Heart disease – the right diet can mend a broken heart | Viva!

Heart disease – the right diet can mend a broken heart

Every two minutes, someone has a heart attack or stroke in the UK. Heart disease is our biggest killer, with one in four men and one in six women dying from it. Yet heart expert Dr Caldwell B Esselstyn told me: “Heart disease need not exist and if it does, it need not progress. I have an ambitious goal: to annihilate heart disease – to abolish it once and for all. Your arteries at the age of 90 ought to work as efficiently as they did when you were nine.” Dr Esselstyn should know! He was trained as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, USA, and worked at St. George’s Hospital, London. He was also a researcher and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic where, over a period of 20 years, he ran the most comprehensive study of its kind, researching the impact of nutrition on people with advanced heart disease. Despite the usual, aggressive treatment his patients had received – including bypasses and angioplasties – some had been told they had less than a year to live. The patients ranged in age from 43 to 67 and represented a spectrum of the community – factory and office workers, teachers and company executives. Don Felton is typical of those in the study. His wife, Mackie, used to fry bacon for him every morning and make gravy from the grease. “I loved it,” Don says, “I ate it for years.” Don (54) arrived at Dr Esselstyn’s office having been told by his cardiologist that after years of chronic heart trouble and treatment, including a failing double bypass, there was nothing more conventional medicine could do for him. Dr Esselstyn recalls Don walking with a limp as he was in acute pain as a result of the main artery in his leg being fully blocked. Don agreed to go on Dr Esselstyn’s programme to see if the right diet really can mend a broken heart.

Dr Esselstyn’s patients’ initial responses varied from an enthusiastic, “This is my last hope – I’ll start now,” to, “you must be joking!” However, the proof is in the no-fat pudding. After three months, Don’s chest pain eased and he no longer had to sleep propped up with pillows to ease his angina. After seven months he could walk without stopping and without pain. A test showed that blood flow in the leg artery that had been blocked was back to normal. And what of Esselstyn’s other patients? The group began the study with an average blood cholesterol of 246 mg/dL – too high. By changing their diet and using cholesterol-lowering drugs, they reduced their group average to 137 mg/dL. This is the most profound drop in cholesterol levels in any such study. (Esselstyn, 2007.) In all the patients who had angiograms (an X-ray of the coronary arteries) progression of the disease had stopped and in most cases it had been reversed. Again, the results are stunning and scientific proof of the healing power of food. We can eat ourselves into a state of disease or eat ourselves out of it! The most far-reaching study on the effect of diet on health, as I’ve mentioned, is the China Study (see page 12). It found that cardiovascular disease is nearly non-existent in areas where cholesterol levels are consistently below 150mg/dL (Campbell et al, 2005). In UK measurement, it is recommended that people reduce their cholesterol levels to below 5.0mmol/L, although the level to avoid heart attacks entirely is 3.9mmol/L. Another brilliant man is Dr Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California and best known for his Lifestyle Heart Trial. He investigated the role of a low-fat, highfibre diet – along with lifestyle changes – in 28 heart disease patients. Is it really possible to mend a broken heart? They followed a low-fat, plant-based diet, including unrestricted amounts of fruits, vegetables and grains. They also practised stress management techniques and exercised regularly. After one year, 82 per cent of the test group experienced regression of their heart disease, including a 91 per cent reduction in the frequency of heart pain compared to 165 per cent increase in the control group. This trial has continued with similar outcomes: no conventional drug or surgery-related therapies compare with these results (Campbell et al, 2005). It is also well-established that vegetarians’ lower risk of high blood pressure is considerable and is anywhere between 33 to 50 per cent. An extensive review of the evidence published in the journal, Nutrition Reviews, explains how a vegetarian diet high in fruits, vegetables, pulses and nuts lowers blood pressure by a variety of different mechanisms (Berkow et al, 2005).