WINDBER, SOMERSET COUNTY - A hospital in our region is enjoying the spotlight after having its heart research published in a national journal. What's exciting for local folks who took part in the research is the effect it's had on their lives.
More than a decade ago Charles and Marjorie Glass, from South Fork, and Sandy Hubbard from Davidsville took part in a Dean Ornish diet, exercise and stress management program at Windber Research Institute.
"The little joke was we didn't eat anything that had eyes or a mother," Sandy says, commenting on the strict vegetarian diet. Marjorie says it was very difficult, but it was possible. And Charles adds, "I have more energy, my clothes fit better. I have gone down a couple sizes in clothing."
All have continued to follow major principals of the program, but have changed over to an eating plan that includes chicken and fish. Although all had risk factors for heart problems, none have experienced any.
When scientists at the Institute examined blood samples from them and other people in the study, they discovered not only had their cholesterol, blood pressure and weight dropped significantly, their bodies had changed at the molecular level.
"Those molecular changes are important, because they really speak to the health of your heart and the health of your vascular system," says Darrell Ellsworth, Senior Director of the Cardiovascular Disase Research Center at Windber Research Institute, the lead study author.
How well your blood vessels function can determine whether you'll have a heart attack or stroke.
The research was recently published in the national journal "Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics," a big achievement for the rural institute, hit hard by federal budget cuts.
Dr. Ellsworth says, "it just gives us a sense of validation, that even a small place, that a lot of people may not have heard of can still do good science."
The CEO and President of Windber Research Institute Tom Kurtz says, "what you're seeing is an exciting time to be in this field because what we're doing does have practical applications."
Several years ago, the Institute started enrolling people in the Mediterranean Diet, a less restrictive eating plan that allows participants to eat chicken and fish. It also focuses on vegetables and whole grains.
Dr. Ellsworth is now looking into whether that diet causes the same type of positive genetic changes.