Imagine that you’ve just left your cardiologist’s office. He’s told you that you have to make some changes. Your blood pressure is way over the limit at 170 over 100 and your LDL cholesterol (that’s the “bad” kind) is hovering right around 200. He conducted an exercise cardiac stress test, putting you on the treadmill and increasing the speed and elevation periodically while monitoring your heart -- and he didn’t like the results.
We've all heard the stories: someone seemingly healthy, with normal
cholesterol levels and no obvious risk factors, drops dead of a heart attack.
How can this happen?
Morteza Naghavi, MD, says it's because traditional risk factors may not tell
you what you really need to know: whether your arteries are diseased.
"Why are cholesterol, smoking, family history so lousy? Because they're
just risk factors," says Naghavi, chairman of the Society for Heart Attack
Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE)...
Besides surgery or medication, is there anything you can do to modify the course of CAD? The answer to that is, clearly, yes -- as long as your doctor is on board. Making some simple but significant changes in what you eat, how often you exercise, how much you weigh, and how you manage stress can help to put the brakes on heart disease.
But can you actually reverse heart disease, not just slow it down? The answer to that question is much more controversial. Here are two expert's views.
Yes, You Can!
Dean Ornish, MD, founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says that you absolutely can reverse at least some of the damage of even severe heart disease. Indeed, one of his six best-selling books is titled Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease.
In his 2007 book The Spectrum, Ornish describes patients waiting to undergo a heart transplant -- those with the worst possible damage -- who enrolled in his program while on the transplant list. Some of them, he says, improved so much that they no longer needed a transplant.
“Our studies show that, with significant lifestyle changes, blood flow to the heart and its ability to pump normally improve in less than a month, and the frequency of chest pains fell by 90% in that time,” Ornish says. “Within a year on our program, even severely blocked arteries in the heart became less blocked, and there was even more reversal after five years. That’s compared with the natural history in other patients in our study, in which the heart just got worse and worse.”
Those lifestyle measures include exercise -- Ornish calls for people to walk at least half an hour a day, or an hour three times a week. Your cupboards, refrigerator, and dinner table will also need a total transformation if you expect to have a chance of actually reversing heart disease, not just preventing it or stopping its progression.
“Just making moderate changes in your diet may be enough to prevent heart disease, but it won’t be enough to reverse it,” Ornish says.
Ornish's plan categorizes foods from 1-5, ranging from most to least healthful. To actually reverse heart disease, you have to stay in Category 1.
In essence, that means becoming a vegetarian, filling your plate with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nonfat dairy, and egg whites, and keeping away from fats, refined sugar, and carbohydrates. “You want to eat foods in their natural form as much as possible," Ornish says.
Ornish’s program also calls for regular yoga, meditation, and stress reduction.