Maybe you’ve read some of the great success stories of people who have turned their health around by eating a whole food, plant-based (wfpb) diet. Maybe you even feel like you might try it if you are ever diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes, but for now it seems far too austere.
I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Unless you are a young child, you probably already have some degree of artery disease.
In people eating a standard American diet (SAD), damage to the arteries begins in childhood, and continues throughout life. You may not be diagnosed with heart disease until symptoms manifest, or your coronary arteries are substantially occluded, but the disease is almost certainly present to some degree.
Given that for 1 in 4 heart patients, the first symptom of their heart disease is a fatal heart attack, it is not safe to wait until you are sick. You might just be dead before it ever gets to that.
Damage can also begin in the brain before any symptoms are experienced. By the age of 50, many people experience tiny, asymptomatic strokes which accumulate and can eventually cause memory loss and dementia. Having artery disease has been strongly associated with mental impairment in older adults.
Dysfunction of the endothelial lining of our blood vessels due to artery disease is associated with many conditions. As Dr. Greger says, “The endothelium is directly involved in peripheral vascular disease, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, chronic kidney failure, tumor growth, metastasis, venous thrombosis [blood clots] and severe viral infectious diseases. Dysfunction of the vascular endothelium is thus a hallmark of human diseases.”
But Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., the surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who treated and reversed the advanced heart disease of many patients has this to say in Chapter 12 of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, “What can we do? I have a fairly radical answer for that question: We should aim at eliminating chronic illness. That is not an unattainable goal…with every year that passes, there is more proof that a plant-based diet has similar salutary effects on other chronic diseases, as well.”
So why aren’t doctors telling us about the remarkable effect on modern chronic illnesses of plant-based nutrition? My own doctor told me that the physician who owns the practice actually wanted the other doctors to counsel all their patients about the benefits of a vegan diet, but that it was so frustrating trying to get patients to make even small changes, they didn’t bother. Small changes don’t make very much difference to how people actually feel, though. Their “numbers” might improve slightly, but they won’t feel better. Major changes in diet, however, result in major health benefits. Not just to numbers, but to actual wellbeing. Major changes require more training and preparation, but may actually be more sustainable, because of the almost immediate improvements in health.
Even athletes and people who aren’t sick report feeling greater energy and ability to exercise when they switch to a wfpb diet.
So don’t wait to get sick, and certainly don’t wait for your doctor to prescribe a wfpb diet. Enjoy all the benefits now and radically decrease the odds that you will ever experience symptoms of any modern chronic illness.