Tag Archives: Heart disease

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.

Consumer Reports Fails to Give Life-saving Information

Maybe we were just naïve, but when we saw that Consumer Reports magazine was focusing this month’s cover story on “Protecting Your Heart”,  we thought that there would a major emphasis on healthy vegetarian diets, or at the very least prominent mention of this life-saving solution. Alas, there wasn’t a word. Consumer Reports positions itself as a rater of all things that people across the county need or want to know more about.  Given its glaring omission, we thought it just might be high time we gave our rating of this rater.

To be fair, there are a few good points in the article.  They do stress that lifestyle changes are the best prevention, and they do emphasize that some procedures such as angioplasties are not effective in preventing heart attacks, under most circumstances, as a front line treatment. They also point out that “people tend to view a heart doctor as some sort of action hero, and think that the more aggressive, the better.”

However, large-scale studies such as the Framingham Heart Study or The China Study, and the interventional studies such those conducted on heart patients by doctors including Dean Ornish, John McDougall and Caldwell Esselstyn, have clearly shown the significant benefits of a healthy vegetarian diet. The new movie, Forks Over Knives, which emphasizes these benefits, has created quite a stir, and there’s been much talk in the media about the great results former president Bill Clinton has achieved in treating his heart disease on a veg diet. So there really is no excuse for their failure to mention the importance of a vegetarian diet, and we can only give Consumer Reports a failing grade for choosing not to give their readers this lifesaving message. How did Consumer Reports miss the study showing that a veg diet was as powerful at lowering cholesterol as the American Heart Association diet and a statin drug combined? How did Consumer Reports miss the insurance industry study showing that for every dollar spent on switching patients over to a veg-diet centered heart disease program, $5.55 were saved in treatment costs? A healthy vegetarian diet, and especially a healthy vegan diet, is the most powerful tool to protect your heart, and in most cases, may even be the most powerful tool to heal your heart once disease has already set in. 

The article quotes Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, lamenting the failure of most doctors to act on so much of the medical research when it comes to heart disease. He says “It may take years for evidence to trickle down to private practice.” It seems that the same is true of many mass market magazines, such as Consumer Reports.

Recent Entries »