was a 91 percent reduction in the frequency of angina (chest pain) after only a few weeks, and most of these patients became pain-free. These were patients with very severe coronary heart disease, many of whom literally could not walk across the street without getting severe chest pain and shortness of breath when they began.

After one year, there was a 40 percent average reduction in LDL cholesterol levels. This is comparable to what can be achieved with statin drugs like Lipitor without the costs (more than $15 billion last year) or side effects (both known and unknown).

In the Lifestyle Heart Trial, there was significant reversal in coronary artery blockages in the group that went through our program after only one year, whereas those in the randomized control group, who made more conventional changes, showed a worsening of their coronary artery blockages.

Based on these findings, we received peer-reviewed funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to extend the study intervention for four additional years. We wanted to find out if patients could continue to maintain these comprehensive lifestyle changes for five years and, if so, what the long-term effects would be. We found that most patients continued to follow this program for five years even though they had initially volunteered only for a one-year study.

There was even more reversal in coronary artery blockages after five years than after one year, whereas patients in the randomized control group showed even more worsening after five years than after one year. These differences were highly statistically significant; see the following graph.

There are two basic ways of measuring the severity of coronary heart disease: anatomical (which measures the severity of coronary artery blockages) and functional (which measures the amount of blood flow to the heart and also how well it pumps). In our research, we used state-of-the-art tests: quantitative coronary arteriography to measure the degree of coronary artery blockages and cardiac PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans to measure blood flow to the heart.

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