“Doctor” Dean Ornish. Today in the New York Times he said over and over that the way that I go about losing weight, not gaining weight and staying out of the roles of the obese and unhealthy is completely wrong. Who is Dean Ornish and why does he get to write an op-ed in the NYT?
Although Ornish is an internist with no research training, he became famous because in the 1990s, he was one of the first people ever to publish evidence apparently demonstrating the benefits of a diet low in fat. Ornish’s studies have been among the most highly cited papers in nutrition history , and he claims that his program, which involves not just diet, but also aerobic exercise, yoga, and meditation, is the only one ever to demonstrate an actual reversal of heart disease. Teicholz, Nina (2014-05-13). The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet (Kindle Locations 2478-2482). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
As a general rule, performing a scientific study that is the ‘only one ever’ do do a thing is impressive. Impressive that is, if the results can be independently verified. In the last 20 years has that happened for the Ornish diet?
Yet Ornish’s study, like so many in nutrition research, is troublesome. Twenty-one patients is not a lot, nor did all of them make it through the full five years of follow-up. V And importantly, Ornish’s study has never been successfully replicated by independent researchers, the hallmark of credibility in “hard” sciences. Teicholz, Nina (2014-05-13). The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet (Kindle Locations 2493-2496). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
The ‘hallmark study’ included 21 heart patients. Not all of them completed the five year follow-through. The studies findings have not been duplicated in the subsequent twenty five years. Impressive indeed. Ornish is still banging that drum, though, or should I say playing that pipe, as in Pied Piper. Back then he cited the effects of the Ornish diet for heart patients as yielding improvement of ‘two and a half times less’ cardiac events in the five year followup. Given that his study was of 21 people, that could have meant two cardiac events in the study group compared to five in the control. While it’s a significant percentage, it’s hardly anything significant in actual practice, and could hardly be used to launch a series of popular diet books. However, it did launch a series of diet books in the 80s. It launched a low-fat craze that we are still suffering through. Despite the best efforts of the food industry to meet the demand for low fat foods, despite everyone’s best effort to eat more fruits and vegetables, we are at the peak of a tsunami of overweight, obese and diet related illness waves. Here is what he says about his un-reproduceable study (singular) in the op-ed:
We showed in randomized, controlled trials that these diet and lifestyle changes can reverse the progression of even severe coronary heart disease. Episodes of chest pain decreased by 91 percent after only a few weeks. After five years there were 2.5 times fewer cardiac events. Blood flow to the heart improved by over 300 percent.
The study showed that heart health improved if the patient did yoga, ate vegetables, reduced fat intake. Since then (1983) the benefit claims morphed into weight control claims, as well. Dr Ornish would like to see us redouble our efforts to eat even less fat, eat even more vegetables, we would all lose weight IF WE ONLY TRIED HARDER. It’s all of our fault that we can’t sufficiently follow his perfectly sound advice. He knows it works because it ought to work, it worked for him, one time, for 21 heart patients in California. It has never worked since for anyone else, but that can be blamed on the people being studied. They did not believe hard enough, they did not try hard enough, they cheated and were lazy and we not convinced that it would work. It can’t have been the advice, because it worked once. Here is his advice:
The more people adhered to these recommendations (including reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol they consumed), the more improvement we measured — at any age. But for reversing disease, a whole-foods, plant-based diet seems to be necessary.
I can accept the advice to eat real food. I can accept the advice to live a more stress-free life. I just cannot accept the admonition that two out of three Americans are currently over weight because we eat too much fat, still. To me it makes perfect sense that we are fat because we eat carbs. I was fat. I stopped drinking beer, drinking soda and eating processed foods and now I am not fat. This last month I quit eating ANYTHING BUT MEAT. I lived to tell the tale. Not only have I survived, I have thrived. Had I needed to lose weight I am certain that I would have this month…why am I certain? Because the last time I went from eating a high percentage of carbs to practically none I lost a lot of weight. This time, I went from eating next to no carbs to eating no carbs. I am not recommending that anyone out there reading my words go right out and do what I have done. I do recommend that you stop eating sugar, stop eating processed foods and start eating real foods. I also recommend that a person that is selling books, and his name has “doctor” prominently displayed should be treated just as you would treat a health claim on a food label.