Dr. Kim Williams is a cardiologist and professor at Rush University in Chicago. He’s the incoming president of the American College of Cardiology. In the following article, the most-read cardiovascular article on MedPage Today for 2 weeks running, Williams explains why he is promoting a plant-based diet:
CardioBuzz: Vegan Diet, Healthy Heart?, MedPageToday, 21 July 2014
It was a patient’s success reversing an alarming condition that motivated me to investigate a vegan diet.
Just before the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) annual meeting in 2003 I learned that my LDL cholesterol level was 170. It was clear that I needed to change something. Six months earlier, I had read a nuclear scan on a patient with very-high-risk findings — a severe three-vessel disease pattern of reversible ischemia.
The patient came back to the nuclear lab just before that 2003 ACC meeting. She had been following Dean Ornish, MD’s program for “Reversing Heart Disease,” which includes a plant-based diet, exercise, and meditation. She said that her chest pain had resolved in about 6 weeks, and her scan had become essentially normalized on this program.
When I got that LDL result, I looked up the details of the plant-based diet in Ornish’s publications — 1- and 5-year angiographic outcomes and marked improvement on PET perfusion scanning — small numbers of patients, but outcomes that reached statistical significance.
I thought I had a healthy diet — no red meat, no fried foods, little dairy, just chicken breast and fish. But a simple Web search informed me that my chicken-breast meals had more cholesterol content (84 mg/100 g) than pork (62 mg/100 g). So I changed that day to a cholesterol-free diet, using “meat substitutes” commonly available in stores and restaurants for protein. Within 6 weeks my LDL cholesterol level was down to 90.
Interestingly, our ACC/American Heart Association (AHA) prevention guidelines do not specifically recommend a vegan diet, as the studies are very large and observational or small and randomized, such as those on Ornish’s whole food, plant-based diet intervention reversing coronary artery stenosis. The data are very compelling, but larger randomized trials are needed to pass muster with our rigorous guideline methodology.
Wouldn’t it be a laudable goal of the American College of Cardiology to put ourselves out of business within a generation or two?
Look at what he was eating before he changed his diet, “no red meat, no fried foods, little dairy, just chicken breast and fish.” He thought that was healthy. Just about everyone I know thinks that’s healthy. Just about everyone I know has high cholesterol.
Dr. Williams is courageous coming out in favor of plant-based diets. Not only is he going against the profit-driven medical industrial complex (of which he is a part!) but there is a powerful meat-eating and meat-producing contingent in this country that will, I’m afraid, succeed in shutting down or at least marginalizing Williams’ message.
Dr. Dean Ornish is not as cynical as I am. He responded to Williams’ article with these encouraging words:
CardioBuzz: ‘Lifestyle Medicine’, MedPageToday, 31 July 2014
“The most influential trend in medicine today, growing exponentially, is the emerging field of what is known as “lifestyle medicine” — lifestyle as treatment, not just prevention. … We tend to think of advances in medicine as a new drug, laser, or surgical device, something high-tech and expensive. Yet, the simple choices we make in what we eat and how we live have a powerful influence on our health and well-being.”
He went on to summarize his research of the last 37 years – research that contributed to my belief that a whole food, plant-based diet is the way to go.
Before I end, I want to pass on this claim by Ornish that low-carb diets have yet to show good for primary outcomes:
“I am not aware of any study published in a peer-reviewed journal, even an uncontrolled study, showing that a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet can reverse the progression of coronary atherosclerosis or improve blood to the heart as measured directly using cardiac PET scans or even thallium scans.”