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Heart Disease Reversal: Courageous Pioneers

Heart disease remains the number 1 killer of men and women in the Western world and it often strikes suddenly with a fatal heart attack at a young age. There are tools to identify heart disease at an early stage using coronary artery calcium CT scoring (CACS) and carotid intimal-medial thickness (CIMT) ultrasounds but is there any point in making an early diagnosis? Can this serious problem be halted? Can heart disease be reversed? The answer is loud and clear and it is YES. I demonstrate reversal of heart disease routinely at the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity using CIMT. How did we learn it was possible to reverse heart disease? A quick review is interesting and relevant.

1) Lester Morrison, MD
The story begins in Los Angeles and the clinic of Lester Morrison, MD. This internal medicine specialist was caring for heart patients and survivors of heart attacks in the 1940s at a time that therapies were nearly non-existent. Morrison designed a dietary plan for his heart patients that emphasized omitting rich foods like cream, butter, full fat dairy, olives, nuts avocados, oils, glandular organs, and egg yolks. He tracked his patients followed this diet and compared them to patients that did not alter their diet. His results were published in a well-respected medical journal in 1951 and the follow up showed a more than 50% drop in deaths at 8 years and an even greater decrease in the low-fat diet group at 12 years. Morrison set the stage for further pioneers that confirmed his observations.

2) Nathan Pritikin
The next player on stage is Nathan Pritikin. He was in aerospace engineering and held many patents in that field for innovations with aviation. He learned that his cholesterol was over 300 mg/dl. He performed an exercise stress test and learned that he had failed it. He read many articles and then designed a plant-based regimen rich in beans, low in fat, and combined it with walking. He was able to lower his cholesterol by nearly 200 points at a time when there were no drug therapies and slowly his stress test returned to normal. He began counseling those with heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and adult diabetes and observed stunning examples of reversal. He wrote a book, The Pritikin Diet, that became an international best seller and earned him an invite to 60 Minutes. He opened the Pritikin Center in Santa Monica and it continues to this day in Miami, Florida where it is known as the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa.

3) Dean Ornish, MD
Dean Ornish, MD is one of the most respected researchers in the field of preventive medicine. Ornish took a year off from medical school in the 1970s to carry out a trial with patients with very advanced and symptomatic heart disease. He then completed a larger trial called the Lifestyle Heart Trial. This studied patients with advanced heart disease and randomized them between lifestylstudiede therapy and a control group using advanced heart imaging. The results were published in1990 and stunned the world. For the first time ever, Ornish showed that heart artery plaque could be reversed by lifestyle measures emphasizing a plant diet. Years later Medicare approved the Ornish program to reverse heart disease.

4) Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, or Essy as many like to call him, was a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who became interested in heart disease. Along with his wife Anne, he began treating heart disease patients with a plant-based diet without any added oils, nuts or avocados. The data he accumulated in improved symptoms, sexual function, stress test results, hospital visits, and ultimately examples of angiographic regression of coronary lesions proved heart disease could be reversed.

Due to the pioneering work of these 4 men, and others, we know that heart disease reversal is possible and should be the goal early in life. The basics are clear and include a plant-predominant diet.