Heart Disease Kills One Out of Every Three People. The statistics are distressing. Heart disease is our nation's leading cause of death for both men and women. Dr. Joel Fuhrman reports, "More than 1.5 million people will have a heart attack this year, with about 1 million deaths as a direct consequence of heart attacks. That comes to one death every 40 seconds." Eighty-one million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease killing one out of every three people or 831,000 each year. Chances are, several of your friends or family members have died from heart disease. Who will be next?
Heart Disease is a Silent Killer
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is the primary cause of hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. The gradual clogging, hardening, inflammation and damage of the interior walls goes by unnoticed for many years until symptoms develop. This is why heart disease is often referred to as the silent killer. A major heart attack may be a patient's first sign of heart disease - 64% of women and 50% of men had no previous symptoms. Over 30% of these (first heart attacks) are fatal, making the first symptom of heart disease the last.
Everyone has Heart Disease - Even When Some Test Results are Considered "Normal"
Dietary induced illnesses such as heart disease were seen long ago in affluent classes such as aristocrats/royalty like kings and queens. Yet today, nearly everyone eats like royalty three or more times a day. The majority of calories consumed by Americans come from rich heavily processed/refined foods and high-fat animal products. Calories from whole plant foods are minimal. Quite frankly, this is why heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
The bad news is that anyone who has ever eaten the standard American diet has heart disease to some degree; the diseased arteries just haven't progressed to the point of being detected yet. Although you may be asymptomatic, if you are in your 30's or 40's you most likely have advanced heart disease. Vessel damage and plaque buildup starts many years before it can be detected with current testing methods. The image to the right illustrates this point. By the time symptoms are felt, arteries may be blocked 75% or more. Many diagnostic tools aren't an accurate means of assessing your risk for heart disease because they don't detect artery blockage until the blockage is quite significant. (The heart treadmill test is one example.) Dr. Fuhrman says that "Stress testing only identifies blockages that obstruct greater than eighty-five percent of the vessel lumen. A normal stress test is meaningless and does not mean you do not have significant heart disease or won't shortly have a heart attack. Individuals without major blockages of their great vessels, with only 30 to 50 percent stenosis (narrowing), are even more likely to develop a fatal cardiac event, (compared to those with more significant blockages) yet these individuals are not even shown to have heart disease with a stress test or angiography."
Additionally, "Being told that you have 'normal' cholesterol can be misleading. Over 50% of all heart attack and stroke patients have 'normal' cholesterol." If your total cholesterol falls within the "normal" range of 150-200, you may still be at risk for suffering a fatal heart attack. The majority of heart attacks occur in patients whose cholesterol is within "the normal range" of 150-200. In order to be truly protected, we should strive to maintain a total cholesterol level below 150. This can be achieved by using a whole-food, plant-based diet. In fact, studies show that nutritional intervention alone can reduce cholesterol levels more than a pharmacological approach. Heart disease is very rare or non-existent in those with cholesterol levels below 150. Unfortunately, only 10% of Americans have cholesterol levels below 150.
Atherosclerosis and Heart Disease Begins in Childhood - as Young as 3 Years of Age
Atherosclerosis results in poor circulation to the extremities, the brain and other organs and is the primary cause of hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. It is a disease caused by years of eating the rich Western diet. Arteries coated in plaque are inflexible and cannot relax and dilate. Fatty plaque deposits accumulate and coat the inside of the blood vessel walls beginning in early childhood. These fatty cholesterol streaks can be seen in autopsies performed on children as young as 3 years of age. By age 10 nearly 100% of children have atherosclerotic plaque formations. Similarly, autopsies performed on Korean War casualties revealed that over 77% of the hearts examined had gross evidence of arteriosclerosis. The average age of the men examined was 22 years. Some vessels were clogged 90% or more. These atherosclerotic plaques will continue to form, resulting in serious coronary artery disease by age 30-40.
