Excerpt: Dean Ornish's 'The Spectrum'

We've gotten to a point in medicine where it's considered "conservative medicine" to cut open someone's chest or to inflate balloons and put stents inside his or her coronary arteries even in the absence of data showing that these approaches prevent heart attacks or extend life in stable patients with heart disease, yet it's considered high risk or even radical to ask people to walk, meditate, quit smoking, and eat fruits and vegetables.

In January 2005, after we completed our Medicare demonstration project, a Medicare Coverage Advisory Commission hearing was convened at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services headquarters in Baltimore to peer-review our findings. I presented data from more than 2,000 patients who had participated in our three demonstration projects (with Mutual of Omaha, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Medicare). At this daylong hearing, seventeen experts who were on the Medicare Coverage Advisory Commission reviewed data from our program and others similar to it.

At the end of that day, these experts voted that there was sufficient scientific evidence for Medicare to cover our program for reversing heart disease.

Based on these findings, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently agreed to provide Medicare coverage for our program for reversing heart disease and other programs like it. This was a major breakthrough, as it was the first time that Medicare covered an integrative-medicine program of comprehensive lifestyle changes. Since reimbursement is a major determinant of medical practice and medical education, Medicare coverage may help make programs of comprehensive lifestyle changes much more sustainable and widely available to those who most need them.

Now my colleagues and I at the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute are training health professionals worldwide and providing free licenses to them in an open-source model. These include physicians, nurses, registered dietitians, yoga and meditation teachers, clinical psychologists, chefs, exercise physiologists, and so on. Those we train are making our program available in hospitals, clinics, and other venues and sharing their data with us so we can collect data on large numbers of people at low cost.

This allows us to learn from the experience and best practices of many other people on an ongoing basis, thereby enabling us to continue to refine and improve our program in an organic process. Over time, we can collect data on large numbers of patients and gain greater insight about the effects of comprehensive lifestyle changes in large numbers of people around the world.

HEALING YOURSELF

Our research has shown that your body often has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself--and much more quickly than people once realized--when we address the underlying causes of illness. For many people, the choices we make each day in what we eat and in how we live are among the most important underlying causes.

When most people are prescribed medications to lower their blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar, they are usually told, "You will have to take this for the rest of your life," often in ever-increasing dosages. Why? Because the underlying causes are not being addressed. When I lecture, I often show a slide of doctors busily mopping up the floor around an overflowing sink without also turning off the faucet.

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