Heart disease is one of the most prevalent and destructive diseases in our modern world. Everyone knows someone – or perhaps you yourself – who suffers from heart disease. Medical innovations such as stents and bypass surgery provide some relief from the heaviest symptoms, but the medical community has grown increasingly frustrated at not being fully able to understand how to prevent heart disease in the first place.
The plant-based solution to heart disease
A growing body of evidence is showing that there are ways to prevent and reverse heart disease, predominantly through nutritional approaches that emphasize plant-based foods. At the forefront of this approach are people like Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish.
In Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Dr. Esselstyn describes that his mission really started when he discovered that there were populations around the world where cholesterol levels were generally low and heart disease was not generally present. The threshold of cholesterol is around 150 mg/dL (lower than that being a good level, whereas being above that level is considered not so good). The key, then, to preventing and reversing heart disease is to find a way to control the cholesterol level.
It appears that populations with a larger intake of plant-based foods and low intake of animal-based foods have less heart disease and are more likely to remain below the 150 mg/dL cholesterol level. Important to note is that cholesterol is found in animal-based food, not on plant-based food.
Dr. Esselstyn´s study
Dr. Esselstyn wanted to put the plant-based approach to the test with 24 patients with advanced heart disease. The program ended up having 18 patients (6 dropped out early) with a combined 49 cardiac events before entering the program. Their average cholesterol levels were a staggering 246 mg/dL.
The program itself was aimed at eliminating animal-based products and processed foods like oil. Thus, the emphasis was on wholesome, plant-based foods. So what happened to the participants?
A summary of the outcome at the five-year mark:
- The average cholesterol levels were 137 mg/dL
- No further progression of heart disease was noted
- 7 participants showed a modest but rare reversal of heart disease
- 1 participant fully reversed their heart disease!
These stats are significant, especially compared to the 6 people who decided to drop out of the program early. They all continued suffering from several cardiac events.
The conclusion of the study is that heart disease can be prevented and in some cases even reversed by following an oil-free, plant-based diet, as this dietary approach tends to bring cholesterol levels down to the safe threshold (below 150 mg/dL).
Though this was a small study, it was a unique one in terms of duration and the fact that it was a plant-based study. Its implications for the medical research world are tremendous and it has invited a lot of related studies into the relationship between food and health.