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Cancer Reversal Through Diet?

Dr. Dean Ornish turns from reversing heart disease to trying to reverse prostate cancer.

January 15, 2010 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, Brown SE, Gould KL, Merritt TA, Sparler S, Armstrong WT, Ports TA, Kirkeeide RL, Hogeboom C, Brand RJ. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA.16;280(23):2001-7, 1998.

Chugh SS, Reinier K, Teodorescu C, Evanado A, Kehr E, Al Samara M, Mariani R, Gunson K, Jui J. Epidemiology of sudden cardiac death: clinical and research implications. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 51(3):213-28, 2008.

J. Frattaroli, G. Weidner, T. A. Merritt-Worden, S. Frenda, and D. Ornish. Angina pectoris and atherosclerotic risk factors in the multisite cardiac lifestyle intervention program. Am. J. Cardiol., 101(7):911-918, 2008.

Ornish D, Weidner G, Fair WR, Marlin R, Pettengill EB, Raisin CJ, Dunn-Emke S, Crutchfield L, Jacobs FN, Barnard RJ, Aronson WJ, McCormac P, McKnight DJ, Fein JD, Dnistrian AM, Weinstein J, Ngo TH, Mendell NR, Carroll PR. Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. J Urol., 174(3):1065-9; discussion 1069-70, 2005.

R. J. Barnard, N. Kobayashi, and W. J. Aronson. Effect of diet and exercise intervention on the growth of prostate epithelial cells. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis., 11(4):362-366, 2008.

Ornish D, Magbanua MJ, Weidner G, Weinberg V, Kemp C, Green C, Mattie MD, Marlin R, Simko J, Shinohara K, Haqq CM, Carroll PR. Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 17;105(24):8369-74, 2008.

J. Frattaroli, G. Weidner, A. M. Dnistrian, C. Kemp, J. J. Daubenmier, R. O. Marlin, L. Crutcheld, L. Yglecias, P. R. Carroll, and D. Ornish. Clinical events in prostate cancer lifestyle trial: Results from two years of follow-up. Urology, 72(6):1319-1323, 2008.



Just like with diabetes, the same diet that prevents heart disease, can be used not just to treat it, but to reverse it. Next year is the 20 year anniversary of Dean Ornish’s landmark research showing that—without drugs—a near vegan diet could reverse atherosclerosis, dissolve the plaque, open up the arteries.
Well, if that’s the case, can’t we just eat whatever we want then just go vegan after our first heart attack to dissolve the plaque away? Unfortunately, there’s a little something called sudden cardiac death. Half of those that die of heart disease just drop dead, so our first heart attack may indeed our last, but not in the way we were hoping.
So what’s Ornish up to these days? Well, he’s still reversing heart disease. Nearly three quarters of patients angina-free without drugs or surgery. But now that he’s conquered the number one killer, he’s moved on to trying to reverse killer number 2, ,,, cancer.
PSA levels are typically what’s used to follow the progression of prostate cancer. In the standard diet group they got worse, in the vegan diet group they got better. No surgery, no chemotherapy, no radiation—they just started getting better. Here’s an MR spectrograph showing the drop in cancer activity on the plant-based diet.
To figure out what was going on, they took blood from each group and dripped their blood on prostate cancer cells in a petri dish to see what affect the dietary change had. The blood of the standard diet patients did reduce the cancer cell growth rates by about 10%. Their bodies, their immune systems were doing what they could to beat back the cancer. The blood of people on a vegan diet, though, knocked the cancer growth down 70%. Eating a plant based diet made their bloodstream eight times less hospitable to cancer.
Now this is after a year. Subsequent studies have shown that one can see a significant cancer-fighting effect after just two weeks on a plant-based diet with exercise.
What’s happening, it seems, is that the vegan diet reprogrammed gene expression within the prostate gland itself. Ornish took biopsies before and after the dietary change, and you can see the subtle shift in gene regulation from more red to more green—the green denotes genes that are being downregulated by the lifestyle changes. Before, and after.
Ornish’s two year followup was just published last year. A significant number of the standard diet group were forced to go into surgery for what’s called a radical prostatectomy, which often leads to urinary incontinence and impotence in 60% of men coming out of surgery. , But not a single one of the men on the plant-based diet had to go to surgery.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger
  • Heidi Woodruff

    Wow! So why are they holding a world record longest BBQ in Australia to raise money for prostate cancer?

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Sounds like they’re going to need all the money they can get!

      • HemoDynamic, M.D.

        Just showed this video to a patient today in my office that came to me specifically for Dietary counseling and has a PSA of 11.8.
        Gotta tell ya thanks!!!!!!  As always, your work has many times been the cornerstone of my success.  Being able to show these videos in specific situations has profound impact on a patients future behaviors.  You should win an award because you make my job more ReWarding ;-}

  • Rami

    A friend of mine just started chemotherapy. Should I wait until after he is finished with the chemo to show him this? From what I understand a diet high in antioxidants might actually counteract the chemo, whose job it is t oxidize the cancer cells. Is that true?

  • Toxins

    I love this

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my blog post Treating COPD with Diet!

