Vegan & Heart Disease: Can This Diet Help?

Woman eating lettuce
Can a vegan diet improve heart health?
Expert Fact Checked

Can a vegan diet for heart disease stem the tide of coronary damage? Following a vegan regimen may take some adjustment, but there is evidence that this style of eating cannot only prevent the onset of heart disease but actually improve existing cases, offering a drug-free treatment option for sufferers.

Vegan Versus Vegetarian for Heart Health

Both vegan and vegetarian diets may have health benefits, but vegan diets seem to make a more dramatic difference. What separates vegetarianism and veganism?

Generally speaking, vegetarians eschew meat, poultry, and seafood. However, some vegetarians, usually called semi-vegetarians, only skip red meat. Some vegetarians eat eggs or fish and some don't. The largest group of vegetarians, ovo-lacto vegetarians, avoid meat, poultry, fish, and seafood but do eat milk and eggs.

Veganism is a strict form of vegetarianism. In addition to skipping meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, vegans avoid all animal products and byproducts, including all dairy. Doctors typically recommend vegans take a B-12 and amino acid supplement, since they do not get sufficient amounts of those nutrients from any food source in their diets.

Vegan Diet for Heart Disease

Heart disease is a blanket term for a number of different conditions that affect the heart, but one of the biggest contributors to the development of many heart problems is high cholesterol. High cholesterol can cause plaque build up in your arteries, making them harden or even clogged. The build-up impedes blood flow and can lead to heart attacks.

A healthy level of cholesterol is below 150, but according to PETA, the average cholesterol for non-vegetarian or vegan Americans is approximately 210. On the other hand, vegetarians have an average cholesterol level of about 160 and vegans an average count of about 130.

The statistics speak for themselves, but there is even more proof that veganism works as a heart disease treatment. The Framingham Heart Study, which is the longest-running health study in history, proved soundly that saying no to meat is extremely effective in reducing cholesterol levels and controlling heart disease.

Another study, conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, demonstrated a meatless diet's ability to not only prevent heart disease but treat it. In Dr. Ornish's study, patients followed a low-fat vegetarian diet rather than a vegan diet, but plaque build-up in the study participants, some of which had actually been present for decades, dissolved and disappeared while following the plan. Ultimately, approximately 80 percent of people who followed Dr. Ornish's diet improved their heart disease to the extent that they were able to avoid bypass surgery that once looked inevitable. Dr. Ornish has stated he believes a vegan diet would produce the same, or better, results.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyne of the Cleveland Clinic, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, recommends a vegan diet for heart disease prevention. According to Dr. Esselstyne, heart disease can be prevented or cured by avoiding animal products.

Why Does It Work?

A vegan diet for heart disease reduces cholesterol because it eradicates food sources of cholesterol from the diet. Without meat or diary, the diet is essentially cholesterol-free. Vegan diets also tend to be high in fiber, which supports heart health.

Getting Started on a Vegan Diet

The adjustment to a vegan diet can be tough, especially if you're transitioning directly from eating meat to a strict vegan regimen. Help is out there, however. Find out what vegans eat and browse some vegan meal plans to get started. Above all, talk with your physician about the potential change and find out what he or she recommends.

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Vegan & Heart Disease: Can This Diet Help?