Cardiovascular Disease: How Plant Based Diets Can Help

I’m back! I took a much needed break from screens after finals and during the holidays. It was so nice to unplug and simply be present with friends and family. I am now into my third week of winter quarter and am feeling recharged and ready to fully commit to sharing with you up-to-date information regarding holistic wellness.

What better way to kick off my first blog post of the year than with an optimistic tale about something that we usually view as bleak? If you or someone you know has cardiovascular disease, understand that there is hope! There is a growing body of evidence dating back decades showing that plant based diets may play a significant role in the progression of the disease.

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Skeptical? I appreciate someone who questions information that their told. Well, let’s get into the evidence to support my claim.

I think that it is important to reiterate here that I am a medical student, not a licensed physician, so please do not take what I have to say here as medical advice. Please always consult with a licensed medical physician before you decide to make health and lifestyle changes in the context of appropriate medication prescriptions.

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Although we have research dating back decades to support that a high-carb, low-fat, whole-foods, plant based diet can reverse the progression of heart disease, I thought that I would bring up a more recent publication. In this paper, the researchers put 198 participants with multiple comorbidities like hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and diabetes on a plant based diet. The participants were instructed to consume plentiful amounts of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. They were also instructed to avoid consuming added oils, meat, dairy, avocado, nuts, excess salt, and sugary foods like fruit juices or refined carbohydrates. Exercise was encouraged, but not required of the participants.

So what happened?

There were 21 participants who did not adhere to the dietary protocol. 13 of these participants experienced at least one adverse event (sudden cardiac death, heart transplant, ischemic stroke, PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention) with stent placement, coronary artery bypass graftings, and endoarterectomy for peripheral artery disease). Yikes.

Of the 177 participants who adhere to the diet, 112 had initially presented with angina at the beginning of the study. At the end of the study, 104 (93%) experienced improvement or resolution of their symptoms! Significant improvements in arterial flow was observed in 39 participants such that the authors concluded their heart disease had been reversed. 27 participants who were originally recommended to have a stent put in or have a bypass no longer needed surgery. Without being told to limit their calories and without requiring exercise, adherent participants lost on average 18.7lbs.

There was only one major cardiovascular event (a stroke) related to disease progression in participants who maintained the dietary protocol. Just 1 out of 177! That is the power of pounding plants!

If that hasn’t convinced you, take a look at this…

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In these figures you can see imaging evidence that supports the notion that whole-food, plant based diet can help the vessels regain normal blood flow (Fig. 1) and normal configuration without the use of cholesterol lowering medication (Fig. 2). And in case you didn’t read the figure legends, it only took three weeks, yes, three weeks on the plant based diet to restore normal blood flow!

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What amazes me is that although there is research showing improved health outcomes and improvements in arterial flow with consumption of a plant based diet, it is often not our first line of treatment for patients suffering from cardiovascular disease along with their medications. Although we know the role diet plays in the progression of our number one killer in the United States, we are largely not teaching nutrition protocols to physicians across the country. Instead, doctors and patients alike are having to seek out and find this information for themselves.

How long will it take until plant based diets, which we know can prevent and improve outcomes associated with heart disease (as well as other chronic diseases) simply become one of our first line recommendations for patients? Shouldn’t we be operating under the assumption that we use the best available evidence to treat our patients until it is proven otherwise? Why are we still having a debate over how to best treat heart disease and why do we act like what we eat does not affect health?

I believe in empowering patients with information so that they can make their own informed decisions. I believe that it will be my duty as a physician to share the most up-to-date evidence regarding health outcomes with my future clients so that they can choose how they want to assimilate that new knowledge into their lifestyle. When we know better, we can do better, which is why I am so passionate about sharing valuable information, like this, with you, so that you can make you’re own informed choices about what to eat and how to live.

If you are curious to learn more about the power of a whole-food, plant based diet, check out my resources page for some of my favorite books and websites.

Disclaimer: I am a naturopathic medical student, not a licensed physician. The opinions expressed are my own, and do not reflect the opinions of the entire naturopathic doctor community. Nothing on my blog is intended to be taken as medical advice. Always consult a licensed physician before making any lifestyle or dietary changes.  

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