Framingham Heart Study (FHS) is well-known but it is only one part among an enormous body of research conducted in USA over the past decades. Early research showed that USA has some of the highest rates of heart disease in the world.
The Papua New Guinea Highlanders, for example, pop up in research quite a bit because heart disease is rare in their society. Remember, for example, how low the rate of heart disease was in rural China. American men died from heart disease at a rate almost seventeen times higher than their Chinese counterparts.
Why were we succumbing to heart disease in the sixties and seventies, when much of the world was relatively unaffected? Quite simply, it was a case of death by food. The cultures that have lower heart disease rates eat less saturated fat and animal protein and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In other words, they subsist mostly on plant foods while we subsist mostly on animal foods.
But might it be that the genetics of one group might just make them more susceptible to heart disease? We know that this is not the case, because within a group with the same genetic heritage, a similar relationship between diet and disease is seen. For example, Japanese men who live in Hawaii or California have a much higher blood cholesterol level and incidence of coronary heart disease than Japanese men living in Japan.
The cause is clearly environmental, as most of these people have the same genetic heritage. Smoking habits are not the cause because men in japan, who were more likely to smoke, still had less coronary disease than the Japanese Americans. The researchers pointed to diet, writing that blood cholesterol increased “with dietary intake of saturated fat, animal protein and dietary cholesterol.” On the flip side, blood cholesterol “was negatively associated with complex carbohydrate intake…” In simple terms, animal foods were linked to higher blood cholesterol; plant foods were linked to lower blood cholesterol.
This research clearly implicated diet as one possible cause of heart disease. Furthermore, the early results were painting a consistent picture: the more saturated fat and cholesterol (as indicators of animal food consumption) people eat, the higher their risk for getting heart disease. And as other cultures have come to eat more like us, they have seen their rates of heart disease skyrocket. In more recent times, several countries have now come to have a higher death rate from heart disease than America.1
Diet has the potential of preventing disease but today the focus is on drugs, surgery, and electronic devices. There has been an opposition to diet and prevention but we celebrate chemicals. While we have done little or nothing to stop the rate at which our hearts become diseased, we have gotten slightly better at postponing death from heart disease.
We celebrate surgery and in the case of the heart we glorify bypass surgery. In order to allow blood to bypass the most clogged arteries, a leg vein or a chest artery is cut out and sewn over a diseased part of the heart. In essence blood flow is rerouted by a series of clamps, pumps, and machines.
The costs are enormous. More than one of every fifty elective patients will die because of complications during the $46,000 procedure. Other side effects include heart attack, respiratory complications, bleeding complications, infection, high blood pressure and stroke. When the vessels around the heart are clamped shut during the operation, plaque breaks off of the inner walls. Blood then carries this debris to the brain, where it causes numerous “mini” strokes. Researchers have compared the intellectual capabilities of patients before and after the operation, and found that a stunning 79% of patients “showed impairment in some aspect of cognitive function” seven days after the operation.
Why do we put ourselves through this? The most pronounced benefit of this procedure is relief of angina, or chest pain. About 70-80% of patients who undergo bypass surgery remain free of this crippling chest pain for one year. But this benefit doesn’t last. Within three years of the operation, up to one-third of patients will suffer from chest pain again. Within ten years half of the bypass patients will have died, had a heart attack or had their chest pain return. Long-term studies indicate that only certain subsets of heart disease patients live longer because of their bypass operation. Furthermore, these studies demonstrate that those patients who undergo bypass operation do not have fewer heart attacks than those who do not have surgery.
Remember which plaque buildups cause heart attacks? The deadly buildups are the smaller, less stable plaques that tend to rupture. The bypass operation, however, is targeted to the largest, most visible plaques, which may be responsible for chest pain, but not for heart attacks.2
Angioplasty (a surgical operation to clear a narrowed or blocked artery) is another procedure. It does not come cheap and it carries significant risks. When it comes to treating the small blockages that are most likely to lead to heart attacks, angioplasty does little. It therefore has a similar story to bypass surgery.
Do bypass surgery and angioplasty prevent heart disease? No. Do they address the cause of heart disease? No. What then do they do? They extend the lives of the sickest heart disease patients. To be fair, in emergency situations, such as a heart attack they may be life-saving or save the heart muscle from damage. Academic scholars are increasingly critical of the overemphasis of these interventions which provide enormous financial reward to the physician. These procedures do not prevent new heart attacks.
We have the information to shift the status quo and based on that information, there is a better way to defeat heart disease. I am talking about a treatment that is not complex but the simplest of all treatments – food.
Am I going nuts?
A few rare doctors have already demonstrated that heart disease can be defeated in a better way.
- Colin Campbell, PhD, and Thomas M. Campbell II, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, 2006, BenBella Books, Inc., Dallas, pp. 115-117.
- Ibid., pp. 123-124.
Nothing in this post should be viewed as a substitute for competent medical care. Also, you should not undertake any changes in diet without first consulting your physician.