Tag Archives: Heart disease

Heart Disease – No. 1 cause of death

Artery scanning

Dr Chan Hwang scans the carotid artery of a Vegfest attendee.

Heart disease is still the number one cause of death for both men and women. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. A plant-based diet can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 40%. If you wish your doctor knew about this, we want you to know that we do too! That’s why we wrote a letter to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. They published an Expert Consensus Decision Pathway on the role of non-statin therapies for lowering LDL Cholesterol, but they “forgot” to include the plant-based diet!  We told them about their omission, and we published it as an open letter, complete with references to all the latest research on the topic. Read more

Plant-based diet lowers risk of severe COVID-19

Coronavirus ward - low res

Based on preliminary U.S. data, persons with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease, have a higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease than persons without these conditions. For instance, in New York 86% of all deaths so far have been among people who had underlying illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease, new state data shows.

This is where following a plant-based diet can offer a big advantage. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes by 78% and is over twice as effective in treating type 2 diabetes as the leading drug, metformin. Meanwhile a plant based diet can lower the risk of heart disease by 40% and relieves the pain of angina 91%. Those following a plant based diet have a 75% reduced risk of chronic kidney disease and can avoid needing dialysis.

By having lower risks of these diseases, people can expect a lower risk of severe COVID 19.

Nuts are powerful

nuts-mixedNuts are powerful for our health. The evidence is in and there’s a lot of it. Nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, can reduce the risk of death from diabetes by 40 percent, cut heart disease by 30 percent, and reduce the risk of cancer by 15 percent. They also lower the risk of high blood pressure and gall stones, and can even lower cholesterol and triglycerides.  Even more good news – it only takes a handful or two of nuts two or three times a week to gain these benefits. Read more

Fish Oil and Wishful Thinking

Fish Oil pillsThe waste of money on the false notion that fish oil helps prevent heart disease is staggering. Americans spend $1.2 billion dollars on the stuff despite all the evidence that it does no good. An amazing 10% of Americans use fish oil supplements in the hopes of warding off heart disease, among other things.

We’ll give it to you straight though in doctor speak: “accrual of high-level evidence” indicates “that the supplements lack efficacy across a range of health outcomes for which their use is advocated.”  In plain English the stuff just doesn’t work as hyped. Commenting on the latest study published in Internal Medicine, former American Heart Association president, Robert Eckel, said “Almost all studies of fish oil supplements show no benefit.” Read more

Cardiologist: Put us out of business, by going vegan!

Cardiologist Ken WilliamsDr 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.

He said his enthusiasm for plant-based diets was also based on the medical literature. He cited observational studies of tens of thousands of people, that found that people following vegetarian diets lived longer than meat eaters and had lower rates of death from heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. And he pointed to research carried out by Dr. Dean Ornish, the pioneering cardiologist, who found that patients, who were put on a program that included a vegetarian diet, reversed the coronary plaque build up in their arteries and had fewer heart attacks.

Wanting to apply his research and own experience, he says that he “has made a habit of telling patients who are obese and plagued by metabolic problems like Type 2 diabetes to try eating… less meat. I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol and so I recommend it in all those conditions.”  And, he even likes to discuss some of his favorite vegan foods with his patients as well. He says that one of his favorites is “an Italian sausage that is hard to distinguish from real meat until you check your blood pressure. I encourage patients to go to the grocery store and sample different plant-based versions of many of the basic foods they eat. For me, some of the items, such as chicken and egg substitutes, were actually better-tasting.”

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, “We tend to think of advances in medicine as a new drug, laser, or surgical device, something high-tech and expensive. Yet, the simple choices we make in what we eat and how we live have a powerful influence on our health and well-being.” The most influential trend in medicine today, growing exponentially, is the emerging field of what is known as “lifestyle medicine” – lifestyle as treatment, not just prevention.

Besides Williams and Ornish, other leading cardiologists have been putting patients on a vegan diet, advocating what amounts to vegetarian nutritional medicine as well. For instance, the Editor in Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, Dr. William C. Roberts, also proclaimed the vegan diet as best for heart health.

But, don’t feel too bad about putting your doctor out of business. There will still be a few diseases for him to handle. It’s just that now he’s going to have plenty of time in his schedule for recreation! For more information on how a plant-based diet leads the way to a healthy heart see our postings on Spring Clean Your Heart, and Interview with a Cardiologist.

Please note that any changes to diet should only be made in consultation with a medical doctor.

