Coronary artery disease can be reversed. True of False?
If you ask most doctors, including cardiologist, you probably will receive a foggy kind of answer. You might hear “FALSE!” If this is the answer you are hearing from a doctor, it’s unfortunate.
The correct answer is TRUE – Coronary artery disease can be reversed. There are enough studies around that make this a pretty indisputable reality. Let’s take this “new” fact one step further, and add one more: Heart disease should be eliminated by now. How so? It’s us and our lifestyle habits that can do the trick.
Frequency of heart attacks
Did you know that every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack? That comes out to 805,000 heart attacks a year. Did you know that every 37 seconds, someone in the United States dies of cardiovascular disease? Heart disease is the number one killer in the US. 674,000 Americans die of heart disease every year—a far bigger toll than the current Coronavirus will take.
Heart disease is a condition that we cause upon ourselves. In the words of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, “this is a benign disease that is preventable and even reversible—it need not even exist!”
As far back as 1990, a landmark 5 year study was completed by Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues. Dr. Ornish looked at two groups. One group ate the standard American Heart Association recommended diet at that time. The other group embarked in a program where they ate a plant-based, whole food diet, did some minimal exercise, and worked on stress management. That second group all reversed their coronary artery disease. How do we know? They did angiograms on all of them every so often and could measure the blockages in their coronary arteries.
There were almost immediate results which improved blood flow. By the time the 5 years were completed, there was almost no, or very little, blockage left. The group on the American Heart Association diet, replaced meat with chicken, included fish in their weekly diet, and cut down on junk food. Sadly, there were no improvements and some of the participants didn’t make it through the 5 years of the trial.
This study should have put into place the end of heart disease. Unfortunately, main stream medicine didn’t follow through with the results. Then in 2000, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn began a trial at the Cleveland Clinic. He took severely ill cardiac patients into his care. Most of these patients had been told by their cardiologists they were going to die within the year. Dr. Esselstyn put more of an emphasis on the diet aspect than Dr. Ornish had. The results? All of these dying patients reversed their condition by eating a very strict whole food plant based diet. 20 years later, these individuals (with one exception) lead wonderful, productive lives—instead of dying within that year.
Thousands have saved and enhanced their own lives by making the changes that lifestyle medicine prescribes. A regimen of plant-based eating, increased exercise and activity, along with learning how to best manage and control one’s stresses, can do far more than cholesterol lowering drugs or stents!
A recent comprehensive study took place about a year ago by Stanford and New York University on the effectiveness of bypass surgery and stenting arteries. The results of the study clearly show that when done in a non-emergency situation, there was no better outcome in regard to mortality than not doing the procedures. The study concluded that patients with severe but stable heart disease who are treated with medications and lifestyle advice alone are no more at risk of a heart attack or death than those who undergo invasive surgical procedures. Only in unstable patients did these surgeries and procedures save lives.
A second study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this past March confirmed these findings. Of the 950,000 stents done per year in the United States, not even half were deemed necessary and effective. Really, only if one is having a heart attack will a stent save his life.
Statin drugs are also not very effective. We need to treat well over 100 people in order to get any benefit of one patient (NNT). Statins do reduce early mortality by 9% in those that get the benefit. There are also pronounced side effects to the drugs in some people. Lifestyle changes, when done right, can cut the risk of early mortality from heart disease by more than 80%! The famous North Karelia study showed a 93% decrease in cardiac events after the changes implemented in that locality.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
So the saying goes. Preventing heart disease, by changing dietary and other lifestyle habits, takes less vigilance than reversing heart disease. Anyone who is even 80-85% compliant will most likely do well for themselves. Reversing any disease is always more difficult. It is best to be preemptive and not wait until one becomes ill until to take action. The best way to prevent and reverse heart disease is to learn what healthy eating is, get active, and learn stress reduction and management techniques. When you do, you will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”