The Majority of Heart Attacks Occur During the Holiday Season
The effects from eating poorly, even temporarily, have adverse and immediate consequences on our health. Those with heart disease are especially at risk. However, as mentioned above, anyone who has ever eaten the typical American diet is at risk of suffering a fatal heart attack, especially during the holiday season. For many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a month-and-a-half long feast on rich, disease-promoting foods that produce momentary pleasure, yet life-long disability.
A Single High-Fat Holiday Meal can Provoke a Cardiac Event
Dr. Joel Fuhrman emphasizes that "A SINGLE unhealthful holiday meal inflicts damage on the cardiovascular system, can be extremely hazardous, and contributes to atherosclerotic plaque development. In susceptible individuals it may even provoke a cardiac event." A single holiday meal can consist of thousands of calories, particularly coming from high-fat, high-calorie foods such as meat, cheese, sugars and oils. Highly-palatable foods can trigger addictive drives that launch many into a month-long eating binge. Dr. Fuhrman explains this in more detail here.
A Single High-Fat Meal Turns Our Blood Fatty
visibly thick and greasy after consuming a meal high in saturated animal fat. Optimal health depends on optimal blood flow. Turning our blood fatty has serious consequences. Those consuming a typical animal-based diet keep their blood fatty all day long, day after day, year after year. Nutrients and oxygen levels are then reduced, and our cells starve. As a result, heart disease develops after many years of consuming high-fat meals. Removing both animal products and refined vegetable oils from the diet lowers circulating fats and cholesterol levels so that vital nutrients and oxygen can be restored.Normal blood plasma resembles a clear, yellowish liquid. However, Dr. Michael Klaper's video clip demonstrates how blood plasma becomes
A Single High-Fat Meal Causes our Blood to "Sludge"
Click here to watch Dr. John McDougall's video on how blood flow is severely impaired after consuming a single high-fat meal. (A better quality video clip of this same experiment can be seen here.) Due to their negative charge, blood cells have the natural ability to repel and bounce off of each other within the vessel walls before a high-fat meal. This keeps the blood flowing freely. Yet approximately one hour after consuming a high-fat meal, fats from the gut enter the blood stream and coat the cells, preventing the cells from repelling one another. As they come into contact with one another, they become sticky, making them clump together resulting in "sludging of the blood." The clumped blood moves very slowly, promoting the formation of clots. Six hours following a high-fat meal, as the clumping formation progresses, the sludging can "become so severe that the flow of blood stops entirely, [especially in many smaller vessels] and the overall oxygen content of the blood falls. Tissues deprived of nutrients and oxygen for even short periods of time will die."
Significant blood flow reduction can also be seen in the blood vessels of the human eye. Before and after photos were taken after subjects were fed a high-fat meal (67%) typical of what most Americans would consume for breakfast. (Two eggs, 4 strips of bacon, bread with 2 pats of butter, and a glass of milk).
In order to compensate for the sludging of blood, blood pressure rises. This can rupture the small vulnerable plaques lining the inside of the arteries (discussed below) resulting in a blood clot, which could cause a stroke or heart attack. The oxygen content of the blood also decreases, which can trigger chest pain (angina), fatigue, and impaired brain function.
Because it can take 10-12 hours for the clumps to break up for normal circulation to return, fat may not have cleared before the next high-fat meal is consumed. Therefore, those who consume saturated animal fats and cholesterol at every meal keep their blood "thick" and in a constant state of "sludging." Popular low-carb, high-protein diets like Atkins, and Paleo reduce blood flow to the heart by 40% whereas blood flow improves by more than 40% in those that consume a low-saturated fat diet. A demonstration of this can be seen here. In fact, researchers at Harvard recently looked at one hundred thousand people and concluded that low carb diets were "associated with higher all-cause mortality, higher cardiovascular disease mortality, and higher cancer mortality."
