Few people realise that a plant-based diet not only prevents heart disease but can also reverse it. Choosing whole grains, fruits and vegetables and avoiding simple sugars, and saturated and trans fats, as in meat and dairy products, has been shown to result in regression of coronary atherosclerosis after 1 and 5 years in some studies (1) (2) and to continue for over 12 years in other studies (3).
In contrast, standard medical interventions for cardiac patients, such as coronary artery bypass, bypass grafts, atherectomy, angioplasty or stenting, treat only the symptoms, not the disease. It is therefore not surprising that patients who receive these interventions alone often experience progressive disease, graft shutdown, restenosis, more procedures, progressive disability, and ultimately death from disease (4).
Caldwell Esselstyn MD persuaded 18 cardiac patients to continue with a plant-based diet for over 12 years. Adherent patients experienced no extension of clinical disease, no coronary events, and no interventions. This finding is all the more compelling when we consider that the original compliant 18 participants experienced 49 coronary events in the 8 years before the study (4).
Some patients believe that there is no need to change their diet if they have had heart surgery, stents inserted and/or are taking drugs like statins and aspirin.
A recently published international study (5) indicated that individuals (more than 31,000 men and women of an average age of 66 in this study) who chose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish over meat, eggs and refined carbohydrates had a 35% reduction in cardiac death rates over 5 years. That’s a 35% reduction in addition to the decrease from surgery and optimal medical management. And these men and women were older, where you’d expect diet to be able to reverse less.
So it is never too late to make simple changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve your long-term health, whether you have medically-managed heart disease or not.
If you have heart disease, you can eat a wonderful variety of delicious, nutrient-dense foods:
- All vegetables except avocado. Leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, vegetables that are red, green, purple, orange, and yellow – every colour of the rainbow
- All legumes—beans, peas, and lentils of all varieties.
- All whole grains and products, bread and pasta, that are made from them—as long as they do not contain added fats.
- All fruits
You need to avoid:
- Red meat, poultry and fish
- Dairy products
- Oils of all kinds (even olive oil)
(1) Ornish, D. et al (1998). Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA, Vol 280, No. 23, 2001-2007
(2) Ornish, D. et al (1990). Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lancet, 21 July 1990, Vol 336, No. 8708, 129-133
(3) Esselstyn, C. (2001). Resolving the coronary artery disease epidemic through plant-based nutrition. Preventive Cardiology, 4, 171-177
(4) Esselstyn, C. Updating a 12-Year Experience With Arrest and Reversal Therapy for Coronary Heart Disease (An Overdue Requiem for Palliative Cardiology). Article on Caldwell Esselstyn’s website.
(5) Dehghan, M. et al. Relationship Between Healthy Diet and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Among Patients on Drug Therapies for Secondary Prevention: A Prospective Cohort Study of 31 546 High-Risk Individuals From 40 Countries. Circulation, 4 December 2012, 126: 2705-2712