Resolving the Coronary Artery Disease Epidemic Through Plant-Based Nutrition

This article by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. focuses on the effects of a plant-based diet on heart disease. It demonstrates an ability to prevent, stop the progression of, and in some cases reverse Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). This is pretty amazing when you consider that all of the medications and surgical procedures available today may slow your march towards death when it comes to heart disease, but they do not stop or especially reverse heart disease – something a low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet does (NO OIL)!

Esselstyn, C. B. (2001), Resolving the Coronary Artery Disease Epidemic Through Plant-Based Nutrition. Preventive Cardiology, 4: 171–177. doi: 10.1111/j.1520-037X.2001.00538.x

Working as a physical therapist in a hospital, I treat several patients a week with CAD. These patients may have:

  • Low ejection fractions (EF). This measures the percent of blood pumped out with each heart beat. 55-70% is normal. I regularly see patients with EFs of 15-35%.
  • Undergone coronary angioplasties: a thin, plastic tube (catheter) is inserted into a vein in the arm or leg and then moved to the heart. A tiny balloon at the tip of the catheter is then temporarily blown up where the artery is clogged to compress plaque against the artery wall and help widen the artery.
  • Had stents placed. During an angioplasty a stent may be placed to permanently hold the artery open.
  • Undergone a CABG (pronounced “cabbage”) or coronary artery bypass surgery.  Arteries or veins from elsewhere in the patient’s body are grafted to the coronary arteries to bypass diseased portions and improve the blood supply to the heart. In this operation, the bone in the middle of the chest (the sternum) is split open. Patients have precautions after this surgery to avoid stressing the sternum for approximately 6 weeks that include no lifting/pushing/pulling more than 10 pounds (this makes getting out of bed pretty difficult), limiting motion of the arms that pulls at the incision and holding a pillow to their chest when coughing or straining (called splinting).

While the American Heart Association recommends a diet much closer to plant-based than the typical American diet, they still encourage lean meat and poultry in their guidelines, which I see reflected in the lunch trays of my patients. Perhaps organizations and doctors are afraid to be seen as “too extreme”? However, if I were a patient I would want to know all my options, especially if diet alone can make such a difference in my outcome.

In my opinion, if you end up in the hospital getting the cardiac diet isn’t enough. I would specifically speak to your doctor about getting plant-based meals, as well as enlisting friends and family to bring you these foods. Hospital food does not mean healthy food – just wander through any hospital cafeteria if you doubt this.

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