The Heart Attack Grill

Have you heard about the new Las Vegas restaurant, the Heart Attack Grill? The Heart Attack Grill’s menu features high cholesterol and saturated fat meat items such as “Single,” “Double,” “Triple,” and “Quadruple Bypass” burgers as well as “Flatliner Fries” cooked in lard.

Recently, yet another patron of the Heart Attack Grill has reportedly fallen ill, during a meal at the hospital-themed Las Vegas restaurant. CBS reported that a woman is recovering, after collapsing unconscious and suffering a possible heart attack, at the restaurant that serves up high saturated fat and cholesterol fare. If the incident sounds familiar, it is! In February a man suffered a heart attack there, and had to be taken out on a stretcher while eating the restaurant’s “Triple Bypass Burger.”

We’ll say this much – at least the names of the dishes match the diseases they cause. The evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol are behind atherosclerosis, the clogged arteries that cause heart attacks, is already strong and growing each day. Alternative explanations for heart disease, such as that it’s caused by the bacteria from gum disease, just haven’t panned out. Eating fish instead of beef or chicken to prevent heart disease hasn’t worked either, with several recent studies now showing no heart benefit to fish oil in the diet.

While the name of the restaurant and the dishes it serves up are an obvious attempt at humor, some of us aren’t laughing. “Anyone who has ever had someone they love go under the surgeon’s knife or die, because of heart disease, knows the disease isn’t remotely funny,” wrote PCRM director of nutrition education Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., in her letter to Heart Attack Grill owner John Basso. “It’s time to end your bizarre efforts to capitalize on obesity and clogged arteries.”

The facts are sobering. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death in America. Many first heart attacks are fatal. The threat of being at risk for a heart attack, or having to undergo surgery to bypass clogged coronary arteries, has given many a man and woman more than just a few sleepless nights.

Coronary arteries are the small blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. Cholesterol builds up inside these small arteries, which gradually become clogged. This buildup of cholesterol plaque is called atherosclerosis. If the problem is not corrected a heart attack is likely to ensue.

A common way to correct the problem is through surgery. Coronary artery bypass surgery enables many patients to live a little longer, but it is very invasive and entails some risks and complications. Blood vessels from other parts of the body are used to create detours around the clogged arteries, but eventually these new pathways become blocked as well. That’s what happened to former President Clinton. In his case, doctors reopened the original clogged artery and placed two mesh props called stents to keep it open, but his doctors said that it was likely that he’d need to have the procedure repeated every 5 years or so unless he changed his diet.

As is so often the case, a healthy low fat vegetarian diet is the answer, as it has been shown in scientific studies time and time again to unblock clogged arteries and reverse heart disease. The now famous Texas cardiologist, Dean Ornish, took patients destined for bypass surgery and placed them on a vegetarian diet instead. The results were striking. The blockages started reducing in size, and the arteries opened up. The heart’s ability to pump started to improve in only 24 days. There was a 91% reduction in chest pain. Within a year, his patients, who were barely able to walk initially, were literally hiking up mountains and riding bicycles. Other doctors tried testing a vegetarian diet on their patients and got the same results as Ornish. At this point, countless patients around the world have been “rescued” by the humble yet powerful vegetarian diet. Other studies have shown that a low-fat vegetarian diet, by itself, is at least as powerful at lowering the cholesterol levels of patients, as the American Heart Association Diet combined with a cholesterol-lowering drug.

As the old saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The good news is that a healthy vegetarian diet helps prevent heart disease, and reduces the risk of arteries reclogging after heart disease has already set in. Doctors have known about this for a long time. Back in 1961, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association said that “a vegetarian diet will reduce coronary occlusions [clogged coronary arteries] by 97%”.

The reason for this is simple. A vegetarian diet is much lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. A vegan diet goes a step further and has no cholesterol at all. As an extra bonus, the plant foods that are so plentiful in a vegetarian diet have also been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Recognizing this, President Clinton adopted a vegan diet and has achieved striking results.  He’s been able to avoid further surgery and has seen a dramatic improvement in both his heart and overall health.

But you don’t need to be famous and influential to avail yourself of all the benefits of a plant-strong diet. The recent movie Forks over Knives, starring cardiac surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn, features everyday people overcoming heart disease, diabetes and other diseases through a healthy vegetarian diet. We can’t recommend this movie too strongly and it’s very encouraging to watch people get well from their illness, adding years to their lives and life to their years.

We’ll never know how many people damage their hearts from eating at the Heart Attack Grill.  It has certainly grabbed headlines and notoriety, as many places in Las Vegas often do. But we’d like to suggest that there are many other heart attack grills located closer to home, with less provocative names, that do almost as much damage to their patrons. How many fast food restaurants feature triple bacon cheeseburgers with French fries? How many steakhouses feature super sized meat dishes with potatoes smothered in butter? With summer quickly approaching, how many backyard barbecues will function as heart attack grills? It seems that one doesn’t have to travel to Vegas to find a heart attack grill after all, as there are plenty right here inWashington, operating daily and with little attention from the press. While not gaining as much attention as the Heart Attack Grill, the damage they cause is just real.