Reversing Heart Disease with a Nutrient Dense Diet

The buildup of plaque in arteries is a leading killer in America. And it is widely believed that there is little to nothing that can be done to reduce the plaque once it is there.

In his book Eat to Live, Dr. Fuhrman explains that research and first-hand experience show heart disease is reversible:

Two things are necessary to predictably reverse heart disease: one is to become thin and superbly nourished, and the other is to get your LDL below 100. Reversal of heart disease then occurs.
In studies, patients eating certain kinds of diets have demonstrated modest reduction in plaque (more on that below). Dr. Fuhrman has found that with the aggressive diet he advocates, greater reductions in plaque are common. "My patients demonstrate much more dramatic cholesterol lowering since the advised dietary program is based on nutrient density," he explains, "and reversals from 20 to 40 percent per year are typical in my experience. I even have a patient who reversed his carotid blockage from 80 percent to undetectable in one year on carotid ultrasound."

Dr. Fuhrman's book Cholesterol Protecion for Life covers a lot of this in depth. An updated and expanded version of that book will be out soon, and here is an excerpt:

Studies preformed by Dean Ornish and other investigators have documented the effects of a low-fat vegetarian (vegan) diet on patients with heart disease and found reversal of the condition occurred in the majority of patients. The reversal was modest, but nevertheless, no study previously showed diet could be so effective at preventing and reversing heart disease.

Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.
of the Cleveland Clinic put together a program utilizing a vegetarian plant-based diet with the addition of cholesterol-lowering medication in 18 patients who had severe angiographically demonstrated coronary artery disease. All of these high-risk patients with advanced heart disease were noted to have no coronary events during the following 12 years, and on repeat angiogram, 70% were found to have regression of their disease and none had progression.1 When you consider these 18 patients had experienced 50 coronary events during the 8 years before this study, you have to agree on the effectiveness of combining plant-based nutrition with cholesterol lowering.

Dr. Esselstyn tracked these patients for 17 years, which is the longest ongoing research project of this kind, and not one of these people, who years ago had severe heart disease, has had any further cardiac complaints or heart attacks.

Dr. Esselstyn also tracked the long-term results in six of his patients that did not want to adhere to the diet and returned to the standard care of their cardiologists. They experienced 13 new cardiac events during the first 12 years.

Although Ornish and Esseltyn studied vegetarian diets, Dr. Fuhrman has found that when reversing heart disease is the goal, eliminating meat is hardly the only important step. The diet Dr. Fuhrman recommends in Cholesterol Protection for Life is more specific, and more aggressively heart-healthy. (In addition, Dr. Fuhrman's book advocates natural supplements--including delta tocotrienol, plant sterols, policosanol, and pomegranate extracts that can be helpful. On you can read all about the supplements he recommends, complete with 16 references to articles in respected journals.)

High nutrient density makes a measurable difference. From an article on

Dr. Fuhrman's Eat To Live approach is the only dietary plan that has ever been shown in medical studies to lower cholesterol more effectively than cholesterol lowering medications. Other dietary programs, such as the Atkins diet plan, have been relatively ineffective at lowering cholesterol. Though the low-fat vegetarian diet did lower LDL cholesterol 16%, it raised triglycerides 18.7% and the LDL/HDL ratio remained unchanged, reflecting minimal overall improvement. The Eat To Live approach differed in that the LDL cholesterol was more significantly lowered without unfavorable impact on HDL or triglycerides, reflecting sizable improvement in cardiac risk factors.

LDL Cholesterol Lowering Results
Method% Decrease in LDL Cholesterol
American Heart Association Standard Low-Fat Advice6%
High Protein Atkins' TypeNo significant change
Low-Fat Vegetarian16%
High Olive Oil MediterraneanNo significant change
Cholesterol Lowering Medication Statins26%
Eat to Live - Fuhrman Type, Lower Cholesterol without Drugs33%

For those desiring more than mediocrity, for true protection against heart disease and premature death, there is a clear-cut answer—Eat To Live. The most effective—and safest—way to lower your LDL cholesterol level is through this approach that could save your life.2

In a meeting the other day, Dr. Fuhrman said something that I found amazing: to his knowledge, no one in his care, following his recommended diet, has ever had a heart attack. (Of course, he has no way of knowing about the people who have left his care.) 15 years of practicing medicine. How many doctors can say that?

1. Esselstyn CB Jr, Ellis SG, Medendorp SV, Crowe TD. A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician's practice. J Fam Prac 1995;41:560-568.

2. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Popovich DG, et al. Effect of a very-high-fiber vegetable, fruit, and nut diet on serum lipids and colonic function. Metabolism 2001 Apr;50(4):494-503.

