Cardiac Update: It's the Food!

January 26, 2020

 The drugs I take today


A different kind of blog, more an update on a previous post than otherwise. This one concerns my heart attack two years ago, and the life changes that have taken place since. Mostly, it's about the drug regimen I was tethered to, the array of drugs I was committed to for the duration. Until recently. (Disclaimer: This is what happened to me. I hope others might have the same experience, but I make no claims of expertise. I can state categorically that what you'll read here is true, and real, and quite frankly a bit astonishing to us.)


Two years ago I had a heart attack. I wasn't a candidate for an MI, I have no particular family history of cardiac disease, my cholesterol level had always been enviably low, I'd never had high blood pressure, I slept well, albeit with a bit of snoring that kept my spouse awake at times. I had very little stress in my life, enjoyed my days (and nights) with the woman I adore, and I hadn't had a cigarette for 40 years. Nonetheless, two years ago this month I found myself in an emergency room with ferocious chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and the standard presentation for a myocardial infarction. I'd had a heart attack.



In the ER that day I slipped into ventricular tachycardia, V-Tach as they call it. This condition is not conducive to longevity. I was that close. In urgent fashion I was whisked into the cath lab, where fluoroscopy showed that my left descending arterial vessel, the so called LAD, was 95% blocked. That explained the chest pain, and my timely visit to the ER that day. Within an hour I'd received a stent that opened up my blocked LAD. I felt vastly better immediately. Anecdotally, based on my 20 year career in pre-hospital aviation, and my frequent exposure to the exact symptoms in patients I once flew into hospitals, I understood just how fortunate I'd been. I'd also had the great good fortune of having my wife, a retired cardiac RN at my side the whole time. More than anything or anyone else, she saved my life. Here's what happened in the intervening two years.


 Babies & street people


Only babies and street people like change. After my MI, I knew I had to embrace some kind of change as well. I certainly didn't want to have another heart attack, and the misery, disruption, and real fear that follows one. The problem was this: I thought I'd been doing everything right! I thought I'd never need to worry about such things as good and bad cholesterol, BMI, obesity, or any of the other dangerous metrics for heart disease. 


 My LAD with blockage: January 2018


The belated research my wife and I did was disturbing to put it mildly. Most people on the so called SAD, or Standard American Diet have serious coronary artery disease by age ten, (not a typo). In other words, most people walking around the streets, male and female, are well on the way to an ER and a cath lab. Nearly 2 million stents are implanted every year in the U.S. alone. In the U.S. someone dies of cardiac disease every 37 seconds (!) There are 650,000 deaths every year from cardiac illness, a disease that costs nearly $220 Billion dollars annually. Not to mention the alarming rise of type 2 diabetes, many more so called diseases of affluence, and the fact that nearly 40% of Americans are obese. Here's something else that occurred to us through the literature: Arterial blockage doesn't just threaten our hearts; it occurs in every vessel we own. The upshot is, that the plaques and clogging that nearly killed me during my MI were present in all my vessels, thus degrading blood flow to all my organs. We read further that medical schools now teach that erectile dysfunction is a marker for coronary artery disease. So to my male colleagues, here it is as rough and as straight as I can put it: If you're having troubling making the old soldier stand and salute, you might be in danger of a bigger health concern with the old ticker. Looking back at my ER experience, not once was I offered advice and/or information on nutrition as a possible factor in my MI. Not one word. 


With increased obesity, 650,000 annual cardiac deaths, nearly that many from cancers, the spiral in type 2 diabetes, even among the young, it's not hard to see that something is terribly wrong. We're discovering that the problem is diet, pure and simple. Oh, there are other causes, of course, but the appropriately named SAD (diet) is largely the issue. The research is robust, and out there, and troubling. Why troubling? If hard data is published by professional, objective, peer-reviewed sources, why is that troubling? Read on. 



 Two books that changed our lives


A good friend here in Medellin came by for lunch one day. We knew beforehand that he stuck to a vegan diet, so we prepared a meal accordingly. Over our yummy lunch, he told us about two books that had changed his life: The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell PhD, & Thomas M. Campbell II MD, and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell B. Esselstyn jr. MD. The saying is 'when the student is ready, the teacher appears.' wife and I read those two books, and a few others, and we don't mind sharing that they changed our lives as well. After reading those books, and assimilating their content, we made the decision to change our diet entirely. We now eat only plant based meals. That is, Whole Foods, Plant Based, no meat, no fish, no dairy, no cooking oil. Just plants. The result? Again, read on. (And thanks in advance to friend Bill)


 Unlock your own heart health


As I said, I'm not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV, but I've had a change of heart, so to speak, about what I put in my mouth that passes for nutrition. Here's a brief history of my experience, a recap of what can happen to anyone following a heart attack. Every day for two years I took an array of drugs, a statin, a beta blocker, a drug called enalapril (for high blood pressure), an aspirin, and a vitamin D supplement. My bathroom shelf looked like a pharmacy. It was more than a depressing indication that I now have 'a history of heart disease,' it was another sign of creeping antiquity that I didn't need. Nonetheless, I dutifully popped those pills every day, assured that they'd keep me away from another visit to that ER. 


This was depressing 


This is exciting 


Then our friend came for lunch. Then we read up on the real causes of many diseases of affluence, and what can be done about them. Then we changed our diet. We've now been eating whole food plant based for three months. Here are the results: 


—I've lost 24 pounds, a lot of it across my neck, which caused the chronic snoring I once did, and that has now vanished. My wife is very happy about this. I've lost this weight despite eating till I'm full at every meal.

