Monday, March 12, 2012

#309: Dean Ornish (?)

This is an important one. Dean Ornish (M.D.) is president and founder of Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, as well as Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. As such, since he is sympathetic to complementary medicine, he has become (with Mehmet Oz) among the most powerful and credible proponents of woo in the US. He acknowledges his debts to Swami Satchidananda. Now, Ornish has not (as opposed to Oz) completely gone over to the dark side – he still does real science, but his friendliness to quackery is scary.

It is easy to see where it is coming from. Ornish is widely known for his lifestyle-driven approach to the control of coronary artery disease (CAD), and he (and colleagues) has actually done studies strongly indicating that a lifestyle regimen featuring Yoga, meditation, a low-fat vegan diet, smoking cessation, and regular exercise could not only stop the progression of CAD, but possibly reverse it (the result was shown in a randomized, semi-controlled trial, and published in the Lancet in 1990). If correct it could, conceivably, be interpreted to show the existence of cheaper and safer alternatives to invasive procedures.

Fair enough. With insufficiently developed critical thinking skills, investigations like this can easily place you at the edge of the abyss. And Ornish has taken the whole thing to Satchidananda and the dark side by endorsing a “holistic view of preventive medicine”. Ornish has used his background to promote (but always in a slightly qualified manner) all sorts of woo – amidst doing real science (well, usually preliminary science), combining it with his conviction that doctors are close-minded (for a more sensible definition of open-mindedness, go here).

Senator Tom Harkin used Ornish in his campaign for CAM.

Apparently Ornish is walking down the path of the Sith rather quickly; among his assignments is Chief Medical Editor at Huffington Post, where he promises to provide a “clear and balanced view” on (among other things) alternative medicine. He is venerated by the morons on the dark side from Gary Null to Mike Adams.

Diagnosis: Dean Ornish: turn away from the dark side, even though I realize that it might easily be too late. You are on the verge of doing some real harm (and are possibly already doing it).


  1. Aren't good health and good looks intrinsically related? Why does Dr. Ornish look so unfit having, as he does, a weak appearance and turkey gobbly neckline? Shouldn't he be well balanced and strong rather than spindly and flabby looking, that is, if he is healthy?

    Catherine Shanahan's book 'Deep Nutrition Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food' features a photo of old Dr. Ornish opposite an African tribal native (Himba I think), of the same age of 62 years that Dr. Ornish is. The comparison is so very stark! I believe that when healthy a person looks healthy. Dr. Ornish looks much less than gloriously healthy. I've been eating butter and olive oil for years, completely avoiding vegetable oils, because older family members (all surviving into their nineties) advised me thus. Now in my fifties, my cholesterol is perfect and my hdl/ldl ratio is the same as my beautiful, tall and skinny 21 yr. old son's (we are both 2.8.)

    Agriculture is relatively recent. Humans have infinitely more history as hunter gatherers. That about sums my position up. Who is paying Ornish to stand by such 70's food policies as he does?

  2. Well, Ornish has definitely thrown his lot in with the dark side. Here he complains that, since randomized clinical trials don't tend to support his favorite woo, that randomized clinical trials must be an improper way of studying his woo.