Even Heart Disease Can Be Reversed Through Plant-Based Nutrition!
Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease Through Plant-Based Nutrition
According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States accounting for approximately 24% and 22% of the mortality of men and women respectively. There is ample evidence that plant-based nutrition can not only prevent, but also reverse, heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic who is a pioneer in advocating and working with people to reverse heart disease through plant-based eating, calls “coronary artery disease a benign and food borne illness which need never exist or progress.” If you look at other cultures who eat primarily a plant-based diet, they have virtually no evidence of heart disease. When you introduce them to the standard American diet (SAD), “diseases of affluence” develop – heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and so on. The five longest living populations (centenarians) in the world are known as “Blue Zone” communities and eat predominantly plant-based diets. These are people in Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Loma Linda, California, Ikaria, Greece, and Nkoya, Costa Rica.
Simply stated, heart disease is caused by damage to the endothelium, the innermost lining, of the blood vessel. It lines all blood vessels and if laid out flat, would cover a total area equal to two tennis courts. That is some square footage! As this endothelial layer becomes damaged, things like foam cells can be formed which start to occlude the vessel over time. Generally, people will remain asymptomatic up until 70-75% blockage occurs. Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator and is protective against heart disease developing. Eating a plant-based diet facilitates Nitric Oxide production.
The following are findings presented from Dr. Esselstyn’s book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”
In 1985, Dr. Esselstyn was granted permission to perform a study at the Cleveland Clinic with patients diagnosed with advanced heart disease. As scientific evidence supports, in addition to cultures with little to no heart disease, one must achieve a total cholesterol of <150 and LDL cholesterol of <80 to be “bullet proof” from vessel disease.
Dr. Esselstyn had 18 patients who stayed with the study and were compliant. All had severe, progressive coronary heart disease, with at least three vessels affected. Between the 18 patients, in the eight years prior to the study, collectively there were: 15 patients with angina, 13 cases of measurable disease progression, seven who underwent bypass surgery, four cases of heart attacks, three cases of strokes, two angioplasty procedures, two worsening stress tests. The group began the study with an average total cholesterol of 246. By following the nutrition program and continuing cholesterol lowering drugs, the average cholesterol was reduced to 137. Twelve years after joining the program, every participant’s total cholesterol averaged below 150 and their LDL cholesterol averaged 82.
Here are some of the personal success stories:
Joe – surgeon at Cleveland Clinic
At 41, Joe experienced his first heart attack. He had no family history of heart disease, was not overweight or diabetic, non-smoker, he exercised, did not have high blood pressure, and his total cholesterol was 156. A coronary angiogram showed significant occlusion of the lower third of left anterior descending artery. Due to the location of the vessel occlusion and his coronary artery anatomy, he was not a candidate for any surgical intervention. Approximately two weeks later he approached Dr. Esselstyn and after meeting with him, fully adopted his plant-based diet recommendations. His total cholesterol plummeted to 89 and LDL from 98 to 38. Two and one-half years later, his follow up angiogram was completely normal.
Don was a lover of fried bacon, gravy, fried meats, and anything containing fat or grease. At the age of 54, after years of heart disease and having a double bypass that was beginning to fail, he was told by his cardiologist there was nothing more that could be done for him. In addition to chronic and limiting angina, Don also had acute leg pain from vessel occlusion. Don met with Dr. Esselstyn and figuring he had nothing to lose, he adopted his plant-based diet plan. After three to four months, his chest pain eased. After about seven months, he was able to walk free from the acute leg pain. A blood flow study proved the flow in that occluded leg vessel was back to normal. At the time Dr. Esselstyn wrote the book, Don was in his seventies, fit, and living an active life.
Evelyn – speech and communication professor
At 53, Evelyn had her first episode of shortness of breath. Her brother had died in his fifties and her mother had lived with advanced heart disease. While doing a stress test, Evelyn had a heart attack and the next day underwent a triple bypass. She did not modify her diet and after five years, began experiencing left arm pain and generally did not feel well. She went to her physician and it was determined she was having another heart attack. At this point, she was told there was nothing further they could do for her but refer her to Dr. Esselstyn. When he told her about his nutrition program, she said there was no way she was willing to change her diet and give up cake, pie, chocolate and banana splits! After spending time in the hospital, she was essentially sent home to wait things out before she died. She was 58. After further consideration, she decided to adopt Dr. Esselstyn’s plant-based diet and at the time the book was being written, she was alive and well and in her late seventies.
Dr. Esselstyn’s nutritional plan:
Things to avoid:
-All animal products including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
-All oil. Yes, including olive oil and salad dressings with any oil.
-Refined foods like white flour, chips, crackers, cookies. In general, any packaged products as many have high amounts of trans-fats and Omega 6 fatty acids which are inflammatory in high amounts.
-Nuts and seeds, although some recent evidence is supportive of eating very small amounts of nuts.
-Avocado, due to the fat content.
*It is important to note that plant fats can impact lipids, hence the recommendation to eliminate oil and other plant fats. Contrary to what we have all been told, oil is not healthy, not even coconut and olive oil. It is very calorie dense and without nutritional value and can impact blood lipids adversely. Eating a well-rounded, whole food plant-based diet will yield about 10% of calories from plant fats which is ample fat in the diet.
Things to enjoy:
-All vegetables (not fried, however!). Dr. Esselstyn recommends eating large amounts of greens, like kale and spinach, due to their role in Nitric Oxide production.
-Legumes – beans, peas, lentils.
-Whole grains and may include whole grain cereals without added oil and sugar, whole grain bread without added oil, whole grain pastas (from whole wheat, brown rice, spelt, quinoa).
-All fruits but avoid drinking fruit juices as they are not a whole food product and are a concentrated source of fructose.
-Beverages – water, seltzer, nut “milks.”
In addition to preventing and reversing heart disease, other benefits of a
whole food, plant-based diet are:
-Increased energy and exercise capacity.
-Decreased pain .
-Increased libido and performance ability.
-Greater sense of well-being and quality of life.
-Improved overall health.
-Positive impact on the environment and animals.
-Eating plants is colorfully appealing and tastes amazing!
-It can be fun to explore new recipes!
Other diseases that have been reversed through a whole foods, plant-based diet include:
-Diabetes (Type II/adult onset)
-Digestive diseases - Colitis, IBS, Reflux, etc.
-Essentially, any disease with an inflammatory component, which are most diseases.
Lastly, here is more GREAT news:
We can take control of our health!
“Your genes are not your destiny, but your lifestyle is your destiny.”
1. Esselstyn, C., MD. (2017, December). On-line lecture: Center For Nutrition Studies
602 -Diseases of Affluence– Module 3: Heart Disease – Cause and Pathology.
2. Esselstyn, Caldwell, Jr., MD (2007). Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
3. Kelly, J., MD, MPH, &Jeni Shull, MD, MPH (2018). Foundations of Lifestyle
Medicine:: The Lifestyle Medicine Board Review Manual. (p.156 ).
Chesterfield, M0: American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
As always, I welcome comments, thoughts, and questions.
In good health,