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On April 3, 1998, a prerecorded interview was broadcast on Bay TV (local cable channel 35 in San Francisco) between anchor Beth Ruyak and heart specialist Dean Ornish, M.D. The following transcription was created by scott richie for Winky.
[introduction to taped interview]
Beth Ruyak: His first book, Eat More, Weigh Less, had a tremendous impact on the American public. Dr. Dean Ornish is a leading cardiologist who doesn't advocate the use of medicine or surgery to treat heart disease. His new book is called Love and Survival and recently, I asked him how his new work is being received as the publics per- ception of alternative medicine has been changing.
[begin taped interview]
Dr. Dean Ornish: Well, in some ways it's even bigger because people, with the earlier book on reversing heart disease, most people thought was just for people with heart disease, even though it isn't. But love and survival are issues that touch everyone's lives, so this has actually a much bigger response than anything I've ever done before.
Beth Ruyak: In terms of a symbolic language for every- thing that we do, the heart would be the symbol of love...
Dr. Dean Ornish: That's true.
Beth Ruyak: And so it would teach us everything we need to know about love, but you didn't initially see it that way, did you, as a scientist or as a doctor?
Dr. Dean Ornish: Well, actually, it's always been part of my work, but people tend to focus much more in the diet, you know...it's gotten to the point it's hard for me to go out to dinner without someone either apologizing for what they're eating or commenting on what I'm eating; and clearly diet is important, I haven't lost my enthusiasm for the power of diet, but I don't know anything in medicine, including diet or drugs or surgery or anything, that has a greater impact on our health and premature death and disease, across the board, from virtually all causes, as the healing power of love and intimacy. And even though the heart is the symbol of love as you've indicated, these aren't things that we talk about in cardiology meetings or really as part of my medical training; and yet study after study has shown that people who feel lonely and depressed and isolated have three to five times the rate of premature death and disease, across the board, when compared to those who have a sense of love and connection and community. So we ignore these ideas at our own peril; and I'm hoping that this book, and by extension this interview, may help raise that level of awareness so that people know what a powerful difference it can make, and once we know that then we can bring different choices and reverse those trends.
Beth Ruyak: Well, we can talk calories and sodium and fats and all kinds of things in our diet, and we can talk the science of the heart and surgeries and all the things that go with it. Our language is not so complete when we're talking about our spiritual selves, our healing, and all of the stuff we can't exactly put our fingers on.
Dr. Dean Ornish: Well, as you've indicated, poets and artists and musicians and mystics throughout the ages have talked about the heart as being more than just a pump...and it is more than a pump. I mean, as a pump we have to deal with it on a physical level, but we also need to talk about the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual dimensions of the heart. And I really think that the real epidemic in our culture is just that. It's not just physical heart disease, but also emotional and spiritual heart disease. By that I mean the loneliness, isolation, alien- ation, and depression that is rampant in our culture, in part because of the breakdown in the last fifty years of the social networks that used to give most people that sense of connection and community.
Beth Ruyak: Well, you're among a handful of voices that are saying very truthful but difficult things to people, because you're asking them to look at those heart places, you're asking them to go right into the center of their own pain, and for whatever else anybody goes through phys- ically, that can be the most agonizing and frightening experience of all.
Dr. Dean Ornish: Well, it can be, and that's why we're so walled off, so many of us, that we have elaborate strategies for numbing pain or killing pain or distracting ourselves from pain. But the idea is that the pain is there for a rea- son, the pain is not the problem, the pain is the messenger. It's to say, hey, listen up, pay attention, you're not doing something that's in your best interests.
And if we try to numb it or kill it or distract ourselves from it with smoking and eating too much and drinking too much and abusing drugs and working too hard, then it's a little like clipping the wires to a fire alarm when you go back to sleep without putting out the fire, the problem just keeps getting worse.
But the pain also has transformative value because change is difficult, even good change. But if you're in enough pain and the strategies for numbing or killing the pain aren't working so well, suddenly the idea of change becomes more appealing. It's kind of like you say, you know, boy, it's going to be really hard to change, but I am in so much pain I'm willing to try just about anything. And
when people then go on my program, do the kinds of things that I recommend, even though they can be difficult, they generally find that they feel so much better, not just in the physical ways we can measure, but also the ones that are more difficult to measure, but often the more meaningful. They may often look back at the pain as something that was absolutely necessary. Some patients of mine say things like, you know, having a heart attack was the best thing that ever happened to me. Even though that sounds crazy, what they mean is that, it took that to get my attention and had I not gone through that, I wouldn't have made these changes that have made my life so much more joyful and meaningful.
Beth Ruyak: And maybe the goal is that people don't have to go through that degree of pain to get to that kind of healing. You are still Dr. Dean Ornish, the food guy. You do still and will always still have the diet program, so what's the newest program, what's the newest food pro- gram?
Dr. Dean Ornish: Well, I've tried - - you know, diet is important and I've been working with a company that's come out with a new line of foods, it's called Advantage 10. They come out April 1st, which I think is always a great day to introduce something...if it doesn't work...[shrugs]
Beth Ruyak: Uh-oh. April Fools Day. Did you plan that that way?
Dr. Dean Ornish: No. But, you know, one of the things I hear so often is, you know, the food is boring, low fat food is boring, and am I going to live longer or is it just going to seem longer if I eat this way and that isn't the choice, because these are pizzas, and smoothies, and veggie burgers, and entrees, and power bar kinds of things that taste good, look good, are convenient and will be avail- able in natural food supermarkets and health food stores around the Bay - - around the country.
Beth Ruyak: And quickly, the heart - - the actual science part of the heart research still goes on at UC San Francisco.
Dr. Dean Ornish: Yes. Well, we have a program that's a combined program between UCSF and California Pacific Medical Center where they're making our 'reversing heart disease' program available; and not just for people with heart disease but anyone whose interested in improving their health and well-being. It's a terrific program. I highly recommend it.
Beth Ruyak: I think it's a remarkable challenge to take people from the thoughts of just planning a good diet to the core of them, and really healing the loving part of them that is what their heart is all about.
Dr. Dean Ornish: Well, that's what I think we're here for, is to grow in wisdom, to learn to love each other, and the irony is, is that when we do that, the fear that you mentioned earlier is that, if I open my heart to someone, if I make myself emotionally vulnerable, I might get hurt. What I'm hoping people realize is that not doing that is what threatens our survival. And study after study is showing that when we open our heart to each other, when we find ways of becoming more intimate, not just in romantic relationships, but in any kind of relationship, it's healing; and in my new book I give eight pathways to intimacy that gets different ways that people can learn to be more open and intimate.
And I hope that as people become more aware of what a powerful difference these make and how much joy they can bring when we begin to do that, and how our survival can be improved when we do that, then people will begin having the courage to say, it's worth it.
[end taped interview]
Dr. Dean Ornish's new book is called Love and Survival,
The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy
return to heal thy ways
...nothing new here in this part of the Universe since
8:37 A.M. P.S.T., Thursday, April 9, 1998
last updated on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 9:03 P.M. P.S.T.