Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease


 By Sharon L. Wallenberg


Heart Disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States today.  Heart Disease results when the coronary arteries which bring blood and oxygen to the heart start to narrow, pinching off blood flow and threatening the viability of the heart.  Arteries narrow due to the growth of small raised areas – little bumps – on the inside of arteries.  These bumps are called plaques and are composed of cholesterol, fat, and cells over growing from the artery’s muscle layer.  These plaques start forming in young adulthood – even in childhood.  Fortunately, a vegan diet has been proven to prevent and reverse heart disease.


In 1990, Dr. Dean Ornish, a Harvard trained physician published a study testing whether heart disease could be prevented and reversed without surgery or drugs, just with a vegan diet and lifestyle change alone.  Dr. Ornish used a control group that received standard medical care.  They were prescribed a diet centered on “lean” meat, poultry, and fish, various medications, and advised not to smoke.  The remaining patients were given no medication, and had only diet and lifestyle changes.  They were asked to follow a low fat vegan diet, take a brisk walk for either half hour every day, or for an hour three times a week, not to smoke, and to do stress management exercises.


After one year, all the patients had an angiogram.  The control group following the traditional medical routine was worse.  They still had chest pain, and still needed medication.  Heart disease typically worsens over time. The patients in the experimental group were different.  Their chest pain stopped within weeks, their cholesterol levels dropped dramatically, and their coronary arteries began to reopen.  The results were published in “The Lancet” in 1990.


A Cleveland Clinic surgeon, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, used the same vegan diet for severely ill heart patients, some of whom had been told that they had less than a year to live.  All those who stayed on the program did not have a cardiac event over the next 12 years - the length of time they were followed.  They had reversed their heart disease.


The Framingham Heart Study (Framingham, Massachusetts) has spent many decades tracking who gets heart attacks and who doesn’t.  Among its key findings is that the lower your cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart problems.  While some authorities consider  200/mg/dl to be the boundary between desirable levels and high levels, the Framingham Study showed that a level lower than 200 is actually better.  In decades of research, not a single person in the Framingham Study with a cholesterol level below 150 had a heart attack.


Cholesterol is a raw material made in the cells of all animals, including humans.  It is used to make cell membranes and hormones, among other functions.  Particles of cholesterol are microscopic.  They are in the cell membranes of the muscle cells that make up a chicken breast or a salmon filet, and are not the same as the fat you see in raw meat.  Surprisingly, it is found mainly in the lean portions of meat.  Cholesterol in the foods you eat raises your cholesterol level, and animal products are the only significant source of cholesterol.  It is in chicken, fish, and beef.  Chicken has essentially the same cholesterol as beef.  A single egg has 213 mg of cholesterol.


Saturated fats are sometimes called “bad fats” Their name comes from the fact that the fat molecule is completely covered with hydrogen atoms, - that is, saturated with them.  If it is not covered with hydrogen atoms, it is called unsaturated.  Saturated fats stimulate your own liver to make more cholesterol, which unsaturated fats do not.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, like cooled bacon grease.  Vegetable oils are liquid at room temperature showing they are unsaturated fat.  All fruit, vegetables, whole grains and beans are very low in fat overall, with no saturated fat or cholesterol. 


The best way to lower your cholesterol and saturated fat is to avoid animal products.  This is why Dr. Ornish’s study used a vegan diet to reverse heart disease.  Some Doctors still recommend “chicken and fish” diets.  These diets are not very effective.  They lower the amount of “bad cholesterol” in your blood by about 5 percent.  A typical vegan diet lowers your “bad cholesterol” by about 20 percent.


The only scientifically proven way to reduce your risk of heart disease, or to reverse it once you have it, is with a vegan diet.  There are no animal products on a vegan diet – no meat, fish, or chicken, and no dairy products – no milk, cheese, yogurt, or eggs.  Therefore, it has no cholesterol or saturated fat.  Vegan diets include fruit, vegetables, salad, sprouts, grains, beans, and tofu.  There are plenty of healthful, convenient substitutes for familiar foods such as soy, rice, or almond milk, soy yogurt, soy or rice ice ‘cream’, delicious vegan cakes and cookies from vegan bakeries, veggie or Boca burgers, and tofurkey for Holiday celebrations.  



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