Lifestyle as "Medicine"
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, August 06, 2014 03:56 PM

The most influential trend in medicine today, growing exponentially, is the emerging field of what is known as "lifestyle medicine" -- lifestyle as treatment, not just prevention.

We tend to think of advances in medicine as a new drug, laser, or surgical device, something high-tech and expensive. Yet, the simple choices we make in what we eat and how we live have a powerful influence on our health and well-being.

For the past 37 years, the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, have conducted a series of randomized, controlled trials and demonstration projects showing that comprehensive lifestyle changes alone often can reverse the progression of coronary heart disease and several other chronic diseases.

These lifestyle changes include:

  • A whole foods, plant-based diet (naturally low in fat and sugar)
  • stress management techniques (including yoga and meditation)
  • Moderate exercise (such as walking)
  • Social support and community (love and intimacy)

In our research, we've used high-tech, expensive, state-of-the-art scientific measures to prove the power of these simple, low-tech, and low-cost interventions.

In 1979, we published a pilot study showing that these comprehensive lifestyle changes improved myocardial perfusion after only 30 days. There was a 90% reduction in frequency of angina during this time.

In 1983, we published the first randomized, controlled trial showing that these comprehensive lifestyle changes could begin to reverse heart disease as measured by exercise radionuclide ventriculography after only 24 days.  There was a 91% reduction in frequency of angina.

In 1990, we published the Lifestyle Heart Trial, the first randomized, controlled trial showing that lifestyle changes alone can reverse the progression of even severe coronary heart disease. There was even more reversal after 5 years than after 1 year and 2.5 times fewer cardiac events.

Using cardiac PET scans to measure myocardial perfusion, 99% of the patients were able to stop or reverse the progression of their heart disease, and there was a 300% improvement in myocardial perfusion. We found a 40% reduction in LDL cholesterol in the Lifestyle Heart Trial after 1 year, and none of these patients was taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

In another demonstration project of 2,974 patients, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield provided this lifestyle program in 24 hospitals and clinics in West Virginia, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. They found statistically significant and clinically significant improvement in all metrics, with 85% to 90% adherence to this lifestyle program after 1 year. Overall healthcare costs were reduced by 50% in the first year. Reductions in healthcare costs were particularly striking in those who incurred the highest costs in the preceding year.

Changing lifestyle changes your genes -- we found that these comprehensive lifestyle changes caused beneficial changes in expression of 501 genes in just 3 months. Downregulated genes included those promoting inflammation, oxidative stress, and the RAS oncogenes that promote breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.

Often, patients say, "Oh, I've just got bad genes, there's nothing I can do about it." However, when they learn that changing lifestyle may beneficially change gene expression in so many genes so quickly, it can be very motivating.  We also measured a 30% increase in telomerase after only 3 months of making these comprehensive lifestyle changes in these patients. After 5 years, we published the first study showing that these lifestyle changes may lengthen telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that control aging.

More than 75% of the $2.8 trillion in annual U.S. healthcare costs (mostly sick-care costs) are from chronic diseases, which can often be prevented and even reversed by eating a plant-based diet, at a fraction of the costs -- and the only side-effects are good ones.

One of the most interesting findings in all of our studies was this: the more people changed their diet and lifestyle, the more they improved in a variety of metrics. At any age.