Editorial: Research Done Right
As a part of PCRM’s efforts to reform research and to advocate preventive medicine, we often need to conduct research projects ourselves. In this issue, we trace how we got here and where our research is headed.
After Dean Ornish, M.D., published his breakthrough findings that a low-fat, vegetarian diet—combined with regular exercise, smoking cessation, and stress reduction—could actually reverse heart disease, many felt that such a regimen was simply too demanding for anyone to follow. So we tested the acceptance of the diet in detailed surveys of Ornish’s vegetarian patients and his control group. We found that while a healthy, vegetarian diet does take some getting used to, it is no more of a challenge than the bland chicken-and-fish diets doctors had been recommending—and the results are much more rewarding. We then set about identifying the factors that researchers, or doctors in practice for that matter, can use to help patients adapt to low-fat and vegetarian diets. We found that breaking food habits is much like breaking any habit. Group support, family involvement, frequent monitoring, and, ironically, stricter requirements help patients make greater changes and reap greater rewards. These two studies were published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and The Archives of Family Medicine.
With a grant from the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation, PCRM’s Andrew Nicholson, M.D., found ways to improve the management of diabetes, a disease which, when uncontrolled, leads to heart disease, circulatory problems, and sometimes blindness and amputations. Along with physicians from Georgetown University Medical Center, Dr. Nicholson showed that eliminating animal products, added oils, and refined foods from the diet leads to a far better clinical improvement than old-fashioned diabetic diets. In a second study with Georgetown, we are now testing a similar diet as a way of reducing estrogen levels which, over the long run, reduces breast cancer risk and, over the short run, may reduce painful menstrual symptoms, PMS, and water retention.
Along the way, we have published other important studies you will read about in this special issue. In the not-too-distant future, we hope to use dietary techniques to improve survival in cancer patients and to devise means to measure cancer risk, in much the same way as we can now use cholesterol levels to measure heart disease risk.
Why bother, you might ask. After all, research can be expensive and time-consuming. Well, thanks to support from Diabetes Action, our more expensive work actually cost us nothing at all. In the process, we are filling important gaps in the research literature, showing the power of healthy diets, guiding clinicians as to how to use them, and, of course, relying entirely on efficient, non-animal research methods.
We remain dedicated to advocacy and education, to confronting unethical research practices, eliminating animal research, and promoting good health without compromise. I am particularly grateful to Drs. Andrew Nicholson and Donna Hurlock, who have taken enormous amounts of time away from busy medical practices to work on these projects without pay, and to Lisa Talev, Miyun Park, Kathy Savory, Neva Davis, Steven Ragland, and Emily Oesterling, who have lost more than their share of sleep in making our efforts succeed.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM