Can Eating the Right Foods Change Your Genes?

In 35 years of medical research, conducted at the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, which I founded, we have seen that patients who ate mostly plant-based meals, with dishes like black bean vegetarian chili and whole wheat penne pasta with roasted vegetables, achieved reversal of even severe coronary artery disease. They also engaged in moderate exercise and stress-management techniques, and participated in a support group. The program also led to improved blood flow and significantly less inflammation which matters because chronic inflammation is an underlying cause of heart disease and many forms of cancer. We found that this program may also slow, stop or reverse the progression of early stage prostate cancer, as well as reverse the progression of Type 2 diabetes.

Also, we found that it changed gene expression in over 500 genes in just three months, “turning on” genes that protect against disease and “turning off” genes that promote breast cancer, prostate cancer, inflammation and oxidative stress.

Full editorial by Dean Ornish in the NYT.

Comments (10)

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  1. Jordan says:

    75 percent of the annual ~3 trillion in health care costs are the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices?! Interesting that such behavior is subsidized..

  2. Floccina says:

    Seems absurd to me. If he is right, why do vegetarians not live longer than omnivores?

  3. Devon Herrick says:

    I’m not sure if eating healthy can actually change your genes. However, the field of epigenetics researches changes in gene expression caused by environmental factors. Maybe what you eat won’t change your genes, but eating the right (or wrong) foods may cause certain genes to switch on or off in ways that benefit (or harm) your health.

  4. Studebaker says:

    I’m not sure if eating healthy can actually change your genes.

    Eating the wrong kind of foods can definitely make you need to change your jeans, however.

  5. Ender says:

    So eating plant based food can “turn off” bad genes? I feel like this might be a slight reach.

  6. Alex says:

    I’d like to know more about the full effects of this trial, and whether a long-term study was/is being done to determine effect on life expectancy.

  7. Quat says:

    Education campaign? Changes in school? Mandates? How do we use this?

  8. Robert says:


    Fat and getting fatter: US obesity rates to soar by 2030 (

    The anticipated economic impact is chilling:

    “The increasing burden of illness will go right to the bottom line, adding $66 billion in annual obesity-related medical costs over and above today’s $147 billion to $210 billion. Total U.S. healthcare spending is estimated at $2.7 trillion.”

    And in a way, we are subsidizing it. Fast food is cheaper than basic vegetables and food stamps will buy you all the Doritos you want but they can’t be used at the salad bar!

  9. seyyed says:

    devon makes a pretty good point. maybe eating good foods aid in activating/aiding dormant processes that benefit your entire body

  10. Lucy Hender says:

    WHAT you eat is as important as what you exclude

    This is something that most people on a diet need to remember. A lot of people I know and have heard of believe that “diet” equals “less food intake”. However, realistically speaking it’s not all about the amount of food you eat, but the quality of it. Chubby people may, in several cases, be in better shape and healthier condition than thin people just because they eat the right amount of good quality food. Just because you look good on the outside doesn’t mean you are good on the inside.