If you are concerned about your heart health, wish to manage an existing heart condition, or wish to prevent cardiovascular disease from developing in the first place – you will need to focus on eliminating the major risk factors. The top risk factors that can be managed in order to avoid heart problems are blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood glucose level, smoking cessation, regular exercise, and maintaining a proper weight.
Almost all of the risk factors for heart disease, other than smoking or lack of exercise, can be prevented or controlled by one simple lifestyle choice – what you eat.
Watching what you eat (with an emphasis on a plant-based, whole foods diet) can help to improve your overall health immensely. Following a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly has in fact cured many patients around the country of their cardiovascular concerns completely, and without pills or surgery.
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) has been directly linked to the years that you have eaten the Western diet, or the Standard American Diet (SAD). The fatty plaque deposits that narrow and block important arteries and blood vessels begin to accumulate in early childhood. Many conditions that you have been taught to think “runs in the family”, only seem to run in the family because of traditional foods and lifestyle habits learned and passed down for generations. Fatty cholesterol streaks are becoming commonly found in children as young as 3 years of age.
An article in the Journal of Atherosclerosis Research and the National Institutes of Health states that “Atherosclerosis begins in childhood, with the appearance of aortic fatty streaks” and that by age ten, “100% of children have these visible streaks, which is the first stage of heart disease”.
This means that by the time a child reaches the age of 10 years old, they have already begun forming atherosclerotic plaque – and these plaques will continue to form, resulting in serious coronary artery disease upon reaching the age of 30 to 40 years old. According to the Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults (CARDIA) study, the most optimal way to prevent coronary heart disease is by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet as soon as solid foods are introduced in infancy.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., is the world famous and renowned author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Dr. Esselstyn has successfully treated and reversed serious blockages in the coronary arteries of his patients. His groundbreaking results from his 20-year nutritional study “explains, with irrefutable scientific evidence, how we can end the heart disease epidemic in this country forever by changing what we eat.”
Dr. Kim A. Williams – a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology who served as its president in 2015 to 2016 and currently remains as a trustee of the organization – also the Chairman of Cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, often sees patients who are overweight and struggling with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. One of the things he advises them to do is to change their diets. Specifically, he tells them to go vegan.
It is startling to learn that the majority of heart attacks actually do occur in patients whose cholesterol was found to be within what is considered to be a borderline range of 150-200 mg/dL. To be truly protected from heart attack risk, one needs to strive to maintain a total cholesterol level below 150 as heart disease is rare in those with levels this low.
Sadly enough, anyone who has ever eaten the Standard American Diet (SAD) has some form of heart disease – but may not be aware of it. Symptoms of heart disease are often not noticed at all until artery and vessel blockages are 70% or greater. There are many diagnostic tools that do not readily detect artery blockage unless the blockage is already significant.
Narrowed arteries mean that the flow of blood through the artery is reduced or even completely blocked. The resulting atherosclerosis can then cause reduced blood supply to the brain or heart – affecting leg circulation and leading to cramping and pain when walking.
Reduced blood flow to the brain begins depriving it of much-needed oxygen – a lack of oxygen and blood can cause damage to the brain in a short period of time. Vascular Dementia, also called Vascular Cognitive Impairment, is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.
The Standard American Diet lives up to its acronym, as it sadly causes many preventable diseases and suffering. Scientific evidence has repeatedly proven that adopting a plant-based diet, avoiding most trans fats, minimizing added sugars, and decreasing refined or processed carbohydrates can indeed help to prevent, pause, or even completely reverse cardiovascular disease. In fact, a plant-based diet can actually lower cholesterol very nearly as much as a typically prescribed statin drug – but in a safer and more nutritious way.
While foods made from plants possess anti-inflammatory properties, meat and dairy actually exacerbate inflammation. Putting the body through chronic inflammation fuels the atherosclerosis which causes most heart attacks and strokes. Studies of chronic inflammation show that it can cause or feed serious conditions such as autoimmune disease and cancer.
There is virtually no cholesterol in plant foods as it is only found in animal products and in their secretions. This includes: cow and pig, fish and seafood, all poultry, all animal milks, creams, cheeses, and of course eggs. Saturated fat also raises cholesterol levels, and this type of fat is predominately found in the consumption of animal parts and products as well as hydrogenated oils – so it is important to avoid these items if one would like to prevent or stop the progression of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are also found in a few vegetable products such as palm oil, coconut oil, and some chocolate preparations – yet deemed safe if consumed very minimally. Some commercially baked goods, processed foods, and snack foods contain trans fats which have been found to also stimulate the production of more cholesterol. Read product labels, especially the Nutrition Facts panel to see if it contains saturated fats or trans fats.
Study after study have documented how replacing animal protein with plant proteins works quickly to reduce blood cholesterol levels, even when the total amount of fat and saturated fat in the diet remain the same. Plant-based food also offers yet another important benefit, soluble fiber, which is not found in any product made from animals. Soluble fiber slows the absorption of cholesterol and reduces the amount of cholesterol that the liver makes. One can easily increase their fiber intake with oats, beans, barley, okra, eggplant, apples, and many other fruits and vegetables – as are all great sources of soluble fiber.
The best diet for lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and maintaining a healthy weight is a vegan diet that includes fresh and cooked vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, and several glasses a day of good clean water. It is the only diet that includes no cholesterol and no harmful animal fat – yet is fun, easy, and delicious.
“Some people think plant-based diet, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme. —Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Prevention is always the best medicine. South Strand Cardiology strongly endorses focusing on your heart health to stop or decrease the chance of developing a heart condition in the first place, or to stop existing heart disease from becoming worse. Your individual treatment plan will depend on how severe your condition is, your symptoms, as well as your age and overall level of health. If you are concerned about your heart health and want to learn more about making lifestyle changes that can really make a difference, contact us to schedule an appointment today.