Diet and Cardiovascular Disease

The role of food in Coronary Heart Disease is substantial including the formation of arterial plaques, alterations in endothelial function (which influences blood pressure), a heightened risk for thrombosis, and inflammatory processes that cause disease progression.

Diets promoting cardiovascular health should begin early in life because the atherosclerosis that contributes to coronary artery disease begins in childhood.

But a low-fat plant-based diet, particularly if combined with regular exercise, can prevent, delay, or reverse the progression of atherosclerosis and development of CHD at any age.

What we know.

  • Controlling blood lipoprotein concentrations is essential in the treatment for CHD patients. Saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in the diet increase concentrations of blood lipids, particularly LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber tends to reduce them.
  • Dietary antioxidants, folate magnesium and other substances in whole foods may reduce the burden of oxidized LDL and improve endothelial function through increased availability of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
  • The role of inflammatory processes in atherosclerosis is increasingly apparent. Loss of body fat reduces C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation.
  • Combining daily aerobic exercise with a healthful diet adds to its benefit, particularly with regard to weight and blood glucose control.
  • The elimination of animal products, tropical oils and partially hydrogenated fats from the diet is the most important step in reducing LDL, inflammation and vascular problems.
  • Several researchers have found an anti-atherosclerotic effect from both alpha-linolenic acid and long-chain omega-3 fats. While many of those studies use fish oil, there is evidence that plant sources of Omega-3 FA like walnuts and flaxseed provide similar benefits without the cholesterol.
  • Whole grains, beans and nuts are also particularly helpful. In addition to providing lipid-lowering benefit of dietary fiber, they provide magnesium and vitamin E, which are related to reduced coronary artery disease and mortality. (Nuts, however, are high in fat and calories)
  • Several studies have shown that increasing carotenoid containing fruits and vegetable intakes are associated with decreased risk of coronary artery disease.
  • The role of alcohol remains controversial. Moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks/day) may reduce cardiovascular disease and myocardial infarction risk through several mechanisms including increased HDL concentrations and reduced clotting.
  • Both epidemiologic and clinical studies have shown that soy products (soy milk, tofu, soy beans etc) may reduce cardiovascular disease risk by reducing blood lipids, homocysteine and blood pressure.
  • CAUTION WITH COFFEE. There’s no evidence coffee increases the risk for CHD, although an association between non-filtered coffee, which has been found to raise serum cholesterol and CHD risk was not ruled out. Slow caffeine metabolizers and obese individuals who don’t clear caffeine efficiently appear to be at greater risk.

Our Approach

Atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease are preventable, treatable and in many cases reversible conditions.

A low-fat, plant-based, whole foods diet reduces the risk for repeated coronary and other vascular events. Individuals who adhered to a low-fat (<10%% of total calories) plant-based diet as part of treatment for pre-existing heart disease had an absence of coronary events in a 12-year study.

Diet interventions that also include exercise, stress reduction and smoking cessation appear to cause reversal of atherosclerosis in almost all patients. Many patients are able to eventually reduce or eliminate previously required medications.

But this requires learning new cooking techniques and acquiring new habits and tastes. Nourish Health will help you make the transition smoothly. However, families play an important role in joining the patient in the process of dietary change. We encourage family members to support the heart disease patient by following a similar diet and exercise regimen, which will likely benefit their health as well.

Insights from a Nourish Health Patient:

“I decided to give the plant based diet a try, after my doctor increased my cholesterol lowering medication for the second time in two years. At the same visit, she told me, that I may also have to start taking a blood pressure medication. I have a bad family history; my father had his first heart attack at the age of 53, and my older brother had a heart attack last year at the age of 49. That was a scary event. I am 45 now, and did the Kickstart course in January 2013. I really thought it was going to be hard to change my diet but the food is really good and we keep it really simple at home. Whole foods, minimally processed. That’s the key. Both my wife and I have lost weight without ever trying. We can’t believe it. I stopped my cholesterol medication 2 weeks after being 100% “plant based”, as Dr. Sigal calls it. At my next follow up visit, my doctor couldn’t believe what happened. My cholesterol had dropped to 145, all the other numbers were normal, I had lost 15 lbs, and my blood pressure was 110/65. That’s it for me. Now, my brother is doing it, too. “

Karl Skunis,
Malden, May 2013