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The Warning Signs of Clogged Arteries

July 27, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   , Heart Disease, arterial clogging, cardiovascular disease conference

By the time many people reach their 20s, blockages that disrupt the flow of blood already exist within their arteries. Responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood and life-sustaining nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body, healthy arteries are essential for maintaining a healthy body.

But when particles of cholesterol, fat, and other cells build up in arteries—thanks mostly to a Western diet loaded with meat, dairy products, and eggs—they create fatty streaks and eventually form plaques that obstruct blood flow.

In coronary artery disease—the most common type of cardiovascular disease and leading killer in the United States—these blockages affect the arteries leading to the heart, causing chest pain and often resulting in heart attack.

But blockages do not only affect the arteries in the chest. Atherosclerosis, or the thickening of arteries, can strike any artery in the system, leading to different symptoms throughout the body that can serve as early warning signs for cardiovascular disease.

While different people experience symptoms differently, let’s take a look at three common ways clogged arteries can manifest throughout the body:

Lower back pain: The arteries leading to the lower back are among the first in the body to accumulate plaque and show signs of blockage. In fact, 10 percent of Americans already experience advanced blockages in these arteries by age 20. Reduced blood flow to the back can weaken the disks that cushion the vertebrae and lead to painful herniated disks and pinched nerves. And according to studies, people who suffer from chronic back pain – the most common form of pain in the United States – are far more likely to have clogged lumbar arteries compared to those who do not experience back pain.

Erectile Dysfunction: In many cases, erectile dysfunction is an early warning sign for clogged arteries. When blood flow to the penis is reduced, sexual dysfunction results. A recent study found that screening men with erectile dysfunction for heart disease could prevent a million heart attacks or strokes over the next 20 years.

Stroke: When plaque accumulates in the arteries leading to the brain, the path for blood flow narrows, depriving portions of the brain of oxygenated blood. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to die in what is known as a thrombotic stroke.

Since arterial blockages in one area can indicate systemic damage, medications that treat isolated symptoms may not be the most effective way to treat the underlying problem. Studies show that the most powerful prescription may not lie in the pill bottle, but rather on our plates. Consuming a plant-based diet free of cholesterol and low in fat has been proven to reverse arterial blockages and improve blood flow.

Interested in learning more of the warning signs of clogged arteries? Join us at this summer’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine Cardiovascular Disease and read and share our infographic:



PHOTOS and RECIPES: Congress Competes in Veggie Burger Smackdown

July 24, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   , veggie burgers, veggie caucus


For attendees of a recent Physicians Committee event on Capitol Hill, it came as no surprise that members of Congress were lobbying for votes. Only this time, they were pulling for vegetables! At the inaugural Congressional Veggie Burger Smackdown, a friendly competition raged between attendees, as four fruits and vegetables faced off for the top prize.

The Physicians Committee teamed up with Washington-based Chef Todd Gray, who created four unique sauces celebrating famed fruits and vegetables from the home states of four vegetarian members of Congress. Topped with Roasted Corn and Sweet Pepper Salsa, the Arizona Burger honored Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Rep. Ted Deutch and Florida citrus inspired a Sweet-Savory Orange & Carrot Jam that brightened the Florida Burger. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Hawaii Burger featured a sweet and colorful Black Pepper Pineapple Sauce. The New Jersey Burger celebrated the state’s official vegetable with a Slow-Cooked Tomato Chutney in honor of Sen. Cory Booker.


Attendees of the Smackdown – which drew members of Congress, their staffers, and the public – sampled each state’s burger and cast votes for their top choice.

Red quinoa, black beans, mushrooms, and spices combined to create the flavor-packed and fiber-filled burgers – slider-sized versions of Chef Gray’s highly-acclaimed FLOTUS Burger.  Attendees rounded out their plates with colorful, disease-fighting foods including a leafy green salad topped with vegetables, sweet potato fries, rainbow coleslaw, and minted fruit kebabs.

The meal was in stark contrast to another lunch being held simultaneously in the building: the North American Meat Institute’s annual free hot dog lunch. Throughout the event, Rep. Deutch, Rep. Gabbard, and I praised the winding crowd of attendees who waited on line for veggie burgers instead.

