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Reversing Heart Disease with a Plant-Based Diet: One Man’s Story

Every year about 935,000 Americans have a heart attack. According to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every single year. So for every 4 deaths, 1 is a heart attack. Those who live through their first heart attack have more than a 50 percent chance of having another, as 325,000 people every year are experiencing their second or third heart attack. Men are at higher risk than women, but it is a disease that is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

We tend to blame genetics as the cause of disease, but researchers are finding out that it’s our genes that load the gun and lifestyle that pulls the trigger. In other words, it’s our habits that determine if we will end up a CDC statistic.

A few years ago, my dad was lucky to have lived through a heart attack, but afterward, he didn’t bother to change his ways. It is my guess, that like many others, he had no idea his eating habits caused the heart attack or that he held the power to reverse his condition. A couple years after the heart attack, my dad suffered a stroke and he had to undergo a risky surgery to unclog his carotid artery. Once again, he was lucky as there was very little damage; the scare seemed to be enough to welcome change.

There’s an old Buddhist proverb; when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

I could not have predicted in a million years that my dad’s life was about to change. My dad was 67 years old, and at this point most would assume it was just too late to switch diets. People are usually set in their ways. I thought that he was going to settle for a future of more doctors, more tests and more pills.

But my dad’s story is one of many plant-based diet turn-around stories that prove we don’t have to rely on pills, stints or open heart surgery. Those “fixes” are only temporary band aids for a problem that still exists and should never have existed in the first place. Even with regular doctor visits, tests and medication after his heart attack, my dad still suffered a stroke. He also remained at risk for another heart attack. He saw for himself that our system doesn’t work. He took it upon himself to change the cause, and now he is no longer a walking, ticking time bomb.

Here’s how it all started… I was living with my dad for a while before and after he had his stroke, I was enjoying a vegan diet and making green smoothies every morning. He never showed any interest in the home cooked meals I would offer him let alone in the vegan diet; in fact, more often than not he couldn’t help but tease me about it. I just had to let it roll. I have been enjoying a plant-based vegan diet for about 5 years regardless of the “hard time” my family has given me. I have been trying to show my family there’s much more to the vegan diet than saving the animals and the planet.

Even though it’s important and I enjoy that part of it, modern nutritional science has come a very long way. It is now scientifically proven that a plant-based diet has the power to reverse diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease and help us avoid them in the first place. Even with a degree in the field, my message fell on deaf ears with my family. Little did I know that through my actions every day, I was paving the way for my dad’s future without realizing that I had any influence.

One Sunday we sat together and watched Dr. Joel Furhman on PBS which showcased his Eat to Live books and program. Hmmm… I guess the first teacher appeared! I noticed sparks of interest in my dad when he said to me “see, he is telling people to go vegan without actually saying it.” And I was sitting there like…yeah, I know! Dr. Furhman talked all about micro nutrition and explained the lack of nutrients in animal products that ultimately lead us to disease.

I felt this was the perfect time to introduce my dad to the hit documentary “Forks Over Knives.” He agreed to watch it and I left to run a few errands. By the time I got back, he had finished watching the DVD, went to Barnes and Noble, bought the accompanying handbook with recipes and started on a plant-based diet THE VERY NEXT DAY!

My dad began losing weight and his blood pressure and cholesterol started to drop. He was so excited about his quick results he lent a copy of “Forks Over Knives” to his doctor, who then passed it around to many of his colleagues. I’m thinking, shouldn’t they really have been the ones passing this around to their patients? It is no surprise they don’t; doctors on average only receive 4 hours of nutritional education. We must not forget that heart disease is big business. How many doctors would benefit if we were healthy?

Ever since January of 2012, my dad has enjoyed a low fat whole foods plant-based diet. No more restaurant food. He hasn’t eaten any meat or dairy at all and very little oil as he tries to break free from oil completely. He stills eats a small bit of fresh fish that he catches himself, baked only, not fried and still enjoys a couple beers with friends every now and then, and even doing this his cholesterol dropped to 162 from the mid 200’s. His doctor wanted his triglycerides to drop to 150 because they were also in the danger zone over 200 and he is now at 142. His blood pressure dropped from 140/90 to less than 136/79 and his weight dropped from 226 to 200. These are all numbers from June tests of this year and now being November, they are most likely even better. My dad assures me, he is not done. He is proud of the results.

Contrary to what many believe, no one withers away on a vegan diet. My dad said that he knows he has to work out to drop the rest of the weight that he and his doctor would like to see him lose. He has enjoyed walking the trails and climbing the 126 steep stairs up the old toboggan run, that is now a turned fitness craze in our area, but he just started taking it a bit more seriously in order to lose the weight. He did notice that since he dropped that little bit of weight, climbing up the stairs is surprisingly much easier.

I asked my dad if anything has been difficult so far on a plant-based diet and he said, really nothing. He was ready for it and he enjoys it. Although, a few of his friends don’t seem comfortable with the changes he has made and they pressure him to “c’mon, just eat a steak.”

So, don’t be surprised when you make the switch. It can be difficult at times to do what is best for yourself. Society does not support healthy eating habits and even the hospital will serve you a cheeseburger after you’ve had a heart attack! I always say, if you eat the same foods as the majority, you can expect to have the same results as the majority.

It takes only 90 days of eating a low fat whole foods plant-based diet to reset our taste receptors and cravings and gain control over our health. I am certainly proud of my dad! He did it! He took this on as a positive challenge and a fun project. He is reducing the number of pills he takes until they are no longer needed.

Pills are not the answer. Food is the medicine of our future; unfortunately many doctors are slow to catch on. Chances are you will surprise your doctor if you tell them you are going plant-based. You may even have to fill them in with what’s happening in modern nutritional science. Make sure to find a doctor who supports your efforts and accepts your positive results. Also stick with supportive friends.

I feel lucky this brought me and my dad closer together and we now share a bond. Looking back, I see I played an important role in influencing his shift in consciousness by just being myself and modeling that the lifestyle is easy and the food is delicious, even though he refused to try it at the time. I wasn’t the one able to convince my dad to change long before his stroke, even though I wish I could have been. People only change when they are ready.

Now that my dad has learned to eat in a new way, his quality of life and confidence have returned and it can return for anyone out there who is experiencing similar health issues. I am happy I influenced my dad and I know he is sure to influence others. His friends may even come around over time, just as he did. He may be inspiring his doctors who may inspire their patients and so on… you just never know who’s quality life will improve next.

If we live in America and eat the standard American diet, or live anywhere where the Western diet is ingrained into society, sadly we are at risk for a heart attack. The statistics are scary! Don’t let others, who don’t understand, get in the way of your success. If you are ready to take control of your life, just do it, you won’t regret it, no matter what age you might be! It’s never too late.

“Some people think the “plant-based, whole foods diet” is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”

~ Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn – Forks Over Knives

If you are willing to change what’s not working, a low fat whole foods plant-based diet can save your life!

About The Author

Christa Bouchez – Certified Plant-Based Nutritionist

Vegan/Raw Food Blogger

Christa’s passion is educating others on how to avoid, control and reverse degenerative diseases by adopting a low fat, whole foods plant-based diet.

She is a long time nutrition, fitness and wellness enthusiast who shares her modern nutritional approach through consulting and lifestyle blogging.

Christa’s idea of a healthy diet is one that is sustainable, heals the planet and is influenced by nutritional quality with more micronutrients per calorie. Christa has her B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics from Northern Illinois University and is Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Foundation of Cornell University.

For recipes, ideas and more information on Christa, visit Karmatarian.org