Ornish program tackles heart disease through science and commitment to lifestyle medicine

More than 700,000 people in the U.S. experience a heart attack each year, an unfortunate way to make the initial diagnosis of heart disease. It is certainly unacceptable to be at risk for a second or subsequent heart attack and not have utilized the full spectrum of prevention and reversal techniques.

Marin General Hospital and the Cardiovascular Center of Marin have embraced the importance of delivering a full spectrum of cardiovascular care in Marin County. We support and acknowledge the amazing second chances offered by high tech, invasive and advanced interventional procedures.

Now, evidence also supports that substantial changes in lifestyle management result in decreased cardiovascular risk and promote plaque regression.

That’s why we are excited to announce that Marin resident, Dr. Dean Ornish, leader, and pioneer of cardiac reversal medicine, is collaborating with our Cardiovascular Center of Marin to introduce his research validated and Medicare-covered Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation program. This is the only Ornish Lifestyle Program in Northern California and the first nationwide to be offered through a physician practice and District Clinic model.  

For more than 30 years, Dr. Ornish has been researching the progression of coronary heart disease and other chronic conditions and how they can potentially be treated and reversed through lifestyle changes. His ideas and programs have resulted in several bestselling books and have been featured in media such as Newsweek, TIME, and The New York Times.

According to Dr. Ornish, “We tend to think of advances in medicine as having something to do with a new drug, a new laser, a new surgical technique, something really high tech or expensive, and we often have a hard time believing that something as simple as comprehensive lifestyle changes can make such a difference in our lives, but they often do.”

Most Americans have at least one key cardiac risk factor (high LDL cholesterol, stress patterns, hypertension, tobacco use, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle and obesity) that promote the development of cardiovascular disease. In addition, many have a genetic predisposition that increases their risk for having a cardiac event. 

The medical prescription for Ornish Lifestyle Medicine includes a whole food, plant-based, low in fat and refined sugars/carbohydrates diet, moderate consistent aerobic exercise, stress management techniques and group psychosocial support.

During randomized clinical trials, the Ornish Lifestyle program showed a 91%improvement in the occurrence of angina, a 77% decrease in the need for additional revascularization of coronary arteries, either by bypass or stenting; and an 82% improvement in artery blockages.

The Ornish program results are indeed exciting, however, calls for a major commitment to behavior changes that promote a new lifestyle, which many patients may not be quite ready to undertake. We acknowledge that for cardiac patients, any risk factor modification will make a big difference in their future health, which is why we continue to offer traditional cardiac rehabilitation, encouraging these patients to make lifestyle changes. These patients also follow an exercise-based program with safety-specific guidelines and receive basic education, coaching to help them eat right, lose weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce stress.

My partners at Cardiovascular Center of Marin recognize that we have previously championed lifestyle changes through our TAM program (Total Arteriosclerosis Management) that ended several years ago, and now we enthusiastically look forward to collaboration with the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine team for the benefit of our current patients and extended Marin community. Medicare, Medicare Advantage and most insurance plans now reimburse the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program for patients who meet criteria similar to traditional cardiac rehab. This increased insurance coverage will allow access to many more patients.

Other patients wishing to participate without insurance coverage, may pay out of pocket.  These patients may include those who completed a Phase 2 cardiac rehab program, or those with multiple risk factors who are seeking a cardiac reversal program. All patients must be referred to the program by a physician.

The program is delivered in 18 four-hour sessions, two times per week for nine weeks. The participants are guided by a six-person team with extensive training in cardiovascular risk factor management as their specialty. All sessions are supervised by a cardiologist.

For more about the Ornish Lifestyle Management Program at the Cardiovascular Center of Marin please call 1-415-927-6177 or go to www.ornish.com.