HealingHeart Disease

Risk Factors for Heart Disease & What You Can Do About It

Heart disease risk is, thankfully, something that is largely within your control.

The Leading Killer of Americans Is…

Heart Disease, aka cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States; so what puts you at risk? Every year more than 600,000 Americans die of heart disease, that’s one out of every four deaths in the country (CDC, 2020). Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, the most common being coronary artery disease which can cause a heart attack. High blood pressure (hypertension), angina, and strokes are other manifestations of heart disease caused by plaque build up in your blood’s passageways.

Heart disease is a progressive disease that can start as early as in the womb or during childhood and often takes decades to manifest into serious health symptoms. Over time, eating an unhealthy diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol causes a build up of plaque in the arteries and veins. As this happens blood pressure is elevated because the same volume of blood is attempting to move through narrower passageways. As the buildup thickens, eventually it can result in the blockage of blood flow which results in a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

What Puts You at Risk for Heart Disease

Eating an unhealthy diet, not getting proper exercise, and smoking are all bad habits that increase your risk for heart disease. High cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are symptoms of early stage heart disease, also increase your risk (CDC, 2020). Thankfully, heart disease is considered largely a lifestyle disease which can be prevented (and reversed) by simply adopting healthy habits. The prevalence of heart disease in developed nations coincides with easy access to large amounts of high-fat foods and animal foods. A diet rich in these foods is the leading risk factor for heart disease.

The Good News About Heart Disease Is…

Compelling data from population studies, nutritional studies, and interventional studies support the effectiveness of a low-fat plant-based diet to both prevent and stop and reverse the progression of heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic has conducted coronary angiograms on heart disease patients before and after eating a plant-based diet and the pictures say a thousand words. Patients on the plant-based diet are able to heal their arteries without using cholesterol-lowering medications. Simply eating plants and ditching animal foods and high-fat foods halts heart disease in its track and heals the blood’s passageways making them healthy again (Esselstyn, 2001). Multiple clinical trials and observational studies have found strong and consistent evidence that a whole-food plant-based diet not only prevents and reverses heart disease, it also lower blood pressure, reduce blood lipids, and facilitate weight loss (Kahleova, 2018).

After learning about the healing power of a plant-based diet, the president of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Kim Williams, has a new goal for his agency. In an article for MedPage Today he writes,

“Wouldn’t it be a laudable goal of the American College of Cardiology to put ourselves out of business within a generation or two? We have come a long way in prevention of cardiovascular disease, but we still have a long way to go. Improving our lifestyles with improved diet and exercise will help us get there.” (Williams, 2014)

Williams is an outspoken proponent of the natural cure for heart disease and encourages everyone to adopt a whole-food plant-based diet for a healthy heart. He’s not alone in the crusade, a growing number of doctor and dieticians have been making the diet prescription. Yet, there is still very little media coverage delivering the good news for those with heart disease.

Every day heart disease claims the lives of 46,575 people around the world, including 1,644 Americans. Every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack. Every 36 seconds, one person in the United States dies from heart disease (CDC, 2020). Never in the history of humankind has any disease or war killed more people, yet sadly it receives little attention from mainstream press. While the media has been frantically covering a virus with a very low death rate nonstop for months, there is almost no mention of the disease that’s been far more deadly for far longer (not to mention that heart disease is also a leading risk factor for people becoming seriously ill with this virus and other viruses).

Our leading killer need not claim so many lives, if only its victims received the good news that their health, their heart, and their life is theirs to claim. It is my hope that more doctors, nutritionists, and journalists will dedicate time to spreading information about how heart disease can be prevented and healed through eating a whole-food plant-based diet. Then many more people can lead healthy, happy, and longer lives, and families can spend more quality time together with the ones they love.

Find 133 heart-healthy recipes made from 100% whole plants in my book: The Frugiore Diet.
1. CDC. Heart Disease Facts. 8 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. 
2. Esselstyn, Caldwell B. “Resolving the Coronary Artery Disease Epidemic Through Plant-Based Nutrition.” Preventive Cardiology, vol. 4, no. 4, 2001, pp. 171–177., doi:10.1111/j.1520-037x.2001.00538.x. 
3. Kahleova H, Levin S, Barnard Neal. Vegetarian dietary patterns and cardiovascular disease. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. May 29, 2018.
4. Williams, Kim A. CardioBuzz: Vegan Diet, Healthy Heart? 21 July 2014, www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Prevention/46860

Reya Steele Andrews

Reya (Steele) Andrews is a holistic health writer, educator, and publisher at Healing With Plants. Reya is a certified Holistic Nutritionist (AFPA), is certified in Plant-based Nutrition, and teaches nutrition science and healthy food preparation. Find her book, The Frugivore Diet, on Amazon.

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