Can lifestyle medicine reverse heart disease's progression?
Published 5:17 pm, Tuesday, February 6, 2018
February is American heart Month, and each year we are reminded to focus on our heart health. This year, let us focus on how to prevent, treat and reverse heart disease. Yes, I am talking about reversing heart disease. It is not new information; we have known about this for about 40 years but it has somehow not trickled into mainstream medical practice.
Great medical discoveries and invasive procedures have been mainstream of cardiology treatment in the past three decades. We have made great strides in treating acute life-threatening situations. At the same time, lifestyle measures were given nominal importance despite years of scientific evidence showing benefit, at times more than drugs and interventions.
For four decades, Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues have used state-of-the-art scientific measures to prove that these low-tech and low-cost interventions are both medically effective and cost-effective.
These measures include:
–a whole-foods, plant-based diet
–social support and community
The Ornish program for reversing heart disease is the first and only lifestyle program that has been scientifically proven in randomized controlled trials to often reverse the progression of even severe coronary heart disease and other chronic conditions.
We were taught in medical school that heart disease is a progressive disease by nature, and medications and interventions could only slow down the rate of worsening. But our understanding of the disease has evolved over the years. For many years, we believed that the only major mechanism causing reduced blood flow to the heart was coronary atherosclerosis, or plaque. But now we know that other mechanisms include changes in vasomotor tone, platelet viscosity, collateral flow and plaque hemorrhage. These mechanisms are dynamic and can show measurable changes — for better or worse – in relatively short periods of time.
What does it mean by reversing progression of coronary heart disease?
–Decrease in arterial plaque size
In Lifestyle Heart Trial — a randomized controlled trial blindly assessed by independent observers — showed that there was statistically and clinically significant reversal of coronary atherosclerosis after one year and even more reversal after five years without lipid-lowering drugs. Control group showed significant progression after one year and even more progression after five years.
–Increase in blood flow
Overall, there was a 400 percent statistically and clinically significant improvement in myocardial perfusion in experimental group when compared to randomized control group after five years.
Many physicians believe that their patients will not adhere to comprehensive lifestyle changes but 85 to 90 percent of patients who have gone through the Ornish program have been able to adhere to this program for at least one year. Because the underlying biological mechanisms that affect health are so dynamic and responsive to lifestyle changes, most people feel so much better so quickly that it reframes the reason for making lifestyle changes from fear of disease or dying to joy of living.
Other additional improvements from Ornish lifestyle program:
Patients reported a more than 90 percent reduction in angina frequency during the first month of making these lifestyle changes.
There were 2.5 times fewer events in experimental groups.
Almost 80 percent of patients who were eligible for revascularization were able to avoid it by making these comprehensive lifestyle changes instead. Mutual of Omaha calculated saving almost $ 30,000 per patient in the first year.
Patients showed a 50 percent reduction in depression scores, and there were significant improvements in quality-of-life measures.
In the Lifestyle Heart Trial, patients lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off half that weight five years later.
Physicians were able to reduce or discontinue medications — including blood pressure, diabetes and other cardiac medications — in many of these patients.
This lifestyle program has been shown in a randomized controlled trial to slow, stop and reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer. It can reverse the progression of type 2 diabetes, beneficially improve gene expression in more than 500 genes in three months and reverse aging at a cellular level by increasing telomerase and telomere length.
If you have ever had a stent put in or had bypass surgery, if you have suffered a heart attack or are having chest pain during exertion, you would be a perfect candidate for this program. Now is a good time to consider this option because it is covered by Medicare and most commercial insurances.
We’re proud to announce that the Lifestyle Medicine Center is one of only four medical facilities in Texas to offer this groundbreaking program. One of our participants, Dennis Sever, recently completed this program, and had this to share:
“Since I started the Ornish program, my family has noticed that I have a lot more stamina … more energetic, more busy … I can do more. The Ornish program requires a commitment; you have to decide if that’s what you want to do … stick with it and it will pay off, but it requires attention and effort. You have to commit to it. The stress- management and exercise are welcome to me … I like to see the different techniques. I like the support groups — making friends with people, helping them share their experiences, and sharing my experiences. It’s a very good thing. I like the Ornish program.”
To find out if Ornish program for reversing heart disease is right for you, come to the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine orientation scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at our Lifestyle Medicine Center located at Midland Memorial Hospital West Campus, 4214 Andrews Highway, Suite 107. For more information, call 221-LIFE (5433) or visit www.midlandlifestylemedicine.org.
Dr. Padmaja Patel is medical director of Lifestyle Medicine Center.