  • Jenniferhopewebb

    It makes me mad that doctors don’t discuss diet with patients, outside of low salt, ADA, AHA or renal.    My Dad had prostate cancer a year and a half ago and nare a word about diet.   Well, except telling him to avoid certain foods when he was having diarrhea after radiation…It is almost criminal the way nutritional research is ignored.   If a doctor didn’t order a statin drug for a patient that had high cholesterol it would be near scandalous.   Yet, all this potentially life saving information and the patients have no idea.   I talked to an invasive cardiologist about it once and he said the reason he doesn’t “get into that’ with the patients is because they’d never do it, so it’s would be a waste of time due to lack of compliance.  Plenty of diabetics don’t check their blood sugar regularly but we still advise them to do so!…Why don’t we offer the information and let the patient decide?  At this point it seems like an ethical duty that’s being ignored.  I’m certainly not anti-doctor, but I don’t understand the kicking and screaming about something proven to work that’s EASY and affordable.  :(

    • Guest

      I’m having the same problem with my husband who has stomach cancer. He’s been losing weight and the doctor told him to eat whatever he wanted in order to gain it. I was so mad and frustrated on how little they care… I’m doing research on my own, trying to help him fight this disease.

    • Twinkle

      Jennifer, one “elephant in the room that no one talks about” that the invasive cardiologist did not mention, which explains a lot about why doctors do not inform patients about this: because major players in our medical system would lose profits if they did. Our medical system in the U.S. is about pharmaceutical companies making profits from drugs, and medical device companies and surgeons making profits from surgeries. Eating a healthier diet could reduce or eliminate the need for drugs and surgeries — which could reduce or eliminate those profits. THAT’s the main reason (the ulterior motive) why doctors don’t discuss this superior option with patients. (That, plus the fact that so many doctors are just plain ignorant about the role of nutrition.)

    • White Elk Clearwater

      Can’t blame all the individual dr’s.

      A] In 10 years of medical school they get a total of 2 hours of “nutritional” lectures.
      B] They get indoctrinated by their professors that there is no other legitimate method than what they are taught in med school.
      C] It is the pharmaceutical companies that fund & direct the content of med school text books etc.

      That 1 in several thousands breaks free of the “matrix” like these 2 did is already in the mode of miracle.

      BTW The Ramba”m of blessed memory said several centuries ago that almost all disease is due to improper diet, insufficient physical activity & improper lifestyle.

    • Skeptic

      Look for young doctors; some of them have a clue. Make sure your Dr is normal weight and looks fit for her age. But you’re right, it should be a crime to not inform people of medically significant information. And many people enthusiastically stay on vegan diets when their health improves so much. There’s been some problems on intervention studies where patients refuse to return to omni diets after being on low-fat vegan diets.

  • Suannehiller

    Subject *: Sour Sop
    Message *: I would like your opinion on using Sour Sop for a cancer prevention/cure. This goes by other names but all are from the Gaviota Tree.

  • the_walrus

    Could it be that these people were getting better in spite of their diet, instead of because? You’re talking about a ‘near-vegan diet’ reversing atherosclerosis but the intervention was also stress management, aerobic exercise, and group support as clearly seen at 00:23 in your video.

    The study where Ornish was still reversing heart disease has a 1h/day stress management intervention – so he’s not exactly keeping all the other variables the same.

    • Skeptic

      Nope. There have been numerous studies and doctors like Ornish who treat patients in their clinics- see for example Neal Barnard, Caldwell Esselstyn, and Joel Fuhrman. They all use vegan, or near vegan, diets to reverse heart disease and other illnesses. This is much bigger than one study by Ornish.

  • paweł

    but isn’t it the opposite conclusion to the article?

  • cfd2012

    Is supplimenting with whey protein vegan?

    • Thea

      cfd2012: re: “Is supplementing with whey protein vegan?”
      No, it is my understanding that whey comes from milk.

      While vegan protein supplements are available for purchase, you may want to review for yourself why you are supplementing protein at all. Most people get plenty of protein just by eating enough calories. See this site:

      Also, we have many examples of supplements harming us. Ex: Green tea – amazingly healthy for us. Green tea extract – not so much.

      Whole foods are generally better, unless you are different in some way. Just a thought for you.

      • Devoooo

        Thea, you are correct, Whey does indeed come from milk.
        Some sources of plant based proteins are soy protein preferably non-GMO which is difficult to find, even better would be hemp protein.

        • Toxins

          Why supplement it at all when we can get all we need through diet? Excess protein is not health promoting.

  • tavit

    just 3 days on your website and I can’t imagine myself benign not vegan anymore

    • Thea

      tavit: I’ve been enjoying your comments and enthusiasm. I agree that the information on this site is persuasive. Welcome aboard.

  • White Elk Clearwater

    Homeopathy done by a trained level headed homeopath not a woo-woo new-age or 6-week-course one has great track records in stopping & curing cancer. Dr Banerjee & Dr Sankaran’s group in India are examples of world class success in this.

  • Carl Wagner CEO BeatCancer.Org

    Dear Dr. Greger, Thank you so much for posting this information. We have believed for the past 35+ Years that cancer is up to 90% preventable. I would be honored to talk to you some time. Warmest Regards, Carl

  • JMmc

    Has Dr. Ornish continued follow up on the test group? What were the Gleason scores for the men in the test group and the control group?