We all know that intimacy improves the quality of our lives. Yet most people don't realize how much it can increase the quality of our lives -- our survival.
In this New York Timesworld-renowned physician Dean Ornish, M.D., writes, "I am not aware of any other factor in medicine that has a greater impact on our survival than the healing power of love and intimacy. Not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery."
He reveals that the real epidemic in modern culture is not only physical heart disease but also what he calls spiritual heart disease: loneliness, isolation, alienation, and depression. He shows how the very defenses that we think protect us from emotional pain are often the same ones that actually heighten our pain and threaten our survival. Dr. Ornish outlines eight pathways to intimacy and healing that have made a profound difference in his life and in the life of millions of others in turning sadness into happiness, suffering into joy.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Love and survival.
What do they have to do with each other?
This book is based on a simple but powerful idea: Our survival depends on the healing power of love, intimacy, and relationships. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. As individuals. As communities. As a country. As a culture. Perhaps even as a species.
Most people tend to think of my work as being primarily about diet. It's gotten to the point where it's hard for me to go out to dinner with people without them apologizing for what they're eating or making comments about my foodeven though I make it clear that I'm not the food police.
Many stories have appeared in the media about the research I have directed for the past twenty years that has demonstrated, for the first time, that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease without drugs or surgery. Almost always, these articles focus on my diet: "What do people eat?" "Isn't this diet too strict for most people?" "Are they going to live longer or is it just going to seem longer?" And so on.
I have no intention of diminishing the power of diet and exercise or, for that matter, of drugs and surgery. There is more scientific evidence now than ever before demonstrating how simple changes in diet and lifestyle may cause significant improvements in health and well-being. As important as these are, I have found that perhaps the most powerful interventionand the most meaningful for me and for most of the people with whom I work, including staff and patientsis the healing power of love and intimacy, and the emotional and spiritual transformation that often result from these. While I havewritten about these themes in my earlier books, the emotional and spiritual aspects of disease tend to get overlookedso I decided to write an entire book on the subject.
In this book, I describe the increasing scientific evidence from my own research and from the studies of others that cause me to believe that love and intimacy are among the most powerful factors in health and illness, even though these ideas are largely ignored by the medical profession. As I review the extensive scientific literature that supports these ideas, I will describe the limitations of science to document and understand the full range of these implicationsnot only in our health and illness, but also in what often brings the most joy, value, and meaning to our lives. I give examples from my life and from the lives of friends, colleagues, and patients.
Medicine today tends to focus primarily on the physical and mechanistic: drugs and surgery, genes and germs, microbes and molecules. I am not aware of any other factor in medicinenot diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgerythat has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes.
Cholesterol, for example, is clearly related to the incidence of illness and premature death from heart disease and stroke. Those with the highest blood cholesterol levels may have a risk of heart attack several times greater than those with the lowest levels, and lowering cholesterol levels will reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, cholesterol levels are not related to such diseases as complications during pregnancy and childbirth, the incidence of illness and premature death from infectious diseases, arthritis, ulcers, and so on, whereas loneliness and isolation may significantly increase the risk of all these. Something else is going on.
Smoking, diet, and exercise affect a wide variety of illnesses, but no one has shown that quitting smoking, exercising, or changing diet can double the length of survival in women with metastatic breast cancer, whereas the enhanced love and intimacy provided by weekly group support sessions has been shown to do just that, as I will describe in chapter 2.1 While genetics plays a role in most illnesses, the number of diseases in which our genes play a primary, causative role is relatively small. Genetic factorseven when combined with cholesterol levels and all of the known risk factorsaccount for no more than one-half the risk of heart disease.
Love and intimacy are at a root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for their patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe ityet, with few exceptions, we doctors do not learn much about the healing power of love, intimacy, and transformation in our medical training. Rather, these ideas are often ignored or even denigrated.
It has become increasingly clear to even the most skeptical physicians why diet is important. Why exercise is important. Why stopping smoking is important. But love and intimacy? Opening your heart? And what is emotional and spiritual transformation?
I am a scientist. I believe in the value of science as a powerful means of gaining greater understanding of the world we live in. Science can help us sort out truth from fiction, hype from reality, what works from what doesn't work, for whom, and under what circumstances. Although I respect the ways and power of science, I also understand its limitations as well. What is most meaningful often cannot be measured. What is verifiable may not necessarily be what is most important. As the British scientist Denis Burkitt once wrote, "Not everything that counts can be counted."
We may not yet have the tools to measure what is most meaningful to people, but the value of those experiences is not diminished by our inability to quantify them. We can listen, we can learn, and we can benefit greatly from those who have had these experiences. When we gather together to tell and listen to each other's stories, the sense of community and the recognition of shared experiences can be profoundly healing.