“It’s a great thing to see so many people out here, especially when you consider that the Meat Institute is holding a hot dog lunch next door,” said Rep. Gabbard, a lifelong vegetarian who has committed to a meat-free lifestyle for her own personal health and the health of the planet.

“As you enjoy these veggie burgers, think about how much better this meal is going to be for you as compared to the kinds of things that are too much a part of the American diet in large part because of decisions, unfortunately, made [in Congress],” added Rep. Deutch, who affirmed his commitment to moving the country in a healthier direction.


While some attendees already follow plant-based diets, many were new to the idea. Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen was unsure of what to expect, but he gave the burgers a thumbs up and stated that the event convinced him to incorporate more meatless meals into his diet.

Rep. Deutch encouraged attendees to move toward a whole-foods plant-based diet, on account of how much healthier he feels after making the switch. “There is no question that I have more energy as a result of this, much to the chagrin of my staff,” he said.

While Reps. Deutch and Gabbard pulled for the Florida and Hawaii burgers, Sen. Booker’s New Jersey Burger ultimately prevailed with 36 percent of the vote, edging out Hawaii by a single vote.
The superintendent of Newark Public Schools will receive 20 copies of Vegetabibbles, a colorful picture book that celebrates healthful foods, for students in kindergarten through second grade.  


See more photos here!

Want your own taste of the Smackdown?

Recipes for Four State Sauces

Recipe for the FLOTUS Burger


Share Your Beef About the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

July 21, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   , beef industry, Dietary Guidelines

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that will be released later this year will likely make a huge step forward by removing “lean meat” from its list of favored foods—unless the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association gets its way.

At the association’s Cattle Industry Conference this past weekend, attendees said they will “remain committed to working with the administration and Congress to ensure the final guidelines reflect the highest quality science and the role of lean beef in a healthy diet.” But there is no safe amount of meat—lean or otherwise.

The association is not alone in trying to skew science. It is joined by the National Dairy Council, the North American Meat Institute, the Sugar Association, the United Egg Producers, and other industry groups that stand to profit by having their products included in the guidelines.

But the diet that is scientifically proven to fight our nation’s largest public health threats—obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease—is one rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes—not meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Sign our petition today: Urge Government: Stop Industry from Skewing Science.



Watch: Funny or Die’s School Lunch Pizza Farm

July 14, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

The Pizza Farm, where “healthy” snacks like pepperoni pizza, taquitos, sloppy joes, and fish fingers are “grown,” is a new Funny or Die produced video released today by the American Heart Association. The satirical video pokes fun at the ongoing efforts of special interest groups that want Congress to weaken school lunch standards.

To learn more about the issue, read “Who’s Making Money from Overweight Kids?” a new Physicians Committee report on how the meat and dairy industry makes money when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and School Nutrition Association promote junk foods—such as nachos, chicken wings, and pepperoni pizza—in school lunches.

As Congress prepares to update the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 2010, which is set to expire on Sept. 30, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine makes recommendations in the report for how lawmakers should decide what kinds of foods children should find in the school lunch line.



Trucker Takes Vegan Road to Weight Loss

July 13, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   weight loss, weight loss plan, plant-based weight loss

The latest celebrity to join Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus in embracing a vegan diet isn’t a singer or actor—he’s a truck driver. Bobby “Plant-Fueled Trucker” Andersen, a 45-year-old Mississippi truck driver, recently lost 65 pound on a vegan diet. He’s also exercising again and off of all medications—with his doctor’s approval.

How did he do it? On the road, he cut out barbecue, fast-food cheeseburgers, and other meat and dairy products and replaced them with more fruits and vegetables and plant-based meals—like veggie stir-fry and mac-and-no-cheese with broccoli—he cooks at home on his day off.


Andersen’s results are amazing, but backed by the latest research. Researchers at Harvard University recently reviewed studies of various vegetarian and nonvegetarian diets and found that study participants who were assigned vegan diets lost 5.5 pounds more on average, the most of any dietary group. And a meta-analysis the Physicians Committee published earlier this year found that participants on a vegan diet for at least four weeks lost an average weight of 7.5 to 10 pounds.

Our Success Stories Web page has dozens of other inspiring vegan success stories—from diabetes to cancer to weight loss—like Andersen’s. You can join Andersen on the road to good health by signing up for our September 21-Day Vegan Kickstart and check out our other nutrition resources.