Heart Disease and Plant Based Diets

What do Bill Clinton, Carl Lewis, Michael Eisner, Mike Tyson, Alec Baldwin and Russell Simmons all have in common? They are all eating a heart-healthy plant based diet and no animal products. On a recent CNN special Bill Clinton talked about the dietary changes he adopted after his second

 heart attack, changes that have now made him “heart attack proof.” This is no small feat because heart attacks are the most common cause of death for men and women worldwide. These deaths could all be prevented if we ate a plant based diet. As Dr. Caldwell Esselsyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease stated in the CNN program, “heart attacks are a preventable foodborne illness.”
The foods that cause heart attacks are cholesterol-containing animal products.  Cholesterol is an important substance that is found in every cell of your body and the bodies of all animals. We need cholesterol for normal function and our bodies make all that we need. The problem starts when we eat the cholesterol of other animals. New research published in the April 2010 issue of the journal Nature found that cholesterol from the food that we eat crystallizes and tears the lining of our arteries.  These tears in the artery become inflamed and start the process that leads to plaque formation. Plaques are fatty abscesses that clog our arteries. Clogged arteries decrease the space inside the artery where the blood flows. Narrowed arteries lead to increased blood pressure and decreased blood flow to the heart and vital organs. When the heart does not get enough blood you get chest pain. When a plaque ruptures and the contents spill out it can form a clot that will completely block blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack.
Preventing or reversing the cause of heart attacks is very simple; eat whole minimally processed plant based foods and allow your arteries to heal.  Forget about “good” and “bad” cholesterol, a recent study of a drug to increase “good” cholesterol had to be stopped early because it did not prevent heart attacks and it increased the risk of strokes.  Having a normal cholesterol level does not protect you either; over half of heart attack patients have a normal cholesterol level. Eating a mostly whole, minimally processed plant based diet means not only avoiding red meat but also chicken, fish and dairy. Studies that show eating fish and chicken to be healthy compare people who eat them to people who eat red meat but not to people who do not eat any animal products.  We eat animal products because we have been misled into believing that they are the only source of quality protein. Most people including doctors are not aware that plant foods contain all the amino acids our bodies need to make the protein we need. Plant sources of protein are also loaded with vitamins, minerals and cancer fighting phytonutrients.

You will hear that heart disease is genetic and you can’t do anything to prevent it, this is not true. The same way that cleanliness prevents most infectious diseases regardless of your genes, eating a clean diet without artery damaging cholesterol from dead animal bodies will prevent most chronic diseases that include heart disease. You will also hear that all you have to do is exercise, well exercise is extremely important for overall health but it will not unclog your arteries, you must change what you eat. Unclogging your arteries will not only prevent heart attacks, it will also prevent strokes and lower your blood pressure. The increased blood flow to all of your vital organs will increase your intelligence, energy, vitality, and enjoyment of life.  

Jennifer Rooke, MD, MPH, is the Medical Director of Atlanta Lifestyle Medicine.

See also:

Diabetes and Food Choice

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