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To Tackle Heart Disease, Diet Changes Beat Drugs Any Day
June 7, 2011

Last month, the National Institutes of Health stopped a clinical trial a year and a half early because the drug under study—an extended-release form of niacin—proved ineffective for preventingheart attacks and strokes. Marketed asNiaspan, the drug increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol). However, it showed no benefit at all in the $52.7 million AIM-HIGH study, which included 3,414 individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease, so the study was stopped.

In response, research leaders began wringing their hands, wondering what could be done. The Washington Post quoted Susan B. Shurin, acting director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which funded the study, saying, “This sends us a bit back to the drawing board.” Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, lamented, “We are always looking for new, more effective ways to reduce cardiovascular risks. It’s disappointing.”

The answer is to close the medicine cabinet and open the kitchen cabinet. More than 20 years ago, Dr. Dean Ornish showed that a vegetarian diet, along with other healthful lifestyle factors could reverse heart disease and dramatically cut the long-term risk of attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Other research teams have shown similar results. An entirely plant-based diet has no animal fat and no cholesterol, and is rich in soluble fiber that helps reduce cholesterol.  

Niacin is often used in hopes of raising the ratio of “good” cholesterol to “bad” cholesterol, that is boosting HDL and reducing LDL. However, a healthy diet accomplishes much the same then. A plant-based diet typically reduces LDL so much that the ratio improves. Studies have also shown that exercise can boost HDL.

So rather than hope for more and better drugs to combat a disease that is largely caused by diet and lifestyle, it is time to address the causes directly. By prying ourselves away from animal-derived food products and building our menu from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, we will go a long way toward eliminating heart disease.

US Department of Health and Human Services. NIH stops clinical trial on combination cholesterol treatment. NIH News. National Institutes of Health. May 26, 2011.


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