Starting back in early 2012, my Dad started having frequent checkups for his heart. Throughout his life, he was extremely active in sports and fitness, however he had always been genetically predisposed for high blood pressure. Additionally, at the age of 69, his lifetime diet, based heavily on the consumption of red meats and other animal proteins, was catching up to him. Examinations revealed an accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries around his heart, exacerbating his already high blood pressure. It was predicted that, without taking preventative measures, he would likely have a heart attack within the next several years.
This news prompted my Dad to immediately search for the best way to reduce this threat. After several consultations with cardiac experts, the majority opinion was to undergo an operation to place a stent in one of his arteries. This mesh tube would restore blood flow through his restricted artery and significantly reduce the chance of blockage. While this operation, called a coronary angioplasty, is relatively safe and effective, my Dad was not comfortable going under the knife. In his mind, this operation would not fix the cause of the problem and would only represent a short-term solution to an issue that could manifest itself in other arteries in the future.
After extensive research, my Dad found the most relevant information presented in a book called “The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health”. Since its publication in 2004, this book has gained popularity as being one of the largest, most extensive studies addressing the human diet ever undertaken. The 20-year study compares the diets of 6,500 individuals from 65 countries around the world to draw any correlations between diet and a variety of chronic illnesses, such as cancer and coronary heart disease. The author’s main conclusions were that those people who ate a plant-based diet and avoided animal products as well as simple, refined sugars have lower prevalence of chronic diseases. It was observed that the switching of an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet even prompted the reversal of several illnesses, including heart disease.
After discussing his options with his doctors again, my Dad decided to attempt reversing his heart disease by radically altering his diet instead of undergoing surgery. Adopting the diet proposed by The China Study required a drastic change. My Dad completely stopped eating meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and refined carbohydrates and instead increased his consumption of healthy fats and oils, whole wheat breads, nuts, beans, fruit and vegetables. While this change in diet was difficult for both my Dad and Mom, who had to learn all new recipes and ways to prepare food, I admire my father’s determination to reverse the damage done to his heart in a natural manner, rather than taking the “easy” way out. Several weeks from now, he should have a further examination of his heart to compare the arteries in his heart now to how they looked a year ago. If there isn’t noticeable improvement, he has decided to undergo the surgery, but either way, my Dad’s eating habits have changed for the better and collectively, as a family, we have learned a tremendous amount about the importance of diet. Given how genetically similar I am to my father, I have started to incorporate some of lessons he learned through this process so that I may avoid a similar situation when I am older.
The link below is to a New York Times interview with the author of “The China Study”: