Yoga and Healthy Lifestyle: Dr. Dean Ornish’s Latest Cancer Study

OrnishCancerDr. Ornish, a longtime student of Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev), is the founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California. He is renowned for his research and studies that led to groundbreaking work proving that heart disease could be reversed through positive lifestyle changes. His latest book, The Spectrum, offers a comprehensive approach for those wishing to refine their diets and move toward a vegetarian and healthier lifestyle. Now, after years of working in the cardiac research field, Dr. Ornish has turned his attention to cancer research to explore the possibility of positively impacting this disease with his comprehensive lifestyle program.

The results from his study with prostate patients has been published in the National Academy of Sciences journal. The findings from this study, entitled “Gene Expression Modulation by Intervention with Nutrition and Lifestyle,” or GEMINAL, proves very exciting for Yoga therapists and all those involved in complementary medicine.

The GEMINAL study included 30 men who had been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. Even before they knew about the opportunity to take part in Dr. Ornish’s study, they had already opted out of conventional treatment that would have included surgery followed by radiation and hormone therapy. Once they signed up to take part in the study, the men had biopsies done, prior to beginning the lifestyle program and after three months on the program. They were also monitored for changes in blood pressure, cholesterol and weight loss.

The study monitored the participants over this three-month period, as they made positive lifestyle changes that included a vegan diet (fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy products, whole grains), an exercise program of walking for half an hour per day, an hour of daily Yoga and meditation and regular participation in a support group.

We asked Dr. Ornish what led him to this research. He said that he had done some initial research that left him very hopeful about seeing how cancer cells might respond to lifestyle changes. He hoped to find some positive indications, which could fuel funding and interest in further controlled studies and testing. Now, with the results in, Dr. Ornish was able to share his findings with us. He reported that the participants lost weight, both their blood pressure and cholesterol levels were lowered and they had an overall improvement in their health status.

Significant changes were revealed by the testing, including the results of the before and after biopsies. About 500 genes showed positive changes by the conclusion of the study. Perhaps the most exciting for Dr. Ornish and his research team was the fact that they were able to determine that 48 disease-preventing genes were activated and 453 genes were turned off that encourage disease, including breast and prostate cancers.

Dr. Ornish noted that, “Our genes are not our fate.” Sri Gurudev used to say that, while we don’t need science to tell us the benefits of Yoga and vegetarian diet, it’s very useful to have the support of these studies. As Yoga teachers and therapists, it is very exciting to share this information with others and to know that with dietary and lifestyle modification, even within a short period of time, we can see changes in our genetics and our health.

Dean Ornish is Founder and President of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, where he holds the Bucksbaum Chair. He is Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Ornish’s 25 years of clinical research demonstrate that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease, without drugs or surgery. His research has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals, highlighted on PBS and in other major media, and he is the author of five best-selling books. He was chosen by LIFE magazine as “one of the 50 most influential members of his generation,” among other honors and awards. For more info about Dr. Ornish’s work:

Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine, Fall 2008

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