According to Dr. McDougall, "Animal (saturated) fats are the strongest promoters of blood clotting that we contact daily. The day you stop eating animal fats is the day your blood 'thins' out. Additionally, animal fats increase the production of prostaglandin hormones that cause the blood vessels to constrict which may slow the flow of blood and increase the chance of the blood clotting."
How do the Majority of Heart Attacks Occur?
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of heart attacks do not occur in the narrowed blockages in the arteries of the heart. Coronary arteries with significant blockages account for only a small percentage (approximately 10%) of heart attacks. This plaque has had time to solidify, and is more stable than the newly formed plaques. Furthermore, the more stable and solid blockages have had many years to form. As a result, "collateral" vessels have had time to grow, which branch off of the main arteries, providing necessary blood flow to that particular area of the heart muscle.
The greatest percentage of heart attacks (80-90%) occur when newly formed plaques on the inside of our arteries, rupture; causing a clot to form, blocking the flow of blood. The human body contains 60,000-100,000 miles of blood vessels; all of which contain these newly formed, highly unstable, volatile plaques. Anyone eating the standard American diet has these unstable plaques throughout their entire vascular system. The cap (outermost covering) of these plaques can easily rupture when eating the typical American diet. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., explains in this short video clip how the force of the blood pumping with each heartbeat can easily tear the cap from these fragile plaques, causing them to rupture and form a fatal clot. This short animated video clip gives us a glimpse of what it looks like from the inside of a blood vessel as the rupture occurs.
When plaque begins to develop on the inside walls of the blood vessels, the walls are pushed outward. This maintains the lumen (inner open space) and normal blood flow. Because these plaques don't obstruct the inner opening, they are not visible and cannot be detected using diagnostic tools such as angiography or stress tests. Dr. Joel Fuhrman says that these plaques are the most vulnerable and very lethal. Dr. John McDougall adds that the reason why surgeons operate on the larger heart vessels is because "they can." The reason why they don't operate on the smaller, undetected plaques is because "they can't." They cannot operate on unseen, smaller, undetected plaques that have accumulated on the inside of the thousands of miles of blood vessels throughout the entire body. This is the main reason why bypass surgery and stents do not save lives or prevent future cardiac events. The majority of the disease is still left untreated.
How to Heart-Attack Proof Yourself in 3-4 Weeks
manage the symptoms of vascular disease without treating the illness. Since drugs and procedures don't address the cause of the illness, thousands of miles of inflamed arteries burdened with atherosclerotic plaque continue to worsen. Both the newly formed plaques as well as the older more stable plaques can cease to be a problem if aggressive dietary and lifestyle measures are followed precisely. Dr. Esselstyn says that we can "heart attack proof" ourselves within three-four weeks when we prevent the caps covering the newly formed plaques from rupturing. Many patients have experienced significant improvement with their angina (chest pain) within as little as ten days. Visit Dr. Esselstyn's website or view his entire lecture on heart disease here and here. If you are serious about reversing your heart disease using dietary intervention, watching the powerful Forks Over Knives documentary is a good place to start. Click here to find a qualified doctor near you. For more information regarding how angioplasty and bypass procedures are not effective, click here.Atherosclerosis is a dietary-induced disease; it can be stopped and even reversed whereas drugs and surgical procedures attempt to
What are Endothelial Cells and why are they Important?
The innermost portion of our entire vascular system is lined with a single-cell thick layer of endothelial cells. These cells play a critical role in maintaining the health of our entire circulatory system starting from the heart all the way down to the smallest of all capillaries. Endothelial cells produce a "miracle molecule" called Nitric Oxide and other substances that regulate blood clotting mechanisms and blood pressure. Nitric Oxide is a gas which functions as a powerful vasodilator which maintains the flexibility of the blood vessel walls, ensuring adequate blood flow. When released, Nitric Oxide relaxes muscle fibers within the walls of the arteries to increase blood flow during physical activity. The levels of Nitric Oxide are constantly changing. This gas may last for only a few seconds. Healthy endothelial cells and Nitric Oxide work together to dilate miles of blood vessels and keep the cellular elements (such as LDL, the bad cholesterol) flowing smoothly, preventing these elements from becoming sticky. Nitric Oxide also eliminates inflammation that is associated with arterial plaque. Preserving the health of our endothelial cells is crucial in both maintaining the flexibility of the blood vessel walls and providing a continuous supply of nitric oxide.
