The Dr. Dean Ornish Program for REVERSING Heart Disease


Dr. Dean Ornish on the cover of Newsweek.

During this week of my clinical nutrition rotation at Charleston Area Medical Center, I have had the privilege to shadow the dietitian who works with the Dr. Dean Ornish Program.  I knew a little bit about the program previously, but I did not fully understand the wonderful health outcomes it truly has, not only in reversing heart disease, but in improving the overall quality of someone’s life.

Who is Dr. Dean Ornish?

Dr. Dean Ornish is a physician and president and founder of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, CA as well as Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. While he was a medical student in the 1970’s, he began conducting research on the prevention of Coronary Artery Disease, which included lifestyle modifications such as a low fat, whole-grain, plant-based diet, smoking cessation, moderate exercise, stress management techniques, and psychosocial support.

For the next 30 years, he has conducted scientific, clinical research proving that his program aids in the reversal of heart disease. He has since written several books and had dozens of television appearances on shows such as The Oprah Show, The Dr. Oz Show, and Larry King Live. He is also a consulting physician for former president, Bill Clinton. After the former president’s bypass surgery, Ornish encouraged him to make similar lifestyle changes and to consume a plant-based diet.  Recently, Ornish also published a research article showing that these lifestyle changes can slow, stop, or reverse the progression of prostate cancer. Ornish’s compelling, groundbreaking research has proven that his four-tiered lifestyle changes can actually turn back the hands of time in the development of heart disease.

Dr. Dean Ornish, creator of the Program for Reversing Heart Disease.

The Dr. Dean Ornish Program

There are four main components that comprise the Ornish program: exercise, nutrition, stress management, and group support. All of these components work synergistically to help heal the heart from the inside out.

1. Exercise

Includes moderate exercise such as walking, cycling, and strength training.

  • The program encourages aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day or for an hour every other day for a total of 3-5 hours of aerobic exercise per week.
  • If medically appropriate, participants are also encouraged to engage in strength training exercise 2-3 times per week.

2. Nutrition

The lifestyle change requires a low-fat, whole foods nutrition plan that is high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The diet also requires the elimination of all animal products and fish except for fat-free dairy and egg whites.

  • The composition of the Ornish diet is typically around 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 10% of calories from fat (take note that the average American consumes ~35% of calories from fat). Therefore, the diet is VERY low in fat in order to reduce the “stickiness” of the blood and to improve heart function.
  • No meat, poultry, or fish.
  • No caffeine (with the exception of green tea due to it’s health benefits from polyphenols and antioxidants).
  • No more than 10 mg of cholesterol per day
  • One serving per day of a “full-fat” soy food. A full-fat soy food is one that contains >3 grams of fat per serving, with none of the fat coming from added fats or oils. Always read the label for portion sizes and ingredient content.
  • Food products with added fat (such as soybean oil or canola oil) is allowed 3 times per day as long as a product has ❤ g of fat per serving.
  • Whole grain bread and pasta products with ❤ g of fat per serving.
  • There’s no counting calories, however portion control is strongly recommended.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption is encouraged to not exceeding one alcoholic drink per day.
  • The addition of a fish oil supplement and a senior multivitamin is encouraged. Why?? Because fish oil has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and a senior multivitamin has no iron and contains more Vitamin B12 (which may be lacking in the Ornish diet due to the elimination of meat products) compared to a regular multivitamin.
  • Where’s the protein? Legumes, wheat products, and soy products with ❤ g of added fat

The Ornish Diet Food Pyramid.

Ornish Diet Sample Meal Plan

Breakfast:

  • 1¾ egg white zucchini frittata
  • 1/3 cup each—blueberries, strawberries, blackberries
  • ½ cup non-fat milk
  • 1 slice whole-grain bread
  • 1 cup herbal tea or decaf coffee-alternative

Lunch:

  • 1-7/8 cup mango-beet salad
  • 1-7/8 cup vegetarian chili
  • 1 slice corn bread

Snack:

  • 5/8 cup green pea guacamole
  • 6 whole-wheat pita bread wedges
  • ½ cup red grapes

Dinner:

  • 1-7/8 cup fennel and arugula salad with fig vinaigrette
  • 2 cups whole-wheat penne pasta with roasted vegetables
  • 2-1/3 cup fruit-and-yogurt trifle
  • Glass of wine or sparkling water

Nutrition Analysis of Sample Meal Plan

3. Stress Management

The program is not going to eliminate stress from everyday life, but it teaches participants to better manage their stress. Stress management techniques include stretching, yoga, relaxation, deep breathing, guided imagery, and meditation.

It is recommended for participants to practice stress management techniques for about 60 minutes everyday.

4. Group Support

The participants have regular group meetings where they learn to better their communication skills with one another as well as within their personal relationships. Group support is meant to create a social network who will encourage and support each other along the journey.

Group support sessions are meant to help participants in:

  • Rediscovering inner sources of peace, joy, and well-being
  • Learning how to communicate in ways that enhance intimacy with loved ones
  • Creating a healthy community of friends and family
  • Developing more compassion and empathy for both yourself and others

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Does the program actually work? …YES. It’s scientifically proven.

