Dean Ornish, MD, is renowned for putting former president Bill Clinton on a heart-healthy diet. As a growing body of scientific evidence emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet, Ornish continues to advocate for a plant-based lifestyle that not only sheds pounds but also promises surprising benefits for various aspects of life, including a natural alternative to Viagra.

Clinton’s journey to a healthier life began with Ornish’s plant-based program—now reimbursed by Medicare when accessed virtually. The regimen is not just about cutting calories but centers around a low-fat, low-sugar diet that excludes most animal foods and fatty fruits such as olives, avocados, and coconut. 

Nuts and seeds are included in moderation, along with a comprehensive approach that involves exercise, stress management, and social support. It encapsulates Ornish’s mantra: “Eat well, move more, stress less, love more.”

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Contrary to the notion that a health-focused diet might be a joyless experience, Ornish insists that the benefits extend beyond physical well-being. “Your brain is getting more blood, so your cognitive function improves. Your skin is getting more blood, so you look younger,” Ornish told AARP. 

“Your heart gets more blood flow so you can often reverse heart disease. Your sex organs are getting more blood in a way that works like Viagra,” he added.

Promoting the benefits of a healthy diet

In addition to these health benefits, Ornish and his wife, Anne Ornish, the founder of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, emphasize the importance of savoring every moment, especially during meals. Anne encourages what she calls “full-sensory meditations,” advocating for mindful eating to enhance the overall enjoyment of food. According to her, slowing down and fully experiencing each bite can be more pleasurable than mindlessly consuming large quantities.

“When we give our full attention to what we’re eating, we enjoy it much more fully,” Anne says. “After the first of couple bites, most of us go into autopilot. When we slow down and recruit our senses, one by one, we can spend several minutes savoring a high-quality piece of dark chocolate and get far more from it than mindlessly consuming a whole chocolate bar.”

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Because of these benefits, the Ornishs are committed to a plant-based lifestyle. They incorporate more affordable frozen fruits, making it a year-round option. Dairy alternatives like almond and soy milk take precedence, while tofu, tempeh, beans, vegan yogurt, and vegan cheese are staples in their diet.

Dean Ornish emphasizes the role of pleasure in eating when it comes to diet satisfaction. “Food has a way of bringing people together. And intimacy is healing,” he says. The couple’s holistic approach to health underscores the idea that a plant-based lifestyle not only fosters physical well-being but also promotes joy, connection, and surprising benefits in areas such as cognitive function and intimacy.

Vegan diet better than Viagra

Dean Ornish is not the first to emphasize that a plant-based diet has similar effects to taking Viagra. In 2020, the medical group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) urged the Food and Drug Administration to inform users of drugs such as Viagra that artery disease is an underlying cause of erectile dysfunction (ED) and can be treated with a plant-based diet. 

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ED is very common, affecting approximately 30 million men in the United States. It is a sign of narrowed arteries throughout the body and can be an indication of heart disease. PCRM, supported by scientific research, links the disorder to poor cardiovascular health—which can be improved by following a whole foods plant-based diet

PCRM urged the FDA to include a notice on ED drugs that states: “Erectile dysfunction is caused by artery disease, a condition that this drug will not improve. Artery disease can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and early death. A plant-based diet, moderate exercise, stress management, and lack of smoking can, in combination, improve and often reverse artery disease.”

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PCRM cited several scientific studies to support the links between maintaining heart health—and therefore optimal penile function—and a plant-based diet. According to a study published in the journal Urology, each additional daily serving of fruits or vegetables reduced ED risk in men with diabetes by 10 percent. 

Strawberries, apples, blueberries, and citrus fruits may be especially beneficial. A 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition observed 25,096 men during the span of 10 years and found that a diet high in fruit reduced ED by 14 percent. 

“A prescription for Viagra should include a lifesaving wake-up call for men with ED to adopt a heart-healthy diet,” PCRM President Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, said in a statement. “Erectile dysfunction is a sign of narrowed arteries throughout a man’s body, including the arteries to his heart and brain, putting him at high risk for heart attack, stroke, and death.”

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