Heart Benefits of a Vegan Diet
In this Nutrition Bite, we share some heart benefits achieved from a plant-based diet: Namely, studies showing diet can help and sometimes even reverse heart disease.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart attacks aren’t the only form of heart disease (or cardiovascular disease). Heart disease affects not just the heart but the blood vessels and arteries as well. There are many types of heart disease. Heart disease is a general term used to describe dysfunction of the blood vessels in various parts of the body that lead to organ dysfunction.
The most common are:
- Atherosclerosis — the hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol
- Arrhythmia — abnormal heart rhythm
- Heart attack — when a clot blocks blood flow to the heart
- Heart valve problems — such as stenosis or prolapse
- Heart failure — when the heart isn’t pumping as much blood as it should
What Factors Contribute to Heart Disease?
Certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk dramatically. Smoking, type 2 diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor diet can all contribute to the development of heart problems. That last one is especially important.
What’s Being Done About Heart Disease?
While genetics are often emphasized as a major risk factor for heart disease, they’re only one possible piece of the puzzle. In fact, the most common heart disease-related gene called heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (basically inherited high cholesterol) only occurs in about one out of 250 people. But studies have shown that even in these cases, cardiovascular disease can still be prevented through simple lifestyle changes.
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and a 2012 study found just that. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that preventative measures relating to heart disease were more cost-effective than treatments, especially when it came to high blood pressure. However, we still have a long way to go.
Heart disease drugs are prescribed more often than dietary changes. In 2018, the global cardiovascular drug market was worth over $47 billion, and is expected to reach nearly $64 billion by 2026. And according to the CDC Foundation, at least one out of every six healthcare dollars spent in the United States is spent on cardiovascular disease. In fact, in the next generation, the costs of heart disease are expected to increase to $749 billion per year. That’s nearly half the GDP of the entire country of Canada.
Any way you slice it, that’s a LOT of money being spent on something that could be remedied simply by changing our diets and making other lifestyle changes.
Why Diet Matters a Great Deal for Heart Health
A growing and, frankly, overwhelming body of evidence now tells us that diet can be absolutely critical to preventing and even reversing heart disease. And not just any diet. Studies by some of our Food Revolution Summit speakers including Dean Ornish, MD, Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., MD, and Joel Fuhrman, MD, have shown dramatic results.
These and other studies have shown how eating a plant-based diet, often combined with regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle, can reduce cardiovascular disease:
- Dr. Ornish’s 1990 Lifestyle Heart Trial saw an 82% reduction in coronary atherosclerosis after only one year on a plant-based diet, without the use of statins or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Similarly, Dr. Esselstyn conducted a study at Cleveland Clinic, beginning in 1985. Of the 22 patients in the original study, all of whom suffered from severe heart disease, 17 stuck to the diet and stopped the progression of disease, and four experienced a complete reversal.
- And last year, Dr. Fuhrman published a study which found that when participants ate his “Nutritarian” diet, they experienced weight loss, reduction in blood pressure, and lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels and triglycerides.
What’s the Best Diet for Heart Health?
Many people are confused by all the different dietary advice we hear about. But here’s the truth: Leading nutritional experts are in general agreement about the most heart-healthy diet for humans. We now have an overwhelming body of data that makes it pretty clear.
The optimal diet for heart health is one that is low in animal products (and especially processed meats), low in sugar and processed foods, and high in vegetables and other whole plant foods.
This Way of Eating Is Also Best for Preventing Other Diseases
It turns out this same diet is also generally best for preventing cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and many of the other major health ailments of our times. In fact, in 2017, medical researchers conducted a meta-analysis study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
They found that an estimated six to nine million premature deaths (including heart disease and cancer) worldwide in 2013 may have been associated with low fruit and vegetable intake. Millions of lives (and billions of dollars) could be saved every year if we all just ate more plants. I’d call that a win-win!
The above article is taken from Food Revolution Network’s new book, “Heart Food: 15 Superfoods Your Heart Will Love”.
To read more, including how heart disease affected our friend Ocean Robbin’s directly and to…