There Is a Way to Help Avoid Heart Disease and Diabetes: You Are What You Eat!
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"If the truth be known coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never, ever exist and if it does exist it need never, ever progress."
So says Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who was a researcher and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic for over 35 years. In 1991, Dr. Esselstyn served as the president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, and organized the 1st National Conference on the Elimination and Prevention of Heart Disease. In 2005, he became the 1st recipient of the Benjamin Spock Award for Compassion in Medicine. Dr. Esselstyn is also an Olympic gold medalist in rowing, and he was awarded the Bronze Star as an army surgeon in Vietnam.
In this series of interviews I've conducted with extraordinary nutritional researchers and medical doctors, I've sought to understand the link between diet and the most common and dreaded diseases that are prevalent in our culture. What I'm hearing over and over is that a plant-based diet is both preventative and healing, whereas a diet high in animal protein is destructive to our health - this is the case with cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The great news is that there is very real hope in shifting the course of our health. What is becoming very apparent through various peer reviewed studies is that by changing our diet - eliminating that which causes havoc in the body (animal protein) and adding in plant based proteins and eating lots of vegetables, legumes, beans, and whole grains, we can not only prevent disease, but also heal from it once it is already in motion. Following is a fascinating conversation I had on diet and heart health.
KF: What exactly is coronary heart disease?
CE: Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of women and men in western civilization. It is predicted to become the #1 global disease burden by 2020.
It consists of an inflammatory buildup of blockages in arteries to the heart muscle. These blockages are made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and inflammatory cells. Blockages can become severe enough to cause symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain (angina). When blockages suddenly become complete, the portion of heart muscle fed by that blocked artery is now deprived of oxygen and nutrients, thus it is injured or now dies. This is a heart attack. The patient may survive or succumb if the event is accompanied by a fatal heart rhythm.
KF: Who develops heart disease?
CE: Everyone eating the typical western diet. In autopsy studies of our GI's who died in the Vietnam and Korean wars almost 80% at an average age of 20 years, had disease that could be seen without a microscope. Forty years later in 1999, a study of young persons between the ages of 16-34 years who have died of accidents, homicides and suicides, finds the disease is now ubiquitous.
KF: What is the cause of the disease?
CE: It is the typical western diet of processed oils, dairy, and meat which destroys the lifejacket of our blood vessels known as our endothelial cells. This cell layer is a one cell thick lining of all of our blood vessels. Endothelial cells manufacture a magical protective molecule of gas called nitric oxide, which protects our blood vessels. It keeps our blood flowing smoothly, it is the strongest dilator (widener), of our blood vessels, it inhibits the formation of blockages (plaques), and it inhibits inflammation.
KF: With such natural protection, why do we ever develop heart disease?
CE: Every western meal of processed vegetable oils, dairy products, and meat (including chicken and fish) injures these endothelial cells. As individuals consume theses damaging products throughout their lives, they have fewer functioning endothelial cells remaining and thus less of the protective nitric oxide. Without enough nitric oxide the plaque blockages build up and grow creating eventually heart disease and strokes.