This is the seventh in a series of columns based on “Undo It, How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases,” the most recent book by Dean Ornish, M.D. These lifestyle changes can be summarized as: Eat healthy (plant-based, unprocessed food); move more; stress less; and love more (learn to forgive; form loving relationships).
Cancer is the one situation where increased blood flow can cause harm. As cancer advances, it eventually outgrows its blood supply. In order to keep enlarging, cancerous tumors secrete substances like VEGF that induce formation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. Avastin, a drug that prevents angiogenesis, was developed to stop tumor growth. However, it costs over $100,000 a year. Furthermore, Avastin has been shown by Dr. Ornish and others to be less effective at lowering VEGF levels (thereby preventing tumor growth) than Ornish’s lifestyle program. In a famous study, Dr. Ornish proved that his lifestyle program can even resolve early-stage prostate cancer. “The foods that prevent angiogenesis are in the whole-food plant-based category,” particularly “berries, cruciferous vegetables, green tea, and spices,” according to Ornish.
In all other situations more blood flow is better. Factors that cause arteries to constrict, decreasing blood flow to organs and tissues, include animal protein, animal fat, inflammation, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and stress.
Plant-based nutrition, exercise and stress reduction cause the endothelium that lines our arteries to produce nitric oxide, which causes arteries to dilate, bringing more blood to our organs and tissues. According to Dr. Ornish, this results in the following health benefits:
• “When your brain gets more blood flow, you think more clearly and creatively, have more energy, and sleep better.” You can also experience “neurogenesis,” where your brain grows new neurons, which can prevent and reverse early dementia.
• When your skin gets more blood flow, you appear younger and have fewer wrinkles.
• When “your heart and skeletal muscles get more blood flow … you have more stamina and can often reverse even severe coronary heart disease.” ( Dr. Ornish was the first scientist to prove that lifestyle can reverse heart disease, over 25 years ago). He notes that “Roman gladiators were vegetarian because it gave them more strength and endurance…” Watch The Game Changers, a documentary now available on Netflix, about elite athletes who have gone plant-based to enhance their performance.
• “Your eyes get more blood flow, helping to prevent blindness” caused by macular degeneration. Plant-based nutrition can reverse diabetic retinopathy, another common cause of visual impairment and blindness.
• Your ears get more flood flow, reducing hearing loss.
• Increased blood flow to pelvic organs enhances the sex life of both men and women.
• Physical activity increases the flow in your lymphatic system.
• Physical activity decreases your risk of diabetes, moves blood back to your heart through your veins, and decreases risk of blood clots.
Why haven’t doctors told you about this? Because they often aren’t aware of this information. Primary care doctors, oncologists, cardiologists, diabetologists, and other physicians don’t receive training about nutrition or prevention in medical school, residency or continuing medical education conferences (often sponsored by Big Pharma). The same problem exists with other health care providers, including P.A.s, nurse practitioners, dietitians and diabetic educators. Hopefully this unfortunate situation will change in the near future.
Next week’s column will be the 8th and final one in this series. It will summarize the take-home messages in “Undo It.”
Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He gives a free presentation at 7 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718); and conducts a shop-with-a-doc session at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month at Carbondale City Market.