Endothelial cells are extremely delicate and vulnerable to injury. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says that if we "spread the endothelial cells out end to end, (when we are young and healthy) we would be able to cover the area equivalent to 6 to 8 tennis courts. After many decades of slaughtering these cells with the typical American diet, we don't have 6-8 tennis courts worth of cells when we reach our 40's-50's and 60's. We may be down to 1-1/2 or perhaps 2. The few cells that are left are no longer able to protect us."
The Western diet promotes inflammation which encourages cholesterol and saturated fat plaques to accumulate in the walls of the arteries. As plaque develops, not only is blood flow impaired from the narrowed arteries, the production of Nitric Oxide is significantly reduced. Without Nitric Oxide, blood vessels become unresponsive - they lose their elasticity and ability to dilate. This is especially true for men who have erectile dysfunction (ED) since the male reproductive organ contains the highest percentage of endothelial cells. The combination of plaque formation and reduced endothelial function is what reduces the ability of the penile arteries to respond to a need for increased blood flow during sexual activity. Men with ED have an extremely high risk of "having a cardiac event like sudden death." More information on ED can be seen here.
The following video clip is a two-minute excerpt from the powerful documentary Forks Over Knives. This clip explains how diet "produces actual reversal of heart disease; something that medication and surgery has never been able to do." The biological mechanism that's responsible for heart disease reversal centers on the single-cell, one-layer thick lining consisting of these endothelial cells. View the clip here.
Which Foods Damage Our Endothelial Cells?
The health and performance of our endothelial cells is determined by the types of food that we eat. Scientific studies have shown that a single meal high in saturated animal fat impairs endothelial cell function for several hours. High-fat meals containing any type of meat, dairy, eggs, and refined vegetable oils damage these cells as well as refined carbohydrates, refined sugars, sugary desserts and/or juices and caffeinated coffee. Disease and lifestyle factors also damage these cells, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes as well as a sedentary lifestyle and smoking. Damaged and inflamed blood vessels are vulnerable to spasm and can become inflexible and/or paralyzed, which impairs the flow of oxygenated blood.
"Refined carbohydrates cause dangerous spikes in blood glucose which promotes blood clotting and a heart attack, induces oxidative stress, depletes circulating antioxidants, increases blood pressure, increases circulating adhesion molecules, impairs the body's ability to fight infection, and decreases blood flow to the heart. Additionally, a single high salt meal impairs endothelial function and alcohol magnifies the increase in blood glucose from a refined carbohydrate-rich meal."
Maintaining the health of our endothelium and a continuous supply of nitric oxide is crucial. The moment we stop consuming foods which injure these cells, we not only stop the damage, we can reverse the damage as well. Studies show that after only two weeks of eating a diet rich in antioxidants significantly "improves blood flow to all parts of our bodies."
Dr. Esselstyn conducted a 20-year ground-breaking study on 17 patients who had advanced coronary artery disease. The results from his study clearly demonstrate that heart disease is reversible when following an aggressive diet and lifestyle program. It must be remembered though, that the benefits received by using a nutritional approach are directly proportional to the changes that are made. Making only small changes, while continuing to eat injurious foods will not offer any significant protection.
Make your holiday celebrations memorable without a trip to the hospital! Do everything you can to make sure your holiday meal won't be your last one! Celebrate the New Year by choosing health-supporting foods over disease-promoting ones. Remember, optimal health depends on the health of our entire vascular system! The good news is that diet-related heart disease can be prevented and even reversed using an aggressive plant-based diet and lifestyle approach. Educating ourselves is the first step towards reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease.
Resources listed in this article:
(19) Seeing is Believing!