Public Invited to Learn About Ornish Program

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in West Virginia and the United States. The disease kills nearly 7,000 West Virginians each year and nearly a half million throughout the United States. 

To significantly reduce the risk for heart disease and improve overall health, it is recommended that you stop smoking, exercise, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure and reduce stress.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is not easy. But West Virginia University Hospitals, along with four other hospitals in the state, have a program to help.

The Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease is designed to combat heart disease.

“This lifestyle modification program enables participants to slow, stop and reverse many of the symptoms of coronary artery disease,” said Dave Harshbarger, program director. “By doing so, many people are able to avoid invasive procedures, such as bypass surgery and angioplasty, and stave off first or repeat heart attacks or strokes.”

The Ornish Program combines a low-fat vegetarian diet (less than 10% of daily calories from fat), moderate aerobic exercise, stress management and group support to reduce chest pain (angina), blockages in coronary arteries and serum cholesterol levels. The program components help improve blood flow through the heart muscle, exercise capacity, and the sense of well-being and satisfaction with life. 

Candidates for the program include: those who are contemplating bypass surgery or angioplasty, but are seeking an alternative that may reduce the need for these procedures; those who have previously experienced one or more heart procedures and want to minimize the chances of repeating them; people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (angina or past heart attacks); or those with significant risk factors such as high cholesterol levels and a strong family history.

Participants begin the 6- to 12-month program with a 12-week session in which they meet twice a week in small groups for four hours. According to Harshbarger, the outcomes of the participants are dramatically improved diagnostic measurements.

“All participants lost weight and dropped overall body fat,” he says. “Their cholesterol levels declined and their perceived stress decreased dramatically.”

Specific clinical outcomes for patients include a 6.9% decrease in weight; 7.7% decrease in body mass index;13.5% decrease in total cholesterol; 5% decrease in triglycerides; 10% decrease in HbA1c in diabetic patients; and a 39% decrease in perceived stress.

According to Dean Ornish, M.D., developer of the program, many participants new to the program often have trouble walking across the room without experiencing a shortness of breath or chest pain. Citing success stories, Ornish says some program graduates walk or even run miles without gasping for breath or suffering chest pain; one participant even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

A specially trained medical director, nurse case manager, registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, stress management instructor and group support facilitator administer the program at WVU Hospitals.

“The Ornish Program involves a change in diet, attitude and lifestyle,” says Harshbarger. “People learn how to eat properly and adopt healthy behaviors to stop sabotaging themselves. They get back in control and start doing activities that many of them thought were lost forever.”

“But the best news is that even for people with documented heart disease, it’s not too late,” he continued. “The program works – and it works well – in preventing and reversing heart disease.”

Several insurance plans, including Highmark and Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield and PEIA cover participation in the program.

For more information, call 293-2520 or attend the Ornish Program Open House,  Thursday, April 12, from 5 p.m.to 7:15 p.m. in the Ruby Memorial Hospital Cafeteria, located on the fourth floor.

- WVU -

For more information:
Steve Bovino, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

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