Spring Clean your Heart

Three heartsSunday is Valentine’s Day, and so, naturally, many people will be concerned with affairs of the heart. But did you know that February is also Heart Health month? And while it’s not quite spring yet, many people will be starting their spring cleaning early by cleaning out the clogged arteries that lead to heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes and dementia, just to name a few.

Heart disease is a major problem. Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack from clogged arteries, and for a significant portion of those victims their first heart attack will be fatal. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women. Even 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. Read more

FDA Bans Trans Fats – Good News, or is it?

Trans Fat labelThe FDA has just taken a small step for our health by proposing to ban added trans fats in the American food supply, citing its role in increasing cholesterol levels, which leads to the clogged arteries that cause heart disease and most strokes. Trans fats, also termed partially hydrogenated fats and oils, have been used to extend the shelf life of various food products, among other uses.

In fact consumption was already way down. While average consumption of added trans fats was almost 5 grams a day in 2003, it had already dropped down to less than 1 gram in 2012. Estimates are that as many as 20,000 lives may be saved by this move – a good thing.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that many manufacturers are replacing trans fats with artery-clogging, saturated animal fats which are not much better. Saturated animal fats are powerful when it comes to raising cholesterol levels. They also lead to decreasing insulin sensitivity which fuels Type II diabetes. When we consider that heart disease is still the leading cause of death, that stroke is 3rd leading cause, and that diabetes rates are soaring, this latest move by the FDA is really only a baby step in the right direction.

Also, the FDA ban does nothing to address the trans fats naturally occurring in both meat and dairy. Recent studies show these trans fats to be even worse than the artificial trans fats currently added to so many different products. What’s really needed to make a big difference in the health of our nation is a ban or limit on animal fats, which are all high in saturated fat. 

Percentage of Saturated Fat in Various Foods

Animal Fats

Saturated Fat as % of Total Fat

  Plant Oils Saturated Fat as % of Total Fat
Butter

68%

  Olive oil

13%

Beef fat (tallow)

50%

  Corn oil

13%

Pork fat (lard)

33%

  Sunflower oil

10%

Chicken fat

30%

  Safflower oil

9%

 

 

  Canola oil

7%

Animal fats, both saturated and unsaturated, are not only the prime culprits behind heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but they contain highly concentrated levels of pesticides and industrial toxins such as PCB’s and dioxin, which promote several different kinds of cancer. All these diseases kill way more people than just the 20,000 people saved by the latest ban.

It’s time for the FDA to finally step up to the plate and actually ban or limit animal fats, or at least put a warning label on the package. One of the reasons they hesitate to do so, presumably, is because so many people eat them. Yet when cigarette smoking levels were very high, the Surgeon General had the courage to state that smoking causes cancer and to put warning labels on the package. Indeed, the front cover of the current issue of Good Medicine magazine, published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington DC, states that “Meat is the New Tobacco”.

Making Health Insurance Reform Work

First Congress voted, and now the Supreme Court has spoken, so, as of this writing, a massive overhaul of the health system seems likely. The questions on many people’s minds at this point are: How are we going to pay for it all? and will there be enough medical staff and facilities to go around? The entire debate about health care is driven by the fact that Americans need so much care. Collectively we are sicker than we have ever been. When you think about it, what we really need the most to make things work is a healthier country. This is where helping the country to move towards a vegetarian diet can make a big difference, perhaps the crucial difference between success and failure.

The three leading causes of death in America are heart disease, cancer and stroke – mostly diet-related diseases which can be largely prevented, and often even reversed, by following a healthy vegetarian diet. Adding to the stress on the healthcare system are leading diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure – two of the most common diseases in America– and both of these can also be largely prevented and reversed through a healthy vegetarian diet. Diabetes and pre-diabetes are thought to affect as many as 80 million Americans, and high blood pressure another 75 million people.

As patients line up at pharmacy counters, doctors offices, and hospital registration desks, the cash registers ring up the costs of these diseases—well into the hundreds of billions every year. The money savings potential in moving the country towards a vegetarian diet is profound. For instance, a Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company showed that for every $1 spent in helping heart patients to switch over to a vegetarian diet, $5.55 was saved in treatment. One study found that over 90% of diabetics were able to discontinue or reduce their medication in only six months after adopting a healthy vegetarian diet.  Plant-food rich vegetarian diets have been shown to drastically reduce the incidence of diseases such as stroke and hypertension, and even several forms of cancer such as colon and prostate cancer.  But even less dramatic but still costly medical expenses would be saved. For instance, every year the meat-centered low-fiber standard diet, and the all-too-common constipation it causes, results in Americans to spend nearly 800 million dollars on laxatives every year. Yet the fiber-rich plant-powered diet would largely save us both the discomfort and the expense.

