Do you know the way Viagra came about? Pharma was testing a drug that would open the clogged arteries of cardiovascular disease patients – and found that it was giving the men erections! How delightful!
That’s right. It turns out that “erectile dysfunction” – a name that sounds like it might be a complex and mysterious problem – is just the result of clogged arteries. Those with a basic understanding of anatomy (anyone?) will understand why: an erection happens when the male member suddenly fills with blood. If the pathways are blocked and blood can’t get in, there will be no erection. Sad face.
So, Viagra was one of the most lucrative discoveries ever made, because it allowed men to experience an erection again just by taking a pill, not by making any significant long-term lifestyle changes that would solve the actual problem. Viagra works by temporarily opening the arteries – note, not unclogging them, just dilating them. So the root problem still exists, and unfortunately since it’s not being addressed but bypassed with a pill, it will only get worse. Much worse.
Why are clogged arteries a problem? Well, they eventually lead to heart attack or stroke. Having to rely on Viagra is a dangerous warning sign, because the penis is not the only place where arteries clog – they get clogged throughout the body, including around the heart and brain. Thus introduces the biggest killer of Americans (both men and women) today: 1 in 4 deaths are due to heart attack. For people over age 65, 41% will die of heart attack, and 9% will die of stroke (which is basically a heart attack that happens in the brain instead). In other words, this one disease is responsible for the deaths of half the elderly population.
That is astounding. That is the real mass killer – it’s not gun violence or plane crashes, which, when viewed in this light, are given a disproportionately high percentage of media and political attention, considering how statistically insignificant they really are.
More than 610,000 Americans die every year of a heart attack.
It’s our leading cause of death. Our #1 killer. And amazingly, it’s held the top spot since 1917. We’ve had over a hundred years to get it right!
And yet, the meat and dairy industries that churn out these disease-causing products not only still exist, they are woven into the fabric of our society. Stop at any of the homogenized shopping centers throughout America and you can get a latte and bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, a cheeseburger with fries for lunch, and a steak with buttery rolls and baked potato loaded with bacon, cheese, and sour cream for dinner. Or maybe a pepperoni and sausage pizza. And don’t forget ice cream for dessert!
You’re probably salivating now just thinking about it! (Sorry.)
The meat and dairy industries also use their unfathomably high profits to pay off policymakers to write legislation and guidelines in their favor – so not only is the culprit not caught, it’s actually enabled by American’s own government.
Yet, where is the public outrage? There is only silence – everyone is too busy stuffing their faces.
Well, almost everyone. There are a few ethical researchers who have indeed got it right after all. Here’s what they found:
By doing all the lifestyle things, risk of heart attack can be decreased by 91%.
That’s tremendous. You can almost completely eliminate your chances of getting a heart attack! (And the small percentage of risk still present may be mostly genetic, so unless your parent had a heart attack, it is probably not a concern at all).
By contrast, medications such as statins and hypertension meds can decrease risk by 20-30% tops, and come with all kinds of side effects, like muscle weakness, liver damage, and memory loss (which can even look like Alzheimer’s/Dementia – so it’s a good consideration if you’ve been diagnosed with this condition to look at the drugs you are on and see if this might be a side effect).
The most significant lifestyle change to decrease risk of heart attack and stroke
Remember those researchers who inadvertently discovered Viagra by testing a heart disease drug and found the men who were tested were getting erections?
Well, a similar observation happened to Dr. Esselstyn, who was testing a whole food plant-based diet among his patients: even as older men, they started getting erections again.
Only this time, it was not the temporary effect of a pill — the arteries were actually unclogging due to the healing diet they were on.
Specifically, that is a diet low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat – which are mostly found in animal products, though some plant foods can also contain them, such as coconut oil and french fries.
And while cholesterol is a necessary nutrient in the body, it is not essential – meaning, the body makes all it needs, and we do not have to consume cholesterol in our diet. And in fact, we shouldn’t, as there are many indications that excess cholesterol increases heart attack risk. Eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs and other animals products is like throwing gasoline on a fire. And that fire is inside the body.
The most healing diet is 100% plant-based, with zero animal foods and high fiber foods. However, that may be a goal that’s far down the line for most people, who are accustomed to consuming animal products at least three times a day. For someone who absolutely can’t give up meat, about two servings of chicken per week is considered to be the highest allowable amount. Another option is vegan fake meat and dairy products; though they are still manufactured and not whole foods, they can be a better option than meat and dairy, since they won’t contain cholesterol and saturated fat.
Importantly, faddish low-carb diets like paleo and keto, which are heavy on animal products, have no evidence whatsoever of benefiting heart disease — to the contrary, evidence shows low-carb diets actually increase mortality. If there is a benefit to these diets, it’s the removal of junk carbs from the diet, which is also an important risk factor for heart disease: risk increases when refined sugar makes up 15% of the diet (about a candy bar per day). But while cutting out junk carbs is a good thing, cutting out carbs altogether (plant foods) is definitely not. Why?
One of the most important aspects of a whole food plant-based diet, aside from the removal of animal products, is the addition of fiber. When we eat plant fiber from whole plant foods, the body uses that fiber to bind cholesterol and remove it from the body. That’s an extremely important mechanism, and lack of fiber in the standard American diet is likely a contributing cause to high disease rates. Additionally, high fiber will promote weight loss, which will also help to decrease risk of heart attack (whereas obesity increases risk of heart attack).
Want to know more about a whole food vegan diet and how to transition to it? See my article about that here.
A hidden gem of a whole foods plant-based diet, which is a cooking-heavy diet that requires many meals to be prepared at home: you can have salt again, which has been a “limit” food for people with hypertension. (Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the many negative results of clogged arteries – the heart has to put more pressure on the blood to move it through narrowed vessels). Most of the salt in the standard American diet comes from processed foods that have to be loaded with salt in the manufacturing process in order to preserve them so that they still look and taste like food – by cutting those foods out, salt intake is drastically reduced, allowing for a couple shakes of quality salt to be added to whole plant-based foods for even more flavor.
There are some herbs which can work to benefit cardiovascular health, including lower cholesterol, such as amla, hawthorn, and garlic, however they should be used only as part of a wholesome diet. America needs to get away from the magic-pill mentality and realize there is no quick fix. Shortcuts come with a price you may not want to pay, which is often not revealed until it’s too late to make a different choice. We have the knowledge now — let’s choose well, eat well, love well, and, well…. well. 🙂