[DEAN ORNISH:] For the last 30 years or so, I have directed a series of clinical research studies proving that the simple choices that we make in our lives each day can have a powerful impact on our health and our well being, and much more quickly than had once been thought possible, even at a cellular level. Ironically, we have been using very high tech, expensive, state of the art measures to prove how powerful very simple and low tech and often ancient interventions can be.
Our prostate study was a randomized control trial of men who had biopsy proven prostate cancer and who have elected not to be treated conventionally for reasons unrelated to our study. What made this interesting from a scientific standpoint is that we could take men who knew they had cancer from biopsies, randomly divide them into two groups, and have a true non-intervention control group so we could determine the effects of comprehensive lifestyle changes alone without being confounded by other treatments. You can't do that with breast cancer because almost everybody gets treated right away, so you don't know if any improvements were due to the lifestyle changes or the chemo or the radiation or the surgery.
After a year we found that PSA levels, a marker for prostate cancer, went up (worsened) in the comparison or control group, but went down significantly (improved) in the experimental group that made the lifestyle changes we recommended. The degree of change in lifestyle was directly correlated with the degree of change in their PSA levels.
We also found that the prostate tumor growth in vitro was inhibited 70 percent in the group that made these changes compared to only nine percent in the group that didn't. The inhibition of the tumor growth was itself a direct function of the degree of change in lifestyle. In other words, the more people changed, the more it directly inhibited the growth of their prostate tumors.
J. Craig Venter has shown that one way you can change your genes is by making new ones. We are finding that another way you can change your gene expression is simply by changing your lifestyle.
In May of this year, we published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Craig was the communicating editor). We found that changing lifestyle actually changes gene expression. In only three months, we found that over 500 genes were either up-regulated or down-regulated—in simple terms, turning on genes that prevent many chronic diseases, and turning off genes that cause coronary heart disease, oncogenes that are linked to breast and prostate cancer, genes that promote inflammation and oxidative stress and so on.
I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives. Scientific research was interesting, of course, but I felt as though I was just adding a tiny dot of color to a pointillist canvas without knowing what the final composition would be like. So was it worth giving up all the unique opportunities of a human existence for that? In Buddhism, on the other hand, the point of departure, the goal to be reached, the means to that end, and the obstacles in the way are all perfectly clear. All you have to do is to look into your own mind and see that it is so often dominated by egoism, and that egoism derives from a deep ignorance of the true nature of ourselves and of the world. This state of affairs inevitably makes us and others suffer. Our most urgent task is to put a stop to this.This passage brought to mind an email I'd sent to a mutual friend of Ruthie's and mine, who'd written this morning asking how she was doing. I told our friend that she was living in a state of blessedness. The phrase sounded odd coming from me, but I don't know how else to describe it. On the phone the other night, Ruthie told me about an hour she'd spent talking to a needy stranger, and what a wonderful time that was. Ruthie was almost ebullient discussing all the people coming into her life now because of the cancer. I mentioned to our friend that, given the particulars of this stranger's life and situation, I probably would have been fidgeting to get out of there. Ruthie has always been a nicer and more patient person than her brother, but nevertheless, I honestly don't think she would have given this stranger that much time before the cancer. But now she finds she wants to spend time with people like that -- with people who need someone to talk to, to disburden themselves, to balm their own suffering.
She is ... happy. She really is. God knows she'd rather not have cancer, but she's finding that it has brought her to a state of enlightenment. Ruthie doesn't talk like that, but that's exactly what she's living through. Somehow, facing the very real prospect of her imminent death has unleashed the floodgates of compassion within her. It's awesome. And to think: the opportunity to experience that is always there! Every single day, we can choose to see the world differently, and to act differently towards others. With love. With compassion. And yet, every day, so many of us choose to remain in deep ignorance ... or to read about how we ought to be compassionate and loving instead of actually do it, and live it, and be it. Why? This is my question. This is my problem.