Ep 87 – The Future of Value: Lifestyle Medicine and the Reversal of Chronic Disease, with Dr. Dean Ornish

Joining us this week, we have the legendary Dr. Dean Ornish who will be discussing his most recent book, “Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Change Can Reverse Most Chronic Conditions” which just came out on paperback. Dr. Ornish is “The Father of Lifestyle Medicine” which is the fastest-growing trend in medicine today.  With its impact on both health costs and population health, lifestyle medicine is the future of value-based care!

For more than four decades, Dean Ornish, M.D. has directed revolutionary research proving, for the first time, that lifestyle changes can often reverse—undo!—the progression of many of the most common, costly, and disabling chronic diseases and even begin reversing aging at a cellular level.  This often occurs in just a few weeks or less—and at any age.

Medicare and many insurance companies are now covering Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle medicine program for reversing chronic diseases because it consistently achieves bigger changes in lifestyle, better clinical outcomes, larger cost savings, and greater adherence than have ever been reported—based on 40 years of clinical research published in the leading peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.

Today, January 4th, 2022, the “Ornish diet” has again been rated the “Best Heart Healthy Diet” by a panel of experts at U.S. News & World Report (and has been for the last ten years). He is the author of seven books, all national bestsellers, including UnDo It! (co-authored with Anne Ornish).

Dr. Ornish was the “inaugural recipient of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award” recognizing his extensive contribution to the field of Lifestyle Medicine – TheACLM is the sponsor of today’s episode!

Episode bookmarks:

02:00 The obesity epidemic that causes 300,000 premature deaths each year

03:15 Ayurvedic proverb: “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

03:30 The storied background of Dr. Dean Ornish and his most recent book, “Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Change Can Reverse Most Chronic Conditions

06:00 Dr. Ornish was the inaugural recipient of the ACLM Lifetime Achievement Award” recognizing his extensive contribution to the field of Lifestyle Medicine.

06:15 Commercial message from our sponsor, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine

08:00 Lifestyle Medicine is the future of Value-Based Care

09:00 Eric cites healthcare cost estimates reflecting the impact of obesity and chronic disease on our nation.

09:45 Lifestyle medicine programs can reverse coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol

11:00 86% of the 3.7 trillion dollars that we spend on healthcare is for treating chronic diseases

11:30 Very simple lifestyle changes that prevent or reverse chronic diseases: “Eat well, Move more, Stress less, and Love more”

13:00 Dr. Ornish describes how his research over the last four decades has proven that heart disease can be reversed

14:00 Dr. Ornish on how his work with hospitals and physicians is demonstrating that changes in lifestyle lead to better clinical outcomes, better cost savings, and better adherence

14:45 The importance of showing cost savings from lifestyle medicine interventions in the first year

15:00 Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield cut healthcare costs in half in the first year of implementing the Ornish program for reversing heart disease!

16:00 Lifestyle changes can also reverse a wide variety of other costly chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes

16:30 Referencing research collaboration with Craig Venter showing that lifestyle changes can modify gene expression

17:00 Dr. Ornish discusses his treatment of President Clinton and how his cardiologist overstated the role of genetics on his heart disease

17:30 Referencing research collaboration with Elizabeth Blackburn showing that lifestyle changes can reverse aging at a cellular level

18:00 Current randomized trial to see if lifestyle changes might stop or reverse the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease

19:15 The extremely high cost of the recently approved Alzheimer’s drug (Aducanumab) due to the desperation to find an effective treatment

19:30 Reversal is possible with all of the most common and costly chronic diseases because they are not so different from each other

21:30 “When we treat the cause, these lifestyle choices, our bodies have a remarkable capacity to begin healing and much more quickly than we once realized.”

23:00 The biggest roadblock in creating lifestyle change is the “Power of Leverage” and how the desire to avoid pain or gain pleasure influences behavior

24:00 Dr. Ornish references his debates with Al Gore on why the fear of dying is not a sustainable motivator to change human consumption patterns that create climate change

25:00 Dr. Ornish discusses the documentary “The Game Changers” (on the topic of plant-based eating) made by his good friend, James Cameron

29:00 Not treating the cause of disease is like mopping up the floor from an overflowing sink when no one bothered to turn off the faucet!

29:30 Dr. Ornish on how reversing disease saves a lot of money in the first year and why this ROI potential is so important in value-based care

31:20 “Bypassing the bypass” – observations from medical school on how patients keep coming back for more heart surgeries (i.e. failure to treat the cause)

32:20 Stents and angioplasties in stable patients don’t prevent heart attacks or prolong life.

34:00 Dr. Ornish shares a miraculous patient story of heart failure reversal from someone who went through his program and no longer needed a heart transplant!

34:30 Medicare coverage of Dr. Ornish’s program for reversing heart disease in 2010 (a bipartisan commitment to create a new reimbursement category for intensive cardiac rehabilitation)

35:30 Patient adherence outcomes with Dr. Ornish’s reversing heart disease program and the recent decision for Medicare to cover it when delivered virtually

37:00 Dr. Ornish explains why he is optimistic from the early findings of his current Alzheimer’s research study and how this may be his most important work yet.

41:00 COVID-19 has exacerbated the health status of Americans and the opportunity for a post-pandemic era that refocuses on public health and value-based care

42:30 Dr. Ornish discusses research that shows how a plant-based diet provides a lower risk of getting sick from COVID-19

44:00 The impact of Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle program with underserved and homeless populations

45:00 The fast food industry and the economics of meat subsidization which makes unhealthy food cheaper than healthy food

46:30 The alarming lack of nutrition education in the medical profession

47:00 Changing of reimbursement is what changes medicine and medical education at a critical mass (not medical research)

48:00 Food insecurity in marginalized and minoritized communities costs $77 billion in excess healthcare expenditures each year.

50:30 Dr. Ornish explains how more global warming is caused by livestock consumption than all forms of transportation combined and why food insecurity should not exist.

52:00 Lifestyle changes have better adherence than statins because they make you feel better.

52:30 Dr. Ornish further explains how we can make meaningful and sustainable changes if they pleasurable.

55:00 The soaring obesity rates, higher rates of cancers, and behavioral health challenges observed within the Millennial generation

56:00 Dr. Ornish on the breakdown of social networks that used to provide people a sense of love and connection and community.

56:30 “The more time you spend on Facebook, the more depressed you are. Because it’s not an authentic intimacy. It’s a fake intimacy.”

58:00 “Anything that creates a sense of connection and community is really healing. Even the word healing comes from the root, to make whole.”

58:30 “People who are lonely and depressed are 3-10 time more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a sense of love and connection and community. I don’t know anything in medicine that has that kind of power.”

60:00 “Pain can be a great catalyst for transforming lives in ways that make it so much more joyful and meaningful.”

64:00 How the practice of lifestyle medicine can revitalize the medical profession and reduce physician burnout

65:00 Interdisciplinary care teams, physician quarterbacking, and “the most meaningful work that I can imagine”

66:00 Lifestyle medicine alleviates suffering for the vulnerable (way beyond just unclogging arteries!)

67:00 Lifestyle medicine and the “food as medicine” movement is the future of value-based care!

69:00 Dr. Ornish discusses “radical simplicity”, the overstated implications of nutrigenomics, and the impact of Western diet on China, Japan, and other Asian countries

71:00 Referencing Sheldon Cohen’s study that shows a correlation between lack of social connection and susceptibility to the common cold

72:00 Dr. Ornish emphasizes the art of simplicity and lessons learned from his good friend, Steve Jobs

74:00 Parting thoughts from Dr. Ornish (“Just understand that these simple changes can make a powerful difference!”)