In 1978, cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., set out to prove that healthy lifestyle habits and a plant-based diet could stop, and even reverse, the progression of heart disease. Fast-forward 39 years: the Ornish Reversal Program has helped thousands of people significantly improve their heart function, restore vibrant health and even reverse disease.
Each month, at YRMC’s Pendleton Center in Prescott, the Reversing Heart Disease Support Group meets to learn about diet and lifestyle strategies recommended by Ornish and other prominent physicians for preventing, treating and reversing cardiovascular disease.
The group is free, and participants enjoy great food, energizing exercise, relaxation through meditation, yoga and art, lively discussions and the welcome support of family and peers. The topics change monthly and include diet, exercise and stress management strategies, and each meeting is led by health, wellness and fitness professionals.
Some folks, like Rich Pezen, have been part of the support group from the beginning. “I have been coming to this group for six years!” he said. “We learn from the group leaders and from each other about what we can do with the heart and health problems we have. We all don’t always agree, but it is a great support group, and the group leaders, with all of their knowledge, keep us on the right path.”
Lynda Kinnear, another long-time participant, appreciates the nutrition advice and recipes. “After considerable reading, I decided on a plant-based diet and I appreciate that this group validates my decision. Rita usually prepares some food for us and I almost always go home with a recipe or two that I repeat for my husband and me. Her advice is always backed by scientific evidence. I always enjoy the lessons on nutrition that Rita gives because I find the subject dry, and I don’t enjoy reading about it, but she makes the discussions interesting. My husband feels he knows Rita, too, because I’m always quoting her!”
Ornish was the first to develop and study the effects of a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program based on lifestyle change. His first study, which began in 1980, involved just 48 patients who were randomly split into two groups of 24. The experimental group lived together for 24 days, ate a plant-based, vegan diet and practiced a variety of stress management practices daily, while the control group continued their routine activities at home.
The results at the end of the study were remarkable. Patients in the experimental group had a significant reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides; frequency of angina attacks dropped from an average of 10 per week to one; heart function (as measured by ejection fraction) improved for all but three patients; and almost everyone reduced their need for a variety of medications. In stark contrast, the control group on average experienced no change in triglycerides, cholesterol or frequency of angina attacks, and heart function decreased in 13 out of 24 patients in just 24 days.
Since that initial study, Ornish and his team have worked with thousands of patients who, unlike that first experimental group, live their usual lives at home but learn about diet, exercise and stress management through the Ornish Reversal Program. Their research has proven that diet and lifestyle changes can improve blood lipids and heart function, decrease angina and even reduce the amount of plaque blocking the vital arteries that deliver blood and oxygen to the heart.
To learn more, join the Reversing Heart Disease Support Group at YRMC. The group meets from 3-4 p.m. on the second Monday of each month, at the YRMC Pendleton Center, 930 Division Street, Prescott. You can also call 928-771-4745 to be added to the group email list to receive notifications about the topics presented each month. QCBN
By Rita Carey Rubin
Rita Carey Rubin, MS, R.D., CDE, is an YRMC registered dietician.