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Comments (10) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Stan - February 1, 2006 9:09 AM

How does this diet differ from Dean Ornish's diet?

Henry Abbott - February 7, 2006 3:59 PM


Thanks for the question. The answer, complete with graphs and charts, is in its own post at

Zephyr - February 8, 2006 8:47 AM

"If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Brenda - October 6, 2006 2:53 AM

Dr. Furham
is it too late to reverse my heart disease of 80%artery blockage by now commiting to your plan?

John - July 22, 2007 12:08 AM

At 35 I took a massive heart attack and had 100% blockage in the right ventricle artery. In Canada, 1993 after performing an angiography, the cardiologist said there was no way of giving me an angioplasty and a bypass at my age was out of the question. I went on a no fat, no meat, vegetarian diet and several pills including statin drugs. My Triglycerides were very high and was somewhat lowered. My lifestyle was drastically changed and reduced to almost non existant. After 13 years I had shortness of breath and was admitted for a routine angiography and hoping to get an angioplasty but turned out having a quadruple bypass. 15 months later following the prescribed diet and more pills I had a heart attack and was admitted for an angioplasty with two stents inserted. For the first time in 15 years I have a lifestyle that I enjoy. After 3 months I had blood work done and found that my triglycerides are 5 times the acceptable level, my glucose is borderline diabetic and my cholesterol is climbing. After speaking with a dietician and reading this site I have switched my diet over and will be getting my blood work done again. I am interested in what the results will be. Obviously, the diet I was following did not help. Pills alone is not the answer. By the way I am a non-smoker all my life and a once in a while to be sociable one or two drinks maybe 5 times a year. I will follow up on here to let others know if this diet of Dr. Furhman changes my life and gets me off of drugs.

kevin richards - December 17, 2007 5:38 AM

I am in Australia ,what is the name of the diet book???Probably impossible to get here,but I can try the librarie.Kevin

Allan - March 14, 2010 8:43 PM

I have just finished 4 weeks of low fat vegetarian diet
on the CHIP (coronary heart improvement programme) programme at the local Seventh Day Adventist church .the progromme was initiated by medical people incl cardioligists who belived this programme can have more beneficail effects than standard Heart disease treatments
My blood pressure dropped in one month from 128/95 to 126/80 without any medication
I lost 4kg and I feel just great my Cholestrol was 5.6 at the start but I am waiting on the result of a recent blood test and I expect it will have lowered ...5.6 is getting up there
all our partipitants have had similar or even betta results
I have been a meat eater all my life and have given it up cold turkey..Its simple really societies that eat lower amounts of animal based products have lower rates of heart disease..not really rocket science is it!!
I am not a doctor all I know is that what I and others are doing is working..I am 58 years old i have had an irregular heart I exercise regualrly and am in great shape
My resting heart rate is 68
good luck and God Bless our health certainly is our wealth
the motto of CHIP...Healthy by choice not by chance !!

Lydia Capps - September 24, 2011 11:41 PM

Can you eat olestra on this diet? If you can then I guess Lays potato chips made with olestra are ok?

Isaac - January 29, 2013 2:10 AM

Ingredient: Olestra (a.k.a. Olean)
Found In: Fat-free potato chips
Why The U.S. Allows It: Procter & Gamble Co. took a quarter century and spent a half a billion dollars to create “light” chips that are supposedly better for you, Calton says. They may need another half a billion bucks to figure out how to deal with the embarrassing bathroom side effects (including oily anal leakage) that comes with consuming these products.
Health Hazards: “This fat substitute appears to cause a dramatic depletion of fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids, robbing us of the vital micro-nutrients,” Calton says, adding that many countries, including the U.K. and Canada, have banned it.

Elizabeth - March 22, 2013 2:22 PM

I am prediabetic and overweight. My cholesterol is slightly high from eating a lot of meat and rice in the past. I have been on the Dr. Fuhrman diet for about 2 months and I lost 20 pounds without exercising. I have strayed here and there by eating out all you can eat sushi and I did not gain any weight surprisingly. The one amazing thing is that I have severe allergies to cats and I can't be in a room for long with a cat without getting a clogged up nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. I can now be around cats and even pet them and put them in my face without getting any reaction. I am completely stunned. I will be checking my blood sugar and insulin levels to see if it improved that and my cholesterol levels. I do eat shrimp and fish on occasion. The important thing to note is that if it can boost my immune system this much, that means it is lowering my chance of cancer and other illnesses. I am really excited and I will never look at milk or meat again because I can feel the difference. Everyone notices that my skin is glowing too. Juicing veggies helps as well. I love this diet.

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