This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the American Medical Athletic Association's Sports Medicine Symposium at the Boston Marathon. It was my second year in attendance, and while much of this year's talk centered around the anticipated near-record high temperatures, there was still a great representation of different areas of interest in endurance sports, for everyone from the beginning exerciser to the diehard athlete.
The opening talk was delivered by former Olympic rowing gold medalist and Cleveland Clinic general surgeon and scientist Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., on the topic "A Plant-Based Diet to Reverse Heart Disease." He was an energetic and captivating speaker, and he left quite an impression on the crowd of medical professional/marathoners - many of whom were snacking on conventional baked goods laden with butter and highly refined flour. His message is similar to my own: "unleash the capacity of your body to heal" through plant-based nutrition.
"Most coronary disease need never exist, and where it does exist, it need not progress."
- Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD
Dr. Esselstyn describes coronary artery disease as a "food-borne illness." The food culprit is the animal-based standard Western diet. Yes, the very same diet the audience was eating for breakfast. Dr. Esselstyn recommend avoidance of oil, fish, fowl, meat, dairy, and caffeinated coffee, all of which have been shown to injure the lining of your blood vessels (the endothelium), each and every time you ingest them. The injury allows plaque to form in your blood vessels, followed by plaque rupture and formation of thrombus, and eventually complete obstruction of the vessel causing heart attack or stroke. Powerful words! Dr. Esselstyn's recommendations are to include a variety of plant foods, including grains, legumes, lentils, vegetables, and fruit. These foods all contain little to no cholesterol and all produce nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, meaning it causes blood vessels to relax and widen, thereby increasing blood flow.
Many people are opposed to giving up their favorite foods. However, as argued by Dr. Esselstyn, dietary intervention is the only way to REVERSE coronary artery disease. The advantages of a plant-based diet are zero mortality, zero morbidity, and the benefits continue to improve with time. This is in sharp contrast to the current standard of care, which includes antihypertensive medications to lower blood pressure, statins to lower cholesterol, and stenting and coronary artery bypass to open/circumvent blocked arteries. These current therapies are wonderful temperizing measures, which treat the symptoms of coronary artery disease and decrease the immediate risk of heart attack, but do nothing to cure or prevent the disease process. Not to mention stents and coronary artery bypass surgery carry mortality rates of 1% and 2.5%, respectively, as well as significant morbidity due to ensuing strokes and heart attacks.
In 1985, Dr. Esselstyn initiated a study that treated seriously ill patients with coronary artery disease with plant-based nutrition and succeeded in the arrest and reversal of their disease, without medications or surgical intervention. He followed these patients for 20 years, publishing his results in his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. His findings include weight loss, normalization of blood pressure, and improvement or resolution of type 2 diabetes, angina, erectile dysfunction, and peripheral vascular and carotid disease. Remarkably, patient adherence lasted decades and the patients involved reported a sense of control in containing and reversing their disease.
If you have elevated cholesterol (defined as total cholesterol > 200), what can this approach do for you? In one case study presented by Dr. Esselstyn, a patient decreased his total cholesterol from 261 to 126 in only 10 days by adopting a plant-based diet. You have the power to make a change. What do you have to lose?
For more information, check out these sources:
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure (2008)
Esselstyn CB. "Is the Present Therapy for Coronary Artery Disease the Radical Mastectomy of the Twenty-First Century?" American Journal or Cardiology. September 15, 2010.
I'm a firm believer in the power of diet AND exercise for optimal health. Stay tuned for highlights from Pamela Peeke's "Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation!"