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Dean Michael Ornish, (born July 16, 1953) is a physician and 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.
Ornish, a native of Dallas, Texas, is a graduate of Hillcrest High School of the Dallas Independent School District. He holds a Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude in Humanities from the University of Texas at Austin where he gave the baccalaureate address. He earned his M.D. from the Baylor College of Medicine, was a Clinical Fellow in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and served a medical internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital (1981–1984).
Ornish is known for his lifestyle-driven approach to the control of coronary artery disease (CAD) and other chronic diseases. Beginning in 1977, he directed a series of clinical research studies proving for the first time that comprehensive lifestyle changes could not only stop the progression of CAD but could actually reverse it. These lifestyle changes included a whole foods, plant-based diet, smoking cessation, moderate exercise, stress management techniques including yoga and meditation, and psychosocial support. He has acknowledged his debt to Swami Satchidananda for helping him develop this holistic perspective on preventive health.
This result was demonstrated in a randomized controlled trial known as the Lifestyle Heart Trial, with one-year data published in the Lancet in 1990, and five-year data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which recruited test subjects with pre-existing coronary artery disease. Not only did patients assigned to the above regimen fare better with respect to cardiac events than those who followed standard medical advice, their coronary atherosclerosis was somewhat reversed, as evidenced by decreased stenosis(narrowing) of the coronary arteries after one year of treatment. Most patients in the control group, by contrast, had narrower coronary arteries at the end of the trial than the start. Other doctors have claimed similar results with similar methods, for example: Caldwell Esselstyn, and K. Lance Gould.
This landmark discovery was notable because it had seemed physiologically implausible, and it suggested cheaper and safer therapies against cardiovascular disease than invasive procedures such as coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty, and stents.
Ornish also directed the first randomized controlled trial demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may slow, stop, or even reverse the progression of early-state prostate cancer. This study was done in collaboration with the Chairs of Urology at the time at UCSF (Peter Carroll) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (William Fair).
In 2008, he published research in collaboration with Elizabeth Blackburn showing that comprehensive lifestyle changes affect gene expression in only three months, turning on disease-preventing genes and turning off genes that promote cancer and heart disease and increasing telomerase enzyme that lengthens telomeres, the ends ofchromosomes which control ageing.
He is the author of six best-selling books, including Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease; Eat More, Weigh Less; Love & Survival and his most recent book The Spectrum.
He has been a physician consultant to former President Bill Clinton since 1993, when Ornish was first asked byHillary Rodham Clinton to consult with the chefs at The White House, Camp David, and Air Force One to cook more healthfully. In 2010, after the former President’s cardiac bypass grafts became clogged, Ornish met with him and encouraged him to follow a mostly plant-based diet, because moderate changes in diet were not sufficient to stop the progression of his heart disease, and he agreed. In contrast to Esselstyn, Ornish recommends the consumption of fish oil supplements and does not follow a strict vegetarian diet, allowing for the consumption of occasional animal products.
Ornish has written a monthly column for Newsweek and Reader’s Digest magazines and is currently the Medical Editor of The Huffington Post. A one-hour documentary of his work was broadcast on the PBS science seriesNOVA. In addition to being featured on Bill Moyers’ PBS series Healing & The Mind, his work is featured in a documentary film Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare about transforming the future of healthcare with patient-centered, integrative medicine.