With all this in mind, you’d think that the government would do everything it could to financially support farmers who grow healthier food, but such is not the case. Sadly, every administration, both Democrat and Republican in recent decades, has been caught up in a system that not only tolerates ill health, but encourages it. For instance, only 3% of farm subsidies go towards healthy plant foods while the other 97% goes to animal products and highly refined and junk food. With this kind of policy, the government promotes an environment that encourages the very diseases for which it now needs to insure against. How much simpler it would be to promote a healthier diet, and save us all the money of so much “disease care,” and in so doing, provide the American people with what we really need, true health care.

While still controversial for some, most Americans feel we need some kind of insurance reform. But even more, we need better health. And that should be front and center in any emerging plan. While financial fixes have their place, and while new technologies can make a significant contribution, the country has largely blinded itself to the simple yet powerful potential of the vegetarian diet. Far from a bitter pill to swallow, a delicious vegetarian diet may just be the miracle drug of the 21st century.

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.

Beyond Pink Slime

Oh yuk! There’s something called pink slime in hamburgers and we’re feeding it to our kids at school! In response to a large number of grossed out parents and the general public at large, a growing number school districts, restaurants and grocery stores are rapidly removing hamburgers and ground beef which contain pink slime from their offerings. Pink slime is the common term used to describe cuttings and scrapings of meat often taken from the less appetizing parts of the cow and then treated with the harsh chemical ammonium hydroxide to kill the bacteria it usually contains.

While we have no problem with removing pink slime from the burgers, there are much more serious problems with the common hamburger that can’t be so easily fixed, and which harm us much more than just making us hold our noses and saying yuk. Ultimately there is no such thing as safe meat. Meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, not to mention E. Coli and other pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. Let’s take a look at some of them and ask ourselves why, given the problems they cause, we still have hamburgers on the menus at all.

Topping our list are artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol that are found in hamburgers in plentiful amounts. While fat and cholesterol may not sound as objectionable as pink slime, the damage they cause is much worse. It turns out that saturated fat and cholesterol are the culprits behind clogged arteries which in the heart can cause heart attacks, and in the brain can cause strokes. These two diseases are the number one and number three causes of death in America.

Next on our list of burger problems are antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics.

Antibiotics have been haled as the miracle drugs of the 20th century, but they are now under threat. Doctors are frustrated by rising numbers of infections resistant to their arsenal of antibiotics. When these medicines don’t work, patients suffer or even die, and our nation’s health tab also ratchets upward.  Doctors worry that the day may soon come when their prescriptions will no longer work, and we will go back to the old days when infections were rampant and people died from them. 

Rounding out our list are toxic and cancer causing chemicals. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of toxic chemicals out there that are the most worrisome: those that were deliberately applied in agriculture, industrial chemicals discharged as pollutants, and chemicals directly applied to food or which emerge during its cooking and processing.  When agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are applied to crops, or industrial pollutants such as PCBs, dioxins and mercury contaminate the air and water, they wind up being consumed by the farm animals. Other toxic chemicals such as heterocyclic amines or HCA’s are formed when the meat is cooked. Many of these toxic chemicals have been shown to cause serious health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer.

The problem is that the farm animals (and fish which consume polluted algae) store these chemicals in their bodies, especially in the fatty portions, in a process known as bioaccumulation. Day after day, and year after year, the levels of these chemicals build until the animal is finally killed for food. When we eat the animal, we get much of the toxic chemicals they have been storing.

What about the toxic chemicals on the crops themselves, that vegetarians eat directly, you may ask? This is a legitimate concern. However meat often has levels of toxic chemicals 10 times higher than in plant foods, as a result of the animals storing and concentrating them day after day. In fact, most Americans get 90% of their toxic exposure through meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. 

Just how serious is the problem of toxic chemicals in meat?  According to Oxford University Physician Paula Baillie Hamilton, “We are one of the most polluted species on the planet. Indeed, we are all so contaminated that if we were cannibals our meat would be banned from human consumption.” No wonder cancer has become so much more common in recent times.

 Here in the US, Neal Barnard MD, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, sums up the overall problem with meat when he says, “Whether it’s pink slime or organic and grass-fed beef, it all leads to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses.” The pink slime victory shows just how powerful consumers can be when they come together to fight an unsafe product. But it’s hardly the end of the battle. It’s time to face up to the consequences of our meaty diets and move to more healthful ways of eating.

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