Have you been diagnosed with heart disease? If so, you are not alone. According to the American Heart Association, 116.4 million, or 46% of adults, are estimated to have hypertension and someone dies of cardiovascular disease every 38 seconds. February is American Heart Month, and each year we are reminded to focus on our heart health. This year, instead of just managing heart disease, let us focus on how to prevent, treat and reverse heart disease.
According to Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., director of the cardiovascular disease prevention and reversal program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Ohio, coronary heart disease is a “benign, foodborne illness” that can be stopped or even reversed by avoiding a typical Western diet. So, let’s look at the arteries supplying the heart with blood and what actually happens to the blood vessels with heart disease. Coronary artery disease (CAD) begins with progressive endothelial injury, inflammatory oxidative stress, reduced nitric oxide production, foam cell formation, and development of plaques that may rupture to cause a myocardial infarction (MI) or stroke. Cleary, this is a complex process, but why does this occur? This cascade of events within the blood vessels is set in motion in part by, and is exacerbated by, the western diet, high in added oils, dairy, meat, chicken, fish, sugary and processed foods. These food products have been found to injure endothelial function after each ingestion, making food choices a major, if not the major, cause of CAD.
The good news? Dr. Esselstyn goes on to say that nutritional intervention — switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet with no oils — allows a patient with signs of CVD to make themselves “heart-attack proof.” He and Dr. Dean Ornish have gone on to prove through multiple research studies that a plant-based diet produces multiple positive benefits for vascular health. The angiogram below shows the power of nutrition through an angiogram image. You can plainly see how the diseased artery on the left compares with the same artery on the right after the patient has been on a whole food plant-based diet.
For four decades, Dr. Dean Ornish and colleagues have scientifically proven that lifestyle measures are effective at preventing and reversing heart disease. These measures include 4 pillars: 1) Whole food, plant-based nutrition, 2) stress management techniques, 3) moderate exercise) and 4) Social support and community.
Dr. Esselstyn, the author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, maintains that a proper diet for optimal health should include whole grains, legumes, lentils, fruits, and vegetables — in particular, green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, arugula, and Brussels sprouts, all of which are high in antioxidants. He recommends greens 6 times per day for those with heart disease, topped with a balsamic vinegar, which has been shown to enhance the activity of nitric oxide. By virtue of this regimen, “all day long, you are bathing this inflammation with nature’s most powerful antioxidants. Often, [the patient’s] angina disappears within days. Once they see this, you’ve got them hooked.”
It only makes sense that all clinicians should be aware of and committed to recommending lifestyle medicine so we can stop this disease, the number one killer of men and women alike.
Author: Erin Sinnaeve APN