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Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacyby Dean Ornish
Synopses & Reviews
Love and survival.
What do they have to do with each other?
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 food--even 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.
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 implications--not 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 medicine--not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery that 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, orchanging diet can double the length of survival in women withmetastatic breast cancer, whereas the enhanced love and intimacyprovided by weekly group support sessions has been shown to dojust that, as I will describe in chapter 2. While genetics plays arole in most illnesses, the number of diseases in which our genesplay a primary, causative role is relatively small. Genetic factors--even when combined with cholesterol levels and all of theknown risk factors--account for no more than one-half the riskof 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 it--yet, 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?
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.
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.
Bibliography: p. -292.
About the Author
Dean Ornish, M.D., is president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, CA. He is assistant clinical professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, and an attending physician at California Pacific Medical Center.
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