Dr. Ornish has published dozens and dozens of research articles in premier scientific journals proving that this program not only helps participants lose weight, but is the only program that has been proven to REDUCE heart disease without surgery or medications.  If you would like more information on Dr. Ornish’s published research articles, click on the link here to read the full versions.

In order to give a general sense of the benefits, here are the latest findings from all of the 3,780 patients who went through Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease via Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and West Virginia as of October 2011:

  • The average patient lost 13.3 pounds in the first 12 weeks and 15.9 pounds after 1 year
  • Significant reductions in systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL-cholesterol after 12 weeks were still significant after 1 year
  • Exercise capacity increased from 8.7 to 10.6 METS after 12 weeks (18% increase) and to 10.8 METS after one year (24% increase)
  • Significant reductions in depression and hostility (the emotions most strongly linked with heart disease) after 12 weeks that were still significant after 1 year
  • Hemoglobin A1C in diabetics decreased from 7.4% at baseline to 6.5% after 12 weeks and 6.8% after one year (complications of diabetes such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and amputations can be prevented when hemoglobin A1C is less than 7.0%)
  • 96.5% of patients reported improvement in severity of angina (chest pain) after 1 year

Who can benefit from this program?

  1. Those who are contemplating, or have already had, bypass surgery.
  2. Those with a history of cardiac events or surgery and want to minimize the chance of a recurrence.
  3. Those who have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease or diabetes.
  4. Those with significant risk factors for heart disease, such as: a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and central or abdominal obesity.

How long is the program?

There are two program options:

1.) The Reversal Program: This is a one-year treatment program. The first 12 weeks are more intensive and include meeting two times per week for four hours each. Sessions include lectures, group exercise, stress management, nutrition education, and group support sessions. As the year progresses, the amount of time committed to on-site sessions decreases.

2.) The Spectrum Program: This is a six-week education-only program based on Dr. Ornish’s best-selling book, The Spectrum, which can be tailored to suit almost anyone who wants to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Okay, so how much will this cost me?

The 1 year program costs over $8,000, BUT luckily most participants have their insurance providers cover 100% of the programs costs! Medicare, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and PEIA all cover the Ornish program for qualifying individuals.

Where are Ornish program locations?

Most programs are located in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Go to the ornish.com website to find specific locations near you!

The Ornish 10-Year CAMC Celebration!

Just last week, Charleston Area Medical Center (located in Charleston, WV) celebrated it’s 10th anniversary of hosting the Dean Ornish Heart Disease Reversal program! Read more about the 10 year celebration in this newspaper article printed in The Charleston Gazette.

Jim Perry and John Linton try some of the healthy food last week at the 10-year celebration of the Ornish program, which is offered through CAMC Memorial Hospital. Perry and Linton were part of the program’s original group that started to reduce the effects of and prevent heart disease.

CAMC had the privilege to have Dr. Dean Ornish speak at the celebration via Skype!

Learn more about the benefits of the Dr. Dean Ornish program in this video!

A Week of Clinical Nutrition at Teay’s Valley Hospital


I am spending this entire week focusing on clinical nutrition and medical nutrition therapy at Teay’s Valley Hospital.  Teay’s Valley Hospital (TVH) is a small, 70-bed, rural hospital located in Hurricane, WV.  Associated with Charleston Area Medical Center, TVH is located about 25 minutes outside of downtown Charleston, WV.

I have had the opportunity to work with the on-staff registered dietitian. One of the biggest adjustments I have had to make is the transition from electronic charting to PAPER charting!  I have always been used to reading a patient’s medical record electronically, so the process of paper charting was completely Greek to me.  But I think it will be beneficial for me to experience how things are run in different types of  hospitals.  And the paper charting wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be…even though it sometimes felt like I was deciphering through hieroglyphics! 🙂

As the weeks of my clinical rotation roll by, I am slowly beginning to become familiar and comfortable with the daily roles and responsibilities of being a clinical dietitian. And thank goodness, because isn’t that the purpose of the dietetic internship?! Like they always say…practice, practice, practice!

The Start of My Clinical Rotation at CAMC


Yesterday was my first day at Charleston Area Medical Center, which is located in Charleston, WV (which is thankfully a bit flatter than what I’m used to in Morgantown!).  CAMC is a large, trauma-1 center comprised of four different hospitals:  Memorial Hospital, General Hospital, Women and Children’s Hospital, and Teay’s Valley Hospital.  For my 6-week clinical nutrition rotation, I will be interning specifically at Memorial Hospital. Memorial Hospital has one of the greatest heart programs in the United States, performing over 1,600 open-heart bypass surgeries each year. The hospital also has a comprehensive cancer department as well as a diabetes center, family medicine and internal medicine clinics, Vascular Center of Excellence and general medical-surgical inpatient services.

My first two days at CAMC consisted of meeting the employees in the nutrition department, conducting meal rounds, learning the tray delivery system, acquainting myself with the electronic medical record system, and understanding the ins-and-outs of a dietitian’s role in this particular institution.  So far I have been shadowing the dietitian and learning the nutrition care process, but by the end of the rotation I will be expected to perform these tasks on my own as “staff relief”…and I CAN’T wait for that!

I am looking forward to getting to know the hospitals, the dietitians, the interdisciplinary care team, and the patients throughout my rotation here in Charleston!

CAMC Memorial Hospital, which is the specific hospital I will be interning at during my clinical nutrition rotation.