The heart pumps the life-giving liquid, called “blood”, to all the organs and tissues of the body, day and night, during summer and wintertime, without vacation. What an amazing work!
About half of all deaths in developed countries are due to cardiovascular diseases (see the yellow piece of pie). They are the result of obstruction of the arteries either by accumulations of cholesterol and calcium or thrombosis (or both).
“Epidemiological studies carried out on middle-aged men provide clear evidence that the risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] in individuals is increased by three major factors: high serum total cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking.” (Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 1990, p. 56)
“The ‘lag-time’ effect of risk factors for CVD [cardiovascular disease] means that present mortality rates are the consequence of previous exposure to behavioral risk factors such as inappropriate nutrition, insufficient physical activity and increased tobacco consumption. Overweight, central obesity, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia, diabetes and low cardio-respiratory fitness are among the biological factors contributing principally to increased risk. Unhealthy dietary practices include the high consumption of saturated fats, salt and refined carbohydrates, as well as low consumption of fruits and vegetables, and these tend to cluster together.” (Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 2003, p. 81)
“Studies in rural parts of China indicate an average total cholesterol level of 3.24 mmol/l (125 mg/dl) and this population has an incidence of CHD of only 4% of that observed in Great Britain.” (Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 1990, p. 55)
When cholesterol and calcium accumulate in the arteries the lumen gets smaller and less blood carrying oxygen can reach the tissues. At first the individual does not notice any difficulty. The symptoms begin when the disease is so advanced that the lumen has only 30% left.
In many tissues and organs the blood vessels form a network so that the blood can bypass the obstruction. However, in the heart muscle this does not occur. The tissue that receives insufficient oxygen supply hurts. This “obstructive” pain is called “angina”. When the oxygen supply is very low the affected tissue dies. This is called an “infarct”. Often the first symptom is sudden death!
If the obstruction is not too severe, a balloon angioplasty may be sufficient to open the arterial lumen without major surgery. However, dietary and other lifestyle changes are imperative to secure lasting results.
In more severe cases an open heart surgery may be needed to create bypasses from the aorta to the damaged tissue. These are major surgeries!
The obstruction may also affect large arteries, especially at the neck and thighs. The hard, calcified material can be taken out by opening the artery as seen in the picture. This surgery is called an endarteriectomy. As said above, dietary and other lifestyle changes are necessary to secure lasting results. The best way to do this is by participating as an inpatient in a cardiac reconditioning program based on the NEWSTART® method (see also at the end of the chapter on diabetes). A vegetarian diet and a regular exercise are crucial components of such program.
Dietary changes may produce significant changes in blood levels of glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides after two or three weeks, but the organic lesions on the arteries may take several months to show measurable improvements. This can easily been understood when considering the fact that it took one or two decades to develop them.
“A substantial amount of epidemiological and clinical data indicates that a high intake of plant foods and complex carbohydrates is associated with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases, especially coronary heart disease, certain cancers, hypertension, and diabetes.” (Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 1990, p. 99)
“Population subgroups consuming diets rich in plant foods have lower CHD [coronary heart disease] rates than the general population. For example, Seventh-day Adventists in the Netherlands and Norway have CHD rates that are one-third to one-half of those in the general population. Californian Seventh-day Adventists who eat meat have higher rates than do those who are vegetarians, and British vegetarians have a 30% lower rate of CHD mortality than non-vegetarians once an allowance is made for their low rates of cigarette smoking. Serum cholesterol levels among vegetarians are significantly lower than among lacto-ovo-vegetarians and non-vegetarians.” (Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 1990, p. 57)