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 telomeraseenzyme that lengthens telomeres, the ends of chromosomes 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 by Hillary 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 is a member of the boards of directors of the San Francisco Food Bank and the J. Craig Venter Institute. Additionally, he is a member of the boards of directors of the U.S. United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Quincy Jones Foundation. He is an advisory board member of HealthCorps. He was appointed to The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy and elected to the California Academy of Medicine.
Dean Ornish speaking at Google Zeitgeist 2011
He chaired the Google Health Advisory Council from 2007 through 2009.
He has received several awards, including the 1994 Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the University of Texas, Austin; the University of California, Berkeley, “National Public Health Hero” award; the Jan J. Kellermann Memorial Award for distinguished contribution in the field of cardiovascular disease prevention from the International Academy of Cardiology; a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association; the Beckmann Medal from the German Society for Prevention and Rehabilitation of Cardiovascular Diseases; the “Pioneer in Integrative Medicine” award from California Pacific Medical Center; the Stanley Wallach Lectureship Award from the American College of Nutrition; the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement; the Linus Pauling Award from the Institute for Functional Medicine; the Glenn Foundation Award for Research in Aging; the Bravewell Collaborative Pioneer of Integrative Medicine award; and the Sheila Kar Health Foundation Humanitarian Award from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles).
Ornish was recognized as “one of the most interesting people of 1996” by People magazine; selected as one of the “TIME 100” in integrative medicine; honored as “one of the 125 most extraordinary University of Texas alumni in the past 125 years;” chosen by LIFE magazine as “one of the fifty most influential members of his generation;” and by Forbes magazine as “one of the seven most powerful teachers in the world.”
Ornish, D. Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease, New York: Random House, 1990; Ballantine Books, 1992.
Ornish D. Eat More, Weigh Less. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
Ornish D. Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
Ornish D. Love & Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
Ornish D. The Spectrum. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008.
Billings J, Scherwitz L, Sullivan R, Ornish D. Group support therapy in the Lifestyle Heart Trial. In: Scheidt S, Allan R, eds. Heart and Mind: The Emergence of Cardiac Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 1996:233-253.
Ornish D, Hart J. Intensive Risk Factor Modification. In: Hennekens C, Manson J, eds. Clinical Trials in Cardiovascular Disease. Boston: W.B. Saunders, 1998 (companion to Heart Disease, the Braunwald standard cardiology textbook).
US News awarded the Spectrum the "#1 Heart Healthy" diet in 2011
Ornish D. “Intensive Lifestyle Changes in Management of Coronary Heart Disease. In: Braunwald E. Harrison’s Advances in Cardiology. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002.
Ornish D. “The cost-effectiveness of consumer-driven lifestyle changes in the treatment of cardiac disease.” In: Herzlinger RE. Consumer-Driven Health Care. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons, 2004.
Scher B, Guarneri EM, Hart JA, Ornish D. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trials. In: Manson J, Buring JE, Ridker PM, Gaziano JM, eds. Clinical Trials in Cardiovascular Disease, Second Edition. Boston: W.B. Saunders, 2004 (companion to Heart Disease, the Braunwald standard cardiology textbook).
Ornish D. “Our Genes Are Not Our Fate.” In: Brockman J. This Will Change Everything. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.
Ornish DM, Gotto AM, Miller RR, et al. Effects of a vegetarian diet and selected yoga techniques in the treatment of coronary heart disease. Clinical Research. 1979;27:720A.
Ornish DM, Scherwitz LW, Doody RS, Kesten D, McLanahan SM, Brown SE, DePuey G, Sonnemaker R, Haynes C, Lester J, McAllister GK, Hall RJ, Burdine JA, Gotto AM. Effects of stress management training and dietary changes in treating ischemic heart disease. JAMA. 1983;249:54-59.
Ornish DM, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary atherosclerosis? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. The Lancet. 1990; 336:129-133. (Reprinted in Yearbook of Medicine and Yearbook of Cardiology (New York: C.V. Mosby, 1991).
Gould KL, Ornish D, Scherwitz L, Stuart Y, Buchi M, Billings J, Armstrong W, Ports T, Scherwitz L. Changes in myocardial perfusion abnormalities by positron emission tomography after long-term, intense risk factor modification. JAMA. 1995;274:894-901.
Ornish D, Scherwitz L, Billings J, Brown SE, Gould KL, Merritt TA, Sparler S, Armstrong WT, Ports TA, Kirkeeide RL, Hogeboom C, Brand RJ. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease Five-year follow-up of the Lifestyle Heart Trial. JAMA. 1998;280:2001-2007.
Ornish D. Avoiding Revascularization with Lifestyle Changes: The Multicenter Lifestyle Demonstration Project. American Journal of Cardiology. 1998;82:72T-76T.
Ornish D, Magbanua MJM, Weidner G, Weinberg V, Kemp C, Green C, et al. Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 2008; 105: 8369-8374.
Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, Weidner G, Epel E, Kemp C, Magbanua MJM, Marlin R, Yglecias L, Carroll P, Blackburn E. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. The Lancet Oncology. 2008; 9: 1048–57.
Dod HS, Bhardwaj R, Sajja V, Weidner G, Hobbs GR, Konat GW, Manivannan S, Gharib W, Warden BE, Nanda NC, Beto RJ, Ornish D, Jain AC. Effect of intensive lifestyle changes on endothelial function and on inflammatory markers of atherosclerosis. Am J Cardiol. 2010 Feb 1;105(3):362-7.
Silberman A, Banthia R, Estay IS, Kemp C, Studley J, Hareras D, Ornish D. The effectiveness and efficacy of an intensive cardiac rehabilitation program in 24 sites. Am J Health Promot. 2010;24:260–266.
Moyers, Bill. "Changing Life Habits: A Conversation with Dean Ornish." In: Healing and the Mind. New York: Doubleday, 1993.