Dr Kim Williams, the president of the American College of Cardiology, recently proclaimed that cardiologists can put themselves out of business if they just tell their patients to go vegan. He asks “Wouldn’t it be a laudable goal of the American College of Cardiology to put ourselves out of business?”
Following the old dictum “physician heal thyself” Dr Williams first went vegan to treat his own cholesterol problem. His cholesterol has been going up and up, and he found that going on a low-fat meat-centered diet was not enough. He had to go vegan and discover first hand the power of plant foods to treat the most common health problem in America, high cholesterol that leads to heart attacks. After only six weeks his cholesterol dropped down, way down, to where he wanted it.
He found that only when the dietary cholesterol was eliminated from his diet, did he reach a healthy cholesterol level in his blood. He was able to eliminate the cholesterol from his diet by avoiding dairy and animal products. Instead of eating chicken and fish, he started eating vegetable-based meat substitutes, like veggie burgers and sausages made from soy and other plant proteins, plus nuts. He also switched to almond milk from cow’s milk.
Dr. Arun Kalyanasundaram (Dr. K) is an interventional cardiologist with practices at Highline Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center. He moved to Seattle in 2011. He strongly believes in a holistic approach to cardiology – with a particular emphasis on preventive cardiology primarily through diet and lifestyle. He will be speaking and answering questions at our next Monthly Dining Event on October 17th. We asked him to tell us more about himself and his approach to cardiology.
Tell us something about yourself. Where are you from originally, how long have you been a doctor, and cardiologist, and what brings you to the Northwest?
I have been a doctor now for about 13 years. I am originally from India. I obtained my MPH at the University of Maryland, and then did my residency and fellowship at Geisinger and Cleveland clinics respectively. I chose to move to the Pacific Northwest because it is unique in terms of scenic beauty, cultural diversity and just an overall great place to raise a family.
How long have you been a vegetarian? What got you interested in it to begin with?
In India, a significant portion of people are vegetarians. I have been a vegetarian life-long. Over the last 3-4 years, I embraced an all plant-based diet primarily for health reasons.
Have you discovered any other reasons and advantages for being veg along the way?
Absolutely! Being a vegetarian offers clear health advantages – reducing the chance of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, to name a few. The effects on the human body are almost all positive – truly astounding. There are few things in life that are good for our health, good for the planet and all its beings, with virtually no side effects.
Do you recommend that your cardiology patients follow a particular diet?
I am convinced that patients with heart disease, especially coronary artery disease, should be on a stringent plant-based diet. I am greatly inspired by the work done by Drs Esselstyn, Ornish, and Barnard to name a few. I have studied their work extensively and my ‘template’ for the diet is based off Dr. Esselstyn’s seminal work.
What reaction do your patients typically have to the suggestion of changing their diet?
Most patients are quite receptive to the idea. Often times, a heart attack serves as a ‘wake-up call’. Several patients of mine have completely transformed their lives. I often use the analogy of a house on fire – opening a clogged vessel in the setting of a heart attack is akin to what the fire brigade does i.e. put out the fire. But then I insist that the onus is on the patient to ensure that the fuel supply feeding the fire is turned off i.e. they make the appropriate lifestyle change.
What advantages to their heart health have you typically observed when a patient switches to a veg diet?
I have some patients who have had decreased angina and improved exercise tolerance. I have also seen significantly improved risk factor profiles i.e. lowered blood pressure, lower cholesterol, better control of diabetes, weight loss and a general sense of well-being.
What other health benefits have your patients experienced as a result of changing their diets?
There have been published studies that have shown that a vegetarian diet can prevent and reverse diabetes, reduce the risk of vascular disease and even some kinds of cancers. Personally, I have had patients with improved glycemic control and some that have been able to get away from their diabetic medications.
What is it about a veg diet that you wish the public/patients would understand better?
1) Vegetarian food does not have to be boring or tasteless. 2) It is perfectly possible to have a balanced and nutritious all-plant based diet for any population – specifically it is possible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet.
Are you optimistic for the increasing popularity of veg diets in both the medical and lay community in the future?
Totally. If you look at the vegetarian movement, it has certainly become mainstream – both in terms of the number of people that are vegetarians and the availability of vegetarian food readily. Obesity, rising healthcare costs, and increasing human population make a plant-based diet the way of the future.