A Testimonial from Dr. Ornish’s Alzheimer’s Progression Reversal Study

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What does improving the cognition and function of Alzheimer’s patients with lifestyle medicine actually translate to in terms of human impact?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

On Friday, I released a video profiling Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark new study in the leading peer-reviewed Alzheimer’s translational research journal, a randomized controlled trial showing that a plant-based diet and lifestyle program may significantly improve cognition and function after 20 weeks in many patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. About 70 percent remained stable or actually improved in the plant-based intervention group, whereas, in the control group, about 70 percent got worse, and not a single person got better. But no matter how significant the results, the dry statistics don’t convey the human impact.

Many patients who experienced improvement reported regaining cognition and function they had lost. But how does that actually translate into real life? Well, for example, several patients in the intervention group reported that they had been unable to read a book or watch a movie because they kept forgetting what they had just read or watched, and had to keep starting over. But, after the plant-based diet and lifestyle intervention, they got better, such that now they were able to read and watch shows again and retain most of it. One individual reported that it used to take him weeks to finish reading a book, but after participating in the study, he was able to do so in a matter of days.

Another participant, a former business executive, reported regaining the ability to manage his own finances and investments. He said, “It was so much a part of my life—who I am, and who I was—it was hard saying that part of me was just gone. But now I’m back to reconciling our finances monthly; I keep up to date on our investments. A lot of self-worth comes back.”

Another said that for five years she had been unable to prepare their family business’s financial reports, but now she is able to do so accurately. “A deep sense of identity is returning. It’s given me a new lease on life, and yet it’s a familiarity and something I’ve always prided myself on. I’m coming back like I was prior to the Alzheimer’s disease being diagnosed. I feel like I’m me again—an older but better version of me.”

But even words are hard to describe such transformations. One of Dr. Ornish’s study participants gave us permission to share his story: Dan Jones, a musician at military events and parades, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“What do you notice that you could do now that you couldn’t do before?”

“Well, for one thing, I had a set of about eight tunes that I played in the parade, right? And I could just go straight through them from one into the other. I played for an hour and a half without stopping. I think it was pretty close. They move darn slow in that parade. I was leaving them behind walking. I kept having to stop and wait for them to catch up.”

“Was that something different?”

“Yeah.”

“And what was?”

“Well, that I could remember the order. I could make the transition from tune to tune without messing up and getting confused about which tune I was playing. Those were all problems I’d had when we were playing at the graduation ceremony. You know, I’d forget which tune was coming next. I’d get worried about it, and I’d start making mistakes. And this just went like clockwork. A lot of it had to do with practice, but the tunes we played before, I had played hundreds of times and I was messing up. And in the parade, I hardly messed up at all.”

“And you were messing up because you had a hard time remembering?”

“Because I had a hard time remembering. I’d get confused about different tunes. It was really, yeah, it was not a pleasant experience. It was unpleasant enough that, like I said, I went home and put [the bagpipes] down. And now, there was one day a couple of weeks ago when I really had the drones in tune. It was in the evening. I was out on the front porch playing, and it was just so beautiful. I played for two hours. I just stood there and played.”

“What are you feeling now?”

“Joy. Just happy. You know, women always say they’re crying because they’re happy. I’m crying because I’m happy. It was just so nice to be able to do that again.”

“Did that make you feel better about yourself, too?”

“It did.”

“In what way?”

“I just felt like I could do something. I had worth again, so to speak. Something that was important to me was given back.”

I’ll paraphrase what the head of Harvard’s brain center at Mass General had to say: Big Pharma has invested billions in the effort to find medications to treat the disease, but only two Alzheimer’s drugs have been approved in the past 20 years. One has already been pulled off the market, and the other is minimally effective, extremely expensive, and often has pesky side effects,  such as brain swelling or bleeding into the brain. In contrast, the intensive lifestyle changes implemented in this study have been shown here to improve cognition and function, at about the cost of buying broccoli. And the only side effects are positive ones.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

On Friday, I released a video profiling Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark new study in the leading peer-reviewed Alzheimer’s translational research journal, a randomized controlled trial showing that a plant-based diet and lifestyle program may significantly improve cognition and function after 20 weeks in many patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. About 70 percent remained stable or actually improved in the plant-based intervention group, whereas, in the control group, about 70 percent got worse, and not a single person got better. But no matter how significant the results, the dry statistics don’t convey the human impact.

