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Food: the solution to heart disease?

Published April 13. 2013 09:02AM

In The Giver, the 1994 Newberry Medal winning novel, the title character suggests 12-year-old Jonas watch a video of his father, a childcare worker, "releasing" a newborn to "Elsewhere," so Jonas does. Afterwards, he shudders, sobs, and collapses.

He reacts this way when he realizes "release," is a code word for convenience killings designed to keep the Community free of fear and pain. The elderly, anyone who breaks the law three times and even the weaker twin are given the syringe that sends them "Elsewhere" to provide an idyllic, albeit emotionless existence for the others.

To bring Jonas back to his senses after the video, the Giver grasps his shoulders, stares him in the eyes, and states the sad truth about the Communityand Jonas's father: "They can't help it. . . . It's the life that was created for them."


I thought about the Giver's words when I read what Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. M.D. feels "the Western lifestyle" does for you. That's because the resultant heart disease can create its own sort of "release" and send you to "Elsewhere." And because, in many ways, you did not create the lifestyle.

The lifestyle the ubiquity of bad food, the daily pace that makes it difficult to find time to exercise was created for you.

But you differ in one significant way from the Community members in The Giver. You have not had the ability to think independently taken from you.

Because of that, I feel the need to share Esselstyn's diet with you especially since his 2007 book, "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," documents that it reversed heart disease in a number of patients who were told by cardiologists that they had less than one year to live. Yet all these patients are alive and devoid of their previous symptoms 20 years later.

These lifesaving dietary measures, however, are so Puritanical that they make my lacto-ovo (but no egg yolks or milk fat) vegetarian diet look hedonistic.

For starters, the Esselstyn diet does not permit meat of any kind. (He's known for saying, "If it has a face or a mother, don't eat it.") Additionally, all dairy products and oil of any kind are also taboo.

When I explained Esselstyn's diet to a meat-eating, olive oil-loving friend of mine, he said, "I'd rather die than eat that way." Esselstyn's book explains how the typical Western diet could get my friend that wish.

Certain foods animal-based foods, processed foods and oils, adversely affect the amount of nitric acid that is produced by endothelial cells, and nitric acid smoothes blood flow. A lack of nitric acid in the bloodstream makes it more likely that inflammation occurs in the blood vessels.

Inflammation allows plaque to attach onto the vessel walls, and plaque buildup stiffens the vessels and creates blockages.

Blockages lead to heart attacks.

Lots of heart attacks. In the United States, more than 500,000 people die from them each year.

When Esselstyn speaks to groups across the country, he cites that 45 percent of Medicare funds are spent on cardiology. In his book, he writes that the United States spends more than $250 billion a year on heart disease as much as our government spent on the war effort the first two and a half years we battled Iraq.

And this problem is not ours alone. Heart disease is now the number-one killer of both men and women in all the Western world.

Yet other parts of the world, the so-called poor parts that comprise about 70 percent of the present world population, naturally eat in the manner that Esselstyn prescribes and are virtually untouched by heart disease.

So why don't more Americans follow Esselstyn's diet especially when the results of the 10-year, Cardiovascular Health Study caused Dr. Lewis Kuller of the University of Pittsburgh to conclude that "all males over 65 years of age exposed to a traditional Western diet have cardiovascular disease"?

Esselstyn's answer: Money.

He writes that cardiology procedures generate huge revenues for hospitals and make many cardiologists millionaires. The insurance companies get rich from medical premiums as well.

To spread the benefits of eating simply and austerely would not only eliminate heart disease, but the profits procured by these three groups; therefore, mum's the word.

While I do believe greed is an element in the problem, Esselstyn may be discounting laziness.

On occasion, unhealthy individuals some with all the harbingers of heart disease have asked me to outline an eating and exercise program to counteract years of neglect and keep heart disease at bay. In such a case, I'll try to make the early part of the plan as easy to follow as possible.

Even so, most of these people who moments before asked for my help question if elements to it, like reducing the amount of simple carbs they consume in day, are really necessary. A question like this makes it clear the questioner is attached to the Western way of eating.

One man, in fact, actually asked, "Isn't there a pill that would do all that and allow me to eat whatever I want?"

While there may be pills touted to do that, what they really do, according to Esselstyn, is buy you some time until a doctor needs to operate . . . which then buys the doctor some prime time in the Caribbean or some prime land in Colorado.

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