On Sunday night, my fiance and I watched CNN’s one-hour long documentary The Last Heart Attack in which CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates whether diet and the latest diagnostic tests are enough to prevent heart attacks. With a family history of heart disease on my mom’s side of the family, and my fiance’s father having had bypass surgery a few years ago, we’re always willing to spend our time learning as much as we can on this topic.
Former President Bill Clinton shares his story of his transition to a vegan diet after undergoing a quadruple bypass in 2004 for blocked arteries. His diet change is especially remarkable if you recall the Saturday Night Life spoofs about him eating anything and everything deep fried. There was also an inspiring story of a woman, who like most women didn’t have chest pains; instead she had symptoms that were harder to define as warning signs of a heart attack – fatigue and pain in the jaw. It turned out that her arteries were completely blocked, but to probably her doctor’s dismay, she opted out of heart surgery and decided to take a “radical” chance using food and lifestyle changes as medicine. Now, I know this is not to say this would work for everyone, but for her, it worked, so to me it says it can also work for others. And with more than 600,000 people dying from heart disease each year, eating healthy and exercising doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Interesting also was the topic of cholesterol: The numerical value of a person’s LDL cholesterol is apparently less problematic than the size of the LDL cholesterol particles. In this case, bigger is better because small particles are more likely to stick to arterial walls as plaque. When plaque particles flake off into the blood stream they can form dangerous blockages, which can cause deadly heart attacks.
Dr. Gupta wrote on CNN.com “Virtually eliminating heart disease -– it can be done, and truth is, we have known for a very long time how to do it.” He also wrote: “I will admit, while I had trained my whole life to treat disease after it developed, I wasn’t medically trained in nutrition to be able to help prevent some of these diseases in the first place. Most of what I have learned has been on my own, since leaving medical school, and I think that is true for many doctors of my generation.”
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., director of the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, describes heart disease as a “completely preventable foodborne illness.” Dr. Esselstyn explains to Dr. Gupta, “We’re never going to end the epidemic with stents, with bypasses, with the drugs – because none of it is treating causation of the illness.”
I know the healing power of food is not new news, but stories like this can serve as added reinforcement to encourage skeptical loved ones to eat healthier and adopt positive lifestyle changes like exercising. For me, this is good news for the older women in my family – that even with family history and age, heart disease can be preventable.
If you’re interested in this story, watch it here. (Sorry, I would have just embeded it into this post, but I keep getting an error message).