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TED2008

Dean Ornish: Your genes are not your fate

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Dean Ornish shares new research that shows how adopting healthy lifestyle habits can affect a person at a genetic level. For instance, he says, when you live healthier, eat better, exercise, and love more, your brain cells actually increase.

- Physician, author
Dean Ornish is a clinical professor at UCSF and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute. He's a leading expert on fighting illness -- particularly heart disease with dietary and lifestyle changes. Full bio

One way to change our genes is to make new ones,
00:12
as Craig Venter has so elegantly shown.
00:14
Another is to change our lifestyles.
00:16
And what we're learning is how powerful and dynamic these changes can be,
00:19
that you don't have to wait very long to see the benefits.
00:23
When you eat healthier, manage stress, exercise and love more,
00:26
your brain actually gets more blood flow and more oxygen.
00:31
But more than that, your brain gets measurably bigger.
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Things that were thought impossible just a few years ago
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can actually be measured now.
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This was figured out by Robin Williams
00:40
a few years before the rest of us.
00:43
Now, there's some things that you can do
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to make your brain grow new brain cells.
00:47
Some of my favorite things, like chocolate and tea, blueberries,
00:50
alcohol in moderation, stress management
00:52
and cannabinoids found in marijuana.
00:56
I'm just the messenger.
00:58
(Laughter)
01:01
What were we just talking about?
01:04
(Laughter)
01:07
And other things that can make it worse,
01:09
that can cause you to lose brain cells.
01:11
The usual suspects, like saturated fat and sugar,
01:13
nicotine, opiates, cocaine, too much alcohol and chronic stress.
01:16
Your skin gets more blood flow when you change your lifestyle,
01:20
so you age less quickly. Your skin doesn't wrinkle as much.
01:23
Your heart gets more blood flow.
01:26
We've shown that you can actually reverse heart disease.
01:28
That these clogged arteries that you see on the upper left,
01:30
after only a year become measurably less clogged.
01:33
And the cardiac PET scan shown on the lower left,
01:35
the blue means no blood flow.
01:37
A year later -- orange and white is maximum blood flow.
01:39
We've shown you may be able to stop and reverse the progression
01:42
of early prostate cancer and, by extension, breast cancer,
01:45
simply by making these changes.
01:47
We've found that tumor growth in vitro was inhibited
01:49
70 percent in the group that made these changes,
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whereas only nine percent in the comparison group.
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These differences were highly significant.
01:57
Even your sexual organs get more blood flow,
01:59
so you increase sexual potency.
02:01
One of the most effective anti-smoking ads was done
02:03
by the Department of Health Services,
02:05
showing that nicotine, which constricts your arteries,
02:07
can cause a heart attack or a stroke,
02:09
but it also causes impotence.
02:11
Half of guys who smoke are impotent.
02:13
How sexy is that?
02:15
Now we're also about to publish a study --
02:16
the first study showing you can change gene expression in men with prostate cancer.
02:18
This is what's called a heat map --
02:21
and the different colors -- and along the side, on the right, are different genes.
02:23
And we found that over 500 genes were favorably changed --
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in effect, turning on the good genes, the disease-preventing genes,
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turning off the disease-promoting genes.
02:32
And so these findings I think are really very powerful,
02:36
giving many people new hope and new choices.
02:39
And companies like Navigenics and DNA Direct and 23andMe,
02:41
that are giving you your genetic profiles,
02:46
are giving some people a sense of, "Gosh, well, what can I do about it?"
02:49
Well, our genes are not our fate, and if we make these changes --
02:52
they're a predisposition -- but if we make bigger changes
02:55
than we might have made otherwise,
02:57
we can actually change how our genes are expressed.
02:59
Thank you.
03:02
(Applause)
03:03

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About the speaker:

Dean Ornish - Physician, author
Dean Ornish is a clinical professor at UCSF and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute. He's a leading expert on fighting illness -- particularly heart disease with dietary and lifestyle changes.

Why you should listen

Dr. Dean Ornish wants you to live longer, and have more fun while you're at it. He's one of the leading voices in the medical community promoting a balanced, holistic approach to health, and proving that it works. The author of Eat More, Weigh Less and several other best-selling books, Ornish is best known for his lifestyle-based approach to fighting heart disease.

His research at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute (the nonprofit he founded) clinically demonstrated that cardiovascular illnesses -- and, most recently prostate cancer -- can be treated and even reversed through diet and exercise. These findings (once thought to be physiologically implausible) have been widely chronicled in the US media, including Newsweek, for which Ornish writes a column. The fifty-something physician, who's received many honors and awards, was chosen by LIFE Magazine as one of the most influential members of his generation. Among his many pursuits, Ornish is now working with food corporations to help stop America's obesity pandemic from spreading around the globe.

More profile about the speaker
Dean Ornish | Speaker | TED.com