Many patients who experienced improvement reported regaining cognition and function they had lost. But how does that actually translate into real life? Well, for example, several patients in the intervention group reported that they had been unable to read a book or watch a movie because they kept forgetting what they had just read or watched, and had to keep starting over. But, after the plant-based diet and lifestyle intervention, they got better, such that now they were able to read and watch shows again and retain most of it. One individual reported that it used to take him weeks to finish reading a book, but after participating in the study, he was able to do so in a matter of days.

Another participant, a former business executive, reported regaining the ability to manage his own finances and investments. He said, “It was so much a part of my life—who I am, and who I was—it was hard saying that part of me was just gone. But now I’m back to reconciling our finances monthly; I keep up to date on our investments. A lot of self-worth comes back.”

Another said that for five years she had been unable to prepare their family business’s financial reports, but now she is able to do so accurately. “A deep sense of identity is returning. It’s given me a new lease on life, and yet it’s a familiarity and something I’ve always prided myself on. I’m coming back like I was prior to the Alzheimer’s disease being diagnosed. I feel like I’m me again—an older but better version of me.”

But even words are hard to describe such transformations. One of Dr. Ornish’s study participants gave us permission to share his story: Dan Jones, a musician at military events and parades, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“What do you notice that you could do now that you couldn’t do before?”

“Well, for one thing, I had a set of about eight tunes that I played in the parade, right? And I could just go straight through them from one into the other. I played for an hour and a half without stopping. I think it was pretty close. They move darn slow in that parade. I was leaving them behind walking. I kept having to stop and wait for them to catch up.”

“Was that something different?”

“Yeah.”

“And what was?”

“Well, that I could remember the order. I could make the transition from tune to tune without messing up and getting confused about which tune I was playing. Those were all problems I’d had when we were playing at the graduation ceremony. You know, I’d forget which tune was coming next. I’d get worried about it, and I’d start making mistakes. And this just went like clockwork. A lot of it had to do with practice, but the tunes we played before, I had played hundreds of times and I was messing up. And in the parade, I hardly messed up at all.”

“And you were messing up because you had a hard time remembering?”

“Because I had a hard time remembering. I’d get confused about different tunes. It was really, yeah, it was not a pleasant experience. It was unpleasant enough that, like I said, I went home and put [the bagpipes] down. And now, there was one day a couple of weeks ago when I really had the drones in tune. It was in the evening. I was out on the front porch playing, and it was just so beautiful. I played for two hours. I just stood there and played.”

“What are you feeling now?”

“Joy. Just happy. You know, women always say they’re crying because they’re happy. I’m crying because I’m happy. It was just so nice to be able to do that again.”

“Did that make you feel better about yourself, too?”

“It did.”

“In what way?”

“I just felt like I could do something. I had worth again, so to speak. Something that was important to me was given back.”

I’ll paraphrase what the head of Harvard’s brain center at Mass General had to say: Big Pharma has invested billions in the effort to find medications to treat the disease, but only two Alzheimer’s drugs have been approved in the past 20 years. One has already been pulled off the market, and the other is minimally effective, extremely expensive, and often has pesky side effects,  such as brain swelling or bleeding into the brain. In contrast, the intensive lifestyle changes implemented in this study have been shown here to improve cognition and function, at about the cost of buying broccoli. And the only side effects are positive ones.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

If you missed Friday’s video, check out Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Reversed with a Plant-Based Diet?

For more on Alzheimer’s disease, see these videos:

For more on Dr. Dean Ornish’s work, check out his book Undo It! And these videos; for more on heart disease, see these videos

I have more than 500 videos on plant-based diets. You can check them out here

The best available balance of scientific evidence suggests that the healthiest way to eat is a vitamin B12-fortified diet centered around whole plant foods. I go into specifics of the Daily Dozen foods I recommend in Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen. For a more thorough dive into the science on these foods, check out my New York Times bestselling book, How Not to Die.

Get our free Plant-Based Living Series. This resource is a weekly email series that gives you simplified takeaways and actionable tips on healthy eating. Whether you’re new to a whole food, plant-based lifestyle or would benefit from reminders on some of the key aspects of healthy evidence-based nutrition, this series is for you. Expanding on our popular Evidence-Based Eating Guide, this free series features even more tips and information, and you’ll get it delivered straight to your inbox on a weekly basis. (Don’t have your own copy of our Evidence-Based Eating Guide? You can download it as a digital and printable PDF.)

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