I am fascinated by the increasing interest in alternative medicine yet concerned that many of these remedies have little scientific evidence to support their use. I am continually amazed by the success of books making the most astonishing claimsfor example, that bacon and eggs are good for you if you have a particular blood typeby authors who have never conducted or even cited a single scientific research study to support their unfounded claims even when they may be misleading and even harmful.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
"Revolutionary results....Dr. Ornish's work could change the lives of millions."
"Relationships bring freedom and joy. InLove & Survival, Dr. Dean Ornish powerfully demonstrates that intimacy also can heal. I am thrilled about this book!"
"Dr. Dean Ornish, who was the first to prove the reversal of heart disease by changing lifestyle, now turns his attention to the heart in a more profound sense and identifies love and intimacy as the most powerful healing forces that exist. I could not agree more. This book is filled with sparkling insights and practical wisdom about protecting health and enhancing wellness by attending the nourishment of our real hearts."
"Love & Survivalis an emotionally intelligent guide to good health and well-being. Everyone should read it."
On Wednesday, March 4, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Dean Ornish, author of LOVE & SURVIVAL.
Moderator: BarnesandNoble@aol welcomed Dean Ornish to discuss his new book, LOVE & SURVIVAL THE SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR THE HEALING POWER OF INTIMACY. The University of California at San Francisco professor has written four bestsellers and numerous articles on the healing effects of comprehensive lifestyle changes on coronary heart disease and other illnesses. Dr. Ornish, thanks for joining us, and without further ado, here's our first audience question...
Question: Is there a therapeutic value to prayer?
Dean Ornish: There is a therapeutic value to anything that promotes intimacy. Intimacy with parts of yourself, with other people, and intimacy with something spiritual. And by "spiritual," I mean that on one level we're all separate, and on another we're all part of something that connnects us. To the extent that prayer can give someone a degree of interconnectedness with others, then it can be healing. One study, for example, asked people who were about to undergo open-heart surgery two questions First, do you draw strength from your religious faith, whatever it may be, and second, are you a member of any group of people that meets regularly. Those that answered no to both questions had seven times higher rates of death six months after surgery than those who answered yes to both questions.
Question: Is the effect of love and intimacy upon health a psychosomatic one?
Dean Ornish: It's psychosomatic to the extent that the mind affects the body, but sometimes people use the term "psychosomatic" to mean that it's "all in their heads." People who feel lonely and isolated have three to five times the rate of premature death and disease from virtually all causes as compared to those who have a strong sense of love and intimacy in their lives. So clearly it's not all in their heads.
Question: What kind of a reception has your book received from the traditional medical community? How about your colleagues at UCSF?
Dean Ornish: It's too soon to tell. But those people who have seen it have given a uniformly favorable response. Some of my friends were concerned that the book was so self-disclosing that it might leave me vulnerable to criticism. But I wanted to be an example, and model, and encourage other people to be self-disclosing.
Question: Is there a recorded direct corrolation between attesting to a feeling of loneliness and being more susceptible to disease?
Dean Ornish: Yes. In my book LOVE & SURVIVAL, I review hundreds of studies showing that people who feel lonely and depressed and isolated have three to five times the rate of disease and premature death from virtually all causes.
Question: Have you spoken to President Clinton about the ideas that you present in this book? What does he think of them?
Dean Ornish: I need to keep confidential my discussions with President Clinton. I will say that I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with him and Mrs. Clinton during the past several years. Part of increasing intimacy is protecting confidences with people you care about.
Question: What kind of advice do you give to people who are sick and feel lonely and isolated?
Dean Ornish: Awareness is the first step in healing. When we realize how much these ideas matter, then we can begin to take them more seriously. In my new book, LOVE & SURVIVAL, I outline eight pathways to intimacy that I have found to be powerful both in my own life and in the lives of many people with whom I have worked over the years.
Question: Do you see our society heading in a direction of greater or lesser regard for intimacy and meaningful interpersonal relationships?
Dean Ornish: I think we're beginning to see both ends of the spectrum. For the past 50 years, there has been a radical shift in our culture toward increasing fragmentation and isolation. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease but what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease. Loneliness and alienation and isolation are so prevalent in our culture. We ignore the ideas that used to bring us a sense of community. We ignore them at our own peril. My hope is that this book will bring attention to this problem, so that people will focus on love and intimacy, not only to improve the quality of our lives but also for our survival, as a society and as a culture. When we become aware of how much these things matter, then we can begin to make different choices.
Question: Are you opposed to HMOs? Why? How do you feel about socialized medicine?
