Let food be thy heart disease medicine

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

Written by Sophia Marchese.

“A heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet is a lung-healthy diet." -Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., FACLM

Common dialog communicates how to live with heart disease opposed to acting offensively in attempt to prevent or reverse it.

When it comes to treating heart disease—or any disease, for that matter—it’s most standard to encounter the promotion of drugs and intensive medical procedures.

The causation of heart disease isn’t typically removed throughout standard medical treatments, and patients can continue to experience progressive conditions which often lead to premature death (Fuhrman, 2010).

Yikes, am I right? So why is it standard to FIX disease instead of PREVENT it all together?

Foodborne Illnesses

The problem is that heart disease, like many other leading chronic diseases, is not commonly communicated as a foodborne illness. Meaning that what we EAT matters, yet the norm is to focus on what we can do to rid of the disease once its already marked its territory.

As Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (a true pioneer of plant-based nutrition) has said, the United States has created a “shameful national embarrassment” for itself by constructing a “billion-dollar cardiac healthcare industry surrounding an illness that does not even exist in more than half of the planet” (2017). The reason that cardiovascular disease, and many other chronic illnesses, exists more commonly in America runs parallel with the standard unsustainable diet consisting of animal products.


Heart disease is caused by an inflammatory reaction that takes place when LDLs (low-density lipoproteins), or “bad cholesterol” from the blood squeeze through the lining of our arteries and begin to oxidize. This process triggers inflammation, the body’s natural defense mechanism, which effects endothelium cells that live closest to the bloodstream (Libby, 2008).

But what about the old “clogged arteries lead to a heart attack” diagnosis?

It turns out that this is an outdated analysis, and that LDLs directly linked to the standard American diet lead to damaged endothelium that contribute to the development of atherosclerotic deposits inside the lining of vessel walls (Esselstyn et al., 2014).

Wow. Lots of information to process… So let’s just think of it more as a CHAIN REACTION that comes from eating animal products.

Deposits DO grow, but they rarely grow so large that they close off an affected passageway.

Instead, the less obtrusive deposits can rupture, which trigger blood clots that stop blood flow, and can ultimately lead to a stroke or heart attack (Libby, 2008).

Without the inflammatory reaction to affected endothelium, arterial walls would remain unharmed and no atherosclerotic deposits would accumulate (Mercola, 2017).

But wait. Isn’t inflammation supposed to be a bodily reaction that’s simply trying to help us heal?

Yes, and no. Whereas inflammation is typically helpful, many people suffer from its drawbacks—such as its ability to facilitate chronic diseases—due to lifestyle choices.

And studies have repetitively shown that diets containing animal products initiate endothelial injury (Esselstyn et al., 2014). In fact, demonstrations have shown endothelial damage in young persons within hours of eating meat, dairy and eggs (Esselstyn, 2000).

What we eat matters

Renowned physicians such as Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish have participated in comprehensive, peer-reviewed research proving a diet dominated by animal products promotes the pandemic of heart disease.

In proving nutrition as a leading cause of disease growth as well as prevention, their studies have inspired further medical attention on the matter. The China Study, conducted by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, is regarded as the most comprehensive study of nutrition to date; and it affirms connections between nutrition and not only heart disease, but also cancer and diabetes. “More people die because of the way they eat than by tobacco use, accidents or any other lifestyle or environmental factor” (Campbell, T. C., & Campbell T. M., 2006).

Plant-based nutrition

Lifestyle medicine forerunners like Ornish have demonstrated that proper diet has the ability to reverse some of the world’s leading diseases, such as coronary heart disease (Greger et al., 2015).

In the American Journal of Cardiology, Ornish (2009) writes about the “growing convergence of scientific evidence that an optimal diet is mostly plant based, consisting predominantly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products.” Combined with nuts and fiber, a plant-based diet reduces LDLs by 25 to 35 percent. He reports these numbers comparable to what statin drugs achieve, but without risky side effects and the billions of dollars spent.

“A heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet is a lung-healthy diet." -Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., FACLM

Plants, plants and more plants

An overwhelming balance of evidence suggests that the healthiest diet—and most beneficial for preventing and treating a variety of diseases—is one centered around unprocessed plant foods (Greger et al., 2015).

Miraculous medical cases, such as that of Frances Greger, have demonstrated firsthand how a plant-based diet can reverse disease. Greger was given her “medical death sentence at age sixty-five” and could no longer walk from the effects of heart disease (Carney, 2013).

After switching to a whole food, plant-based diet, she completely transformed her diagnosis. Not only was she able to walk again, but she lived and THRIVED for another 29 years.

The bottom line

Unlike the millions of different types of prescription drugs, there is only one diet that can help prevent or reverse chronic disease. “A heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet is a lung-healthy diet” (Greger et al., 2015).

And talk about the ALL-IN-ONE package:

Plant-based diets are not only healthier than diets containing animal products, but they are more sustainable and have fewer environmental effects (Hunnes, n.d.).

So…Time to VEG OUT, y’all.


Campbell, T. C., & Campbell T. M. (2006). The China study: The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

Carney, L. (2013, December 6). Nathan Pritikin shows heart disease is reversible. Retrieved from https://www.drcarney.com/blog/entry/nathan-pritikin-shows-heart-disease-is-reversible

Esselstyn, C. B. (2000, September 2). Plant-based nutrition – Dr. Esselstyn’s prevent & reverse heart disease program. Retrieved from http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/plant-based-nutrition/

Esselstyn, C. B. (2017). A plant-based diet and coronary artery disease: A mandate for effective therapy. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, 14(5), 317–320. http://doi.org/10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.004

Esselstyn, C. B., & Golubic, M. (2014). The nutritional reversal of cardiovascular disease – Fact or fiction? Three case reports. Experimental & Clinical Cardiology, 20(7), 1901-1908. http://www.dresselstyn.com/Esselstyn_Three-case-reports_Exp-Clin-Cardiol-July-2014.pdf

Fuhrman, J. (2017, October 26). Heart disease is preventable and reversible through nutritional intervention. Retrieved from https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/eat-to-live-blog/87/heart-disease-is-preventable-and-reversible-through-nutritional-intervention

Greger, M., & Stone G. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. New York, NY: Flatiron Books.

Hunnes, D. (n.d.). The case for plant-based. UCLA Sustainability. Retrieved from https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/our-initiatives/food-systems/the-case-for-plant-based/

Libby, P. (2008, November 10). Atherosclerosis: The new view. Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atherosclerosis-the-new-view/

Mercola, J. M. (2017, September 13). Cholesterol Isn't the Problem in Heart Disease; This Is. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/09/13/inflammation-linked-to-cardiac-disease.aspx

Ornish, D. (2009). Mostly plants. The American Journal of Cardiology, 104(7), 957-958. https://homertgen.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/dean-ornish-mostly-plants.pdf

#hearthealth #heartdisease #foodborneillness #plantbased #plantbaseddiet #cardiovasculardisease

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