 3 Recent WFPB meals: Portobellos & pasta; Seitán brats & veggies; and Yaki-Nori sushi


And lest you think a plant based diet is boring, or dull, or unsavory, I assure you that is not the case. We've discovered dozens of fabulous recipes, and learned to substitute for virtually everything we once thought we needed to cook with. For example, did you know that applesauce is a fine replacement for cooking oil? It is. We no longer use oils of any kind. (Oils are fat. They're not food.) By the way, our new meal plan allows wine and beer without penalty (!) Both are from plants, after all.


—I now have the strange problem of needing to purchase smaller pants! It's an odd dilemma, kind of amusing, actually, but my jeans now sag such that I lately have trouble keeping them up. I know, too sad. I weigh the same today as I did when I returned from Vietnam, after a year on Army chow.


—I feel better than at any time in 20 years. True story.


—I feel empowered. There's a psychological factor involved as well, the sense that we're making our own dietary choices, and not supporting the routine, never to be questioned food gods. One of the most disgusting facts we read was that much robust, peer-reviewed research, studies that might help people regain their health, and that might even save their lives, is routinely shelved. It appears that the consensus among some medical professionals is that patients aren't interested in nutritional aspects of health. They just want a pill, or a quick fix, so the information is withheld from them. Sadly, there is some truth to this claim of pills and quick fixes. Still, the public deserves to have any information that may be useful, in order to make their own choices.


—I sleep better, have more energy, and know in my own mind, (and yes, in my heart), that I'll follow this diet forever. Hint: If you ever read what we have, you will never, ever, ever again in your life even consider eating chicken. Trust me, it's that bad. In fact, all animal based protein is harmful to human health. A bold statement, I know, but it's true. We get more than enough protein and calcium from plants. Where do you think cows get protein and calcium? Ever seen a cow eating meat? Consider this. Some of the world's top athletes eat only plants: Tennis superstar Venus Williams, Patrick Baboumian the world's strongest man, ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Olympian Carl Lewis, NFL Linebacker Derrick Morgan, pro wrestler Austin Aries, Olympic medalist and national champion biker Dotsie Bausch, and the lost goes on. 


—My wife and I have found yet another passion to share, preparing meals. (We're moving to another apartment just to have a bit more room, and to get out of our one-butt kitchen)


—Sparing the details, our shared time in the bedroom is more passionate and gratifying than ever. (And I'll soon be 72.) 


—But...The most momentous news, at least to me, is this. I recently paid my doctor a visit. It had been a year since I'd seen him, with little change in my drug protocols. I told him about my three month plant based meal plan, and showed him my recent lab test values. He saw my weight loss, looked over my labs, did his routine exam, and told me that he saw no reason I needed to continue taking my cardiac drugs. I am now taking one heart drug every third day, a baby aspirin. That's all. Yes, this is exciting. 


 WFPB Market Basket: It's the food!


In closing, this has been our experience. We make no claims of expertise, and we certainly don't wish to impose our new eating habits on anyone else. But after reading the literature, watching certain documentaries, and speaking with professionals about what a plant based diet can (and does) do, we will not revert to the SAD diet. We have no illusions that this dietary choice will help turn the world around, even though we know that animal agriculture causes nearly 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. We made this change for our personal health, not for any other reason. Our outcome has been amazing. We've learned that all of our nutritional needs are met by eating plants. We know there are delicious, wholly satisfying meals available that are easy and fun to fix, and that give us the added satisfaction of knowing as we eat them that we're empowering ourselves, and directing our own health. We know that market forces such as the meat, dairy, egg, seafood, and various other industries pay for data that serves their purposes, and that they pay a lot of money to suppress that data which does not. Did you know, for example, that in the U.S. it's against the law to disparage certain food products? It is. Ask Oprah Winfrey. She was sued by the meat industry for a simple negative remark about hamburger.


We've learned also that medical schools spend little or no time teaching or discussing nutrition. At my doctor visit recently I asked this question: "How much time did you spend in med school on nutrition.?" His answer, "None."


That the link between certain diseases and genetics is tenuous at best, at around 2%. This insight made me question some long held beliefs: My father, his brother, both my grandfathers, several great uncles, all were dead by age 85. Old, yes, but after reading the 2% connection, I discarded the notion that 85 was my own upper limit. On a plant based diet, I look forward to my 100th birthday. Why not?


That certain food product 'research,' much of it paid for by the government, in other words from public funds, are made available only through FOIA requests. Industries that dictate what we eat suppress whatever research disparages their products, and we're paying them to do so. In a related note, the externalities associated with factory farming, the damaged ecology, scarred landscape, rivers of manure that are streamed into our waterways, and the inevitable pandemic that is coming from the overuse of antimicrobials fed to factory farmed animals, all these costs are passed along to consumers.


That the U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes those very industries, and takes their recommendations for such things as the food pyramid at face value, benefiting their products, of course.


That it's not just beef, chicken, and pork. The factory farmed fish industry is equally guilty of the same disgusting and inhumane practices that other food producers are.


And finally that the American health care system does not, in reality, make much effort to prevent disease. It is indeed a system oriented around and dedicated to treating disease, not preventing it. Next time you visit your family doctor, ask her about nutrition, and how your meal plan affects your health. 


It's the food.


We don't call ourselves vegans, or vegetarians. Those labels indicate what we cannot eat, so we avoid using them. The truth is, we can eat anything we want. We choose to eat only plant based foods, and that decision has rewarded us very well. Thanks for reading. 


A short list of resources:


UC Davis Integrative Medicine, a major resource for info & data.


How Not to Die, by Michael Greger MD, F.A.C.I.M.


The Engine 2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn.


Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.


The Gamechangers, a movie about plant based eating.


What the Health, another documentary.








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