Dean Ornish: I'm not opposed to HMOs, but many of them are moving in the wrong direction, from my point of view. So often the approach to managed care is to try to control health care costs by forcing doctors to see more and more patients in less and less time. If you have to see a new patient every eight minutes, it's hard to spend time dealing with the psychosocial, the emotional, and the spiritual elements of life, when all you have time to do is to listen to the heart and lungs, write a prescription, and go on to the next patient. For the past ten years, my colleagues and I have been training hospital personnel. We're trying to create a new approach for the 21st century, one that's more caring and intimate, and still cost-effective. We're trying to show that by spending more time with patients and addressing these underlying issues, it often can be a much less expensive alternative to bypass surgery and angioplasty.
Question: Is it possible, even in theory, to imitate the healing effects of love with pharmaceuticals?
Dean Ornish: I don't think so. Because we don't fully understand the mechanisms by which love and intimacy exert such protective effects.
Question: How do you account for the growing popularity of alternative medicine and its increasing acceptance within mainstream medicine, even as the latter is making greater strides than ever before?
Dean Ornish: Good question. Whatever the modality of alternative medicine -- e.g., massage acupuncture, therapeutic touch, chiropractic, etc. -- what most of them have in common is that they spend time with patients, they listen, they often touch patients and make them feel nurtured and nourished. So even though there is so little science documenting the efficacy of alternative medicine, many people are voting with their feet. As you may know, more money is spent out of pocket for alternative medicine than for traditional medicine -- because there is such a strong basic human need to feel heard, listened to, touched, and nurtured. And so little of this occurs in an encounter with many Western-trained doctors. One study showed that the average doctor interrupted his or her patients 16 seconds after they started talking. Patients are voting with their feet, and doctors are beginning to take notice. At UCSF, I am one of the cofounders of a new Center for Integrative Medicine, where we are trying to integrate the best of traditional and nontraditional forms of health and healing while maintaining a scientific perspective. Also, to help bring these ideas of caring, love, and nurturing into all medical encounters, whether "traditional" or "nontraditional." Of course, these are very old ideas that we're rediscovering. In my new book, LOVE & SURVIVAL, I survey literally hundreds of studies showing that these ideas affect not only our quality of life but also our quantity of life -- our survival. I don't know any factor in medicine that has such a profound, across-the-board effect on premature death and disease from virtually all causes as the healing power of love and intimacy -- and yet, we learn so little about these in our medical training. Until now.
Question: I'm curious, what's your opinion of Dr. Andrew Weil and his book SPONTANEOUS HEALING? Do you embrace some of the same ideas?
Dean Ornish: Andrew Weil has been a good friend for almost 30 years. He's doing great work.
Question: Have you found other nontraditional explanations for the incidence of healing, such as, perhaps, the presence of artistic and creative outlets in one's life?
Dean Ornish: I define "intimacy" very broadly to reconnect with parts of oneself that have been disowned (as being unlovable, for example), intimacy with friends, with family, with a lover, or with something spiritual -- whatever religious or secular context in which you place that experience. By "spiritual," I mean the direct experience of interconnectedness and oneness. In that context, you can be lonely while walking in a crowd, or you can experience intimacy and interconnectedness while meditating or praying alone in your room.
Question: Do you think that thinking in strictly scientific terms ever closes us off to possibilities that lie, as it were, "beyond the pale"?
Dean Ornish: Dr. Denis Burkitt once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted." Some of the most meaningful experiences cannot be objectively verified. And yet much can be. Science is a useful tool for sorting out what works from what doesn't, but experiential understanding also has an important place.
Question: Do you find your ideas more readily accepted now than they were a few years ago? Is your audience growing?
Dean Ornish: Yes, exponentially.
Question: Do you advocate the use of homeopathic and ayurvedic remedies?
Dean Ornish: When indicated.
Question: Do you think there's too much of a reliance upon technology in our culture to solve our problems?
Dean Ornish: Yes, of course. And yet technology per se is not the problem. Like any form of power, it has the potential to bring us closer together (as we are doing tonight), and it has the potential to further isolate us. Part of the value of chat rooms is that they encourage people to reach out -- but they also limit the amount of intimacy. We can only be intimate to the degree we have the courage to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable to someone else. That's hard to do in a chat room -- but not impossible.
JainBN: Dr. Ornish, thanks for sharing your sound and far-reaching advice with us tonight.
Dean Ornish: Thanks to you. I hope at least some of these ideas have been useful. I have done two one-hour lectures for PBS that are being broadcast this month -- please check your local listings for "Love and Survival" on PBS. Also, I hope you enjoy the book. Goodnight, everyone!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an excellent guide to building a richer, happier and longer life. It demonstrates how opening ourselves to the possibilities of life and relationships bring about greater joy and better health.