Is Heart Disease Totally Preventable?

From the November 2003 edition of Dr. Fuhrman’s Healthy Times:

If we do a careful look at the scientific evidence at our disposal, we can make some claims with a strong degree of certainty. It is my belief that every heart attack death is an appalling tragedy because that person did not have to die. I believe every bypass surgery, every angioplasty, and every emergency treatment for heart attack could have been prevented. If all cardiac patients, heart-disease sufferers, and even those who will soon die of cardiac arrest were given the option a few years ago to choose to eat and live healthfully in order to be free of heart disease, what do you think they would have chosen to do?

I am convinced that if all of these individuals had been convincingly informed that heart disease and premature death could be avoided and that health could be improved dramatically with changes in diet and lifestyle, they would not have chosen suffering and premature death. Faced with this sober choice, diet and lifestyle changes would seem a delightfully enjoyable choice.

Here is the preliminary evidence and experience we have accumulated so far:

1. The Eat to Live vegetable, fruit, nut, and bean-based diet has been shown to be the most effective cholesterol-lowering dietary approach in medical history. This newsworthy data with the potential to save millions of lives has been ignored by the mass media. With this dietary approach, most patients drop their total cholesterol below 150 and LDL below 100, without the need for medications.

2. During the two years that the Eat to Live vegetable, fruit, nut, and bean-based diet has been under research study by the University of Southern California, patients have shown an average weight loss of forty-nine pounds, the most sustained weight loss ever recorded in a medical study in history.

3. In areas of the world where people eat a diet of unrefined plant foods, people have total cholesterol levels below 150, and there is zero incidence of heart disease in the population.1

4. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation followed a group of eighteen patients with advanced heart disease who adopted a plant-based vegetarian diet, with the addition of cholesterol-lowering drugs to maintain cholesterol levels below 150. These individuals experienced no heart attacks and no cardiologic interventions over the next twelve years, whereas in the eight years prior to the study, these patients had experienced forty-nine coronary events. Adherence to the diet was the key factor determining the absence of future cardiac disease.

5. My experience with thousands of patients over the past thirteen years, utilizing a high-nutrient, plant-based approach to diet, with the addition of natural cholesterol-lowering therapies when needed to assure adequate cholesterol-lowering, corroborates Dr. Esselstyn’s observations. No cardiac events have occurred in my patients, even patients with advanced disease, who were long-term-compliant to this cardio-protective lifestyle. Both Dr. Esselstyn’s and my patients report that their physician’s commitment to the same dietary approach was a powerful aid to patient compliance.

6. Combining modest dietary changes (as suggested by the American Heart Association and conventional physicians and dietitians) with medications to aggressively lower cholesterol lessens risk but does not result in the elimination of cardiac disease.2 To be 100 percent effective in preventing cardiac death, you need both cholesterol-lowering and adherence to the protective diet outlined in Eat to Live.

7. Aggressive dietary intervention alone significantly lessens risk, but does not preclude the possibility of cardiac disease. You need to assure cholesterol-lowering in conjunction with a protective diet to ensure maximal effectiveness. You also need to assure homocysteine levels are normalized, with supplementation if necessary.

8. The vegetarian diets typically suggested by leading vegetarian authors and advocates do not lower cholesterol or triglycerides or improve lipid profiles to the extent that the vegetable-based Eat to Live approach does. Neither do they result in the dramatic protection and dramatic reversal of atherosclerosis seen by my patients. My approach emphasizes the consumption of cholesterol- lowering fibers and nutrients found in natural foods—greens, fruits, beans, and nuts. The Ornish studies, which demonstrated reversal of coronary artery disease in the majority of patients, likewise did not see the dramatic benefits I routinely observe.

9. Attempting risk factor reduction with drugs while patients continue to eat the toxic American diet results in only marginal benefits because patients remain overweight and glucose intolerant, and have low levels of protective phytochemicals. Since the dietary causes of disease are not eliminated, chronic illness advances. Medications can result in dangerous side effects, including muscle and liver damage, memory loss, and—in some rare cases—death. Lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar with medications while giving patients permission to continue their toxic dietary habits is unacceptably inferior care—care that results in patients gradually growing sicker and sicker.

1. Breslow JL. Cardiovascular disease myths and facts. Cleve Clin J Med 1998:65(6):286-287. Campbell TC, Parpia B, Chen J. et al. Diet, lifestyle and the etiology of coronary artery disease: the Cornell China Study. Am J Cardiol 1998; 8210B):18T-21T.

Sinnett PF, Whyte, HM. Epidemiological studies in a total highland population. Tukisenta, New Guinea. Cardiovascular disease and relevant clinical, electrocardiographic, radiological and biochemical findings. J Chron Dis 1973;26:265. Kesteloot H, Huang DX, Yang XS, et al. Serum lipids in the People’s Republic of China.

Comparison of Western and Eastern populations. Arteriosclerosis 1985;5:427-433.

2. Paterson, RW, Patt JJ, Steele GH, et al. Impact of intensive lipid modulation on angiographically defined coronary disease: Clinical Implications. Southern Medical Journal 1994;87(2):236-242.
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