Can Atherosclerosis be Reversed?

BFP Magazine

Cardio-vascular Health

Atherosclerosis, Coronary Heart Disease, CHD

Can Atherosclerosis be Reversed?

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

What brought Germany to her knees in World War II? It wasn't the massive damage that Allied planes wrought on German factories. The final coup de gras occurred when bombing destroyed Germany's railways, the lifeline of the nation. Just as a deteriorating transportation system can be lethal to a nation so can degenerating coronary arteries be fatal to humans.

This year another 750,000 North Americans will succumb to coronary heart disease (CHD). Many of these deaths will result from narrowed atherosclerotic (hardened) coronary arteries. But is atherosclerosis always a slow, relentless process as certain as aging? Or can it be controlled like other diseases?

A report in the Harvard Health Letter states that this question intrigued Dr. Dean Ornish as far back as the late 1970's. He expounded the revolutionary theory that atherosclerosis could not only be stopped in its tracks, but also reversed by a combination of diet, exercise and stress reduction, without using medication.

But doctors with innovative, radical, ideas are rarely welcomed by the establishment. So when he attempted to raise money for his research he was bluntly turned down by the American Heart Association and other agencies.

Not to be outdone Dr. Ornish collected 48 atherosclerotic patients and did his own small study at his Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California.

Patients were divided into two groups. One followed Dr. Ornish's Program. The others were told to continue on with their regular diet and activity level.

His results were impressive. He reported that 18 out of 22 people on the experimental program showed that narrowed arteries widened somewhat during the one year study. In contrast the narrowing process continued for 10 of 19 patients not on his program.

There was another important finding. Patients with angina on the Ornish Program reported that their chest pain became less frequent and less severe. Conversely, those with angina not following his method claimed their angina became worse. Ô 0*0*0* Dr. Ornish's secret formula? Patients must consume a diet in which fats were restricted to less than 10 per cent of total calories. This excludes all oils and animal products except non©fat yogurt, non©fat milk and egg whites. And it only allows 5 to 10 milligrams of dietary cholesterol each day.

It's a tough diet to follow. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends that fats can make up to 30 per cent of total calories. And daily cholesterol can be 300 milligrams.

Patients can enjoy an alcoholic drink but not more than two ounces daily. And those who smoke must stop. Critics complain the program is simply too demanding and won't work.

Ornish admits for one thing it's hard to quit smoking. But this is a much easier task now that the nicotine patches, such as "Habitrol" and "Nicotrol" are available.

Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, a heart researcher at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, believes that a diet heavy on antioxidant©laden fruits and vegetables and rich in grains may be more beneficial than Ornish's difficult diet regimen.

I share her opinion about antioxidants and I practice what I preach. Every day I take 3,000 mg. of vitamin C , 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E, the kind made from soybean oil rather than synthetic sources, and 10,000 IU of beta carotene, a source of vitamin A.

Increasing evidence convinces me that these vitamins help to decrease the onset of chronic disease and acute disease by decreasing the formation of free radicals.

Every minute of the day our cells are burning oxygen to provide energy for the body. During this oxidative process, free radicals are generated which are believed to cause cellular damage. Antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta carotene help to change free radicals into harmless molecules. There's also reason to believe that vitamin C and E have an inhibiting effect on the formation of blood clots in coronary arteries.

Several weeks ago I mentioned that Dr. Steven A Grover and Katja L Esrey had published an interesting manual dealing with dietary factors and heart disease. I highly recommend it as it separates fact from fiction about cholesterol, triglycerides and what dietary fats are most likely to cause atherosclerosis. Many readers have asked how to obtain it.

The 28 page manual can be obtained by sending a stamped, self© addressed envelope to Dr. Steven A Grover, Montreal General Hospital, 1650 Cedar Ave, Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1A4.

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He's been a ship's surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: He can be reached at

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