Can We Prevent Dementia and Heart Disease?

Share this with a friend


Season 1, Episode 28 Guest: Dean Ornish, MD

In today’s episode, we begin our interview with Dr. Dean Ornish with a discussion about how to prevent and possibly reverse dementia as well as other chronic diseases. Dr. Ornish and his wife Anne posit a unifying theory that many chronic diseases are all driven by the same lifestyle factors and can not only be prevented, but in many cases, reversed.

Over the last 4 decades, their scientific studies have supported a unifying concept that a therapeutic lifestyle can collectively address high cholesterol, excessive weight and obesity, pre- and type 2 diabetes as well as early prostate cancer, to name a few.

And now they postulate that lifestyle changes can perhaps even affect the progression of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Although lifestyle change is not as glamorous or powerful as high tech surgical procedures in affecting a health improvement in patients, Dean and Anne Ornish and their team show how powerful simple lifestyle changes are in helping reverse chronic disease.

“When you change your lifestyle, it changes your genes,” Dr. Ornish explains. He adds, “What you gain is so much more than what you give up.” Dr. and Anne Ornish also point out that every (even small) step counts. They emphasize it’s “not all-or-nothing” but an approach that emphasizes a spectrum of lifestyle change.

The Ornish lifestyle program is one of the first Medicare covered intensive cardiac rehabilitation programs to reverse coronary heart disease, because it’s been proven to work. Visit for more information.

Our interview continues with a discussion about the influence of community, depression, social media and more, on chronic disease. Dr. Ornish gives his advice on how to stick to a change in food intake and other lifestyle habits, and how the Mediterranean diet differs from the Ornish diet for heart disease reversal.

But, the practical scientist that he is, he reinforces that cutting CRRAHP™ (calorie rich, refined and highly processed) foods, increasing fiber rich foods like beans and lentils and eating low total (and especially saturated) fat, no matter which “diet” you choose, improves health. And remember: What you gain is so much more than what you “give up!”

Key Messages on How to Prevent Dementia and Other Chronic Diseases:

In addition to lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight:

• Microbiome matters: the amyloid in the brain that’s often seen in Alzheimer’s really begins in your gut.

• Ounce for ounce, lentils and beans often have more protein than steak… without the harmful stuff.

• Food can be delicious as well as nutritious: you don’t have to sacrifice taste for healthy lifestyles

• Awareness is always the first step in healing.

Dean Ornish, MD Head Shot

Dean Ornish, MD

Dean Ornish, MD, is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSD. He received his MD from the Baylor College of Medicine, was a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School, and completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He earned a BA in Humanities summa cum laude from the University of Texas in Austin, where he gave the baccalaureate address. 

For over 43 years, he has directed clinical research demonstrating, for the first time, that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease, without drugs or surgery. Medicare created a new benefit category, “intensive cardiac rehabilitation,” to provide coverage for this program. He directed the first randomized controlled trial demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may slow, stop or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer.  His research showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes affect gene expression, “turning on” disease-preventing genes and “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease, as well as the first controlled study showing that these lifestyle changes may begin to reverse cellular aging by lengthening telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes which regulate aging (in collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Laureate in Medicine & Physiology). He is currently directing the first randomized controlled trial to determine if comprehensive lifestyle changes may reverse the progression of early Alzheimer’s disease. 

He is the author of seven books, all national bestsellers, including four New York Times bestsellers. UnDo It! (co‑authored with Anne Ornish) was published by Random House as their lead nonfiction title in January 2019.  His three main-stage talks have been viewed by over seven million people. 

The research that he and his colleagues conducted has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Circulation, The New England Journal of Medicine, the American Journal of Cardiology, The Lancet Oncology, and elsewhere.  A one-hour documentary of their work was broadcast on NOVA, the PBS science series, and was featured in The Game Changers, the most-downloaded documentary ever (over 100 million downloads)He has written a monthly column for TIME, Newsweek and Reader’s Digest magazines, is a LinkedIn Influencer, and was Medical Editor of The Huffington Post 2010-2016. 

He was appointed by President Clinton to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy; by President Obama to the White House Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health; and by Governor Newsom to the Governor’s Brain Trust on Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention and Preparedness.  He is also a member of The Lancet Oncology “Moonshot Commission.” He has been a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Food Bank. Dr. Ornish and colleagues established a lifestyle medicine clinic at the St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter in San Francisco where over 30,000 homeless people were treated. 

The “Ornish diet” has been rated “#1 for Heart Health” by a panel of experts at U.S. News & World Report for eleven years from 2011-2022.  He co-chaired the Google Health Advisory Council with Marissa Mayer 2007-9. 

He received 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 U.S. Surgeon General Citation; a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association; the inaugural “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine; 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 Award from the American College of Nutrition; the Glenn Foundation Award for Research; the Bravewell Collaborative Pioneer of Integrative Medicine award; the Sheila Kar Health Foundation Humanitarian Award from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; Plantrician Project Luminary Award; and others.  Dr. Ornish has been a physician consultant to President Clinton since 1993 and consulted with the chefs at The White House, Camp David, and Air Force One to cook more healthfully (1993-2000).

Dr. Ornish was recognized as “one of the 125 most extraordinary University of Texas alumni in the past 125 years;” by TIME magazine as a “TIME 100 Innovator;” by LIFE magazine as “one of the fifty most influential members of his generation;” by People magazine as “one of the most interesting people of the year;” and by Forbes magazine as “one of the world’s seven most powerful teachers.” 

True Health Revealed


Meet Our Experts

In this engaging podcast series, health experts reveal the truth about lifestyle as medicine and share empowering ways to improve your life with each episode.




Support Our Work

Your generous donation will help put an end to preventable disease and safeguard the health of our shared planet. We thank you in advance for supporting changes in policy that will create changes in culture and a healthier future.