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What Causes Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Most factors that lead to heart disease are reversible, yet most Americans accept heart disease as a natural consequence of aging. But that is not necessarily true, so we need to re-evaluate what causes heart disease.

In 2017, there were 647,457 heart-disease related deaths in the U.S. – representing 23.5% of all deaths during the year.

Doctors use the term ‘heart disease’ to describe several different conditions, most of which relate to the buildup of plaque in the arteries’ endothelial (interior lining).

It’s interesting to note that cultures who eat a plant-based diet have nearly nonexistent heart attacks, strokes, angina, arrhythmias, and heart failure. You’d think that this alone would be sufficient motive for medical professionals to teach their patients regarding heart health and adopting a plant-based diet and getting regular exercise. One of the main reasons for this is that modern, palliative medicine focuses on treating symptoms rather than reducing disease causes.


Atherosclerosis is a disease that involves the narrowing and stiffening of the arteries because of the accumulation of plaque.

Atherosclerosis can occur anywhere on the body, but it is especially dangerous when it develops in the arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. The plaque is composed of cholesterol, fatty substances, and blood clotting materials. When the plaque deposits rupture or break apart, they can cause a blood clot. Such blood clots can lead to severe cardiovascular complications, including a heart attack or a stroke.

Atherosclerosis is a coronary artery disease (CAD) – a condition that affects 16.5 million Americans. 13% of American women and 20% of men between ages 60 to 79 have CAD. The presence of CAD increases with age: 25% of women over 79 have CAD. However, coronary artery disease not only affects older people; the development of atherosclerosis can begin as early as adolescence.

So, what causes heart disease? The medical profession points to several factors, including lack of exercise, smoking and drinking too much alcohol, and having a diet high in fats – the so-called Western Diet.

Some doctors and nutritional experts refer to the Western Diet as the ‘Standard American Diet’ (SAD). The Standard American Diet is described as a diet high in animal fats, including meat, fish, fowl, and milk products. The Standard American Diet also tends to include highly processed, non-whole foods, high in fats, a great variety of sugars, and lots of salt.

How Does Atherosclerosis Develop?

Atherosclerosis develops over the years, affecting the arteries’ endothelial lining in stages, then culminating in arterial plaques that can break and result in major cardiovascular events, including a heart attack or a stroke.

In atherosclerosis, damage to the endothelial cells causes them to become functionally faulty and produce proteins that attract immune cells called monocytes. When the monocytes enter the blood vessel lining, they transform into macrophages. Macrophages are cells with a specialized role – to surround and destroy infectious agents, cancer cells, and other unhealthy substances. These macrophages become foam cells that absorb excess fatty deposits on the blood vessel walls, including LDL cholesterol. As the macrophages fill with lipids, they develop a foam-like appearance. That forms plaque that slows down the blood flow going through the arteries.

Can One Reverse What Causes Heart Disease?

Dr. Esselstyn is the author of “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease – The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, nutrition-based Cure.” This book results from Dr. Esselstyn’s 20-year study showing that changes in diet and nutrition can reverse damage caused by heart disease. In his book, with irrefutable evidence, Dr. Esselstyn holds that conventional cardiology has failed patients by developing treatments that address only heart disease symptoms, not their cause.

Dr. Esselstyn’s 20-year groundbreaking study proved that a plant-based diet that is also oil-free could prevent coronary artery disease progression and reverse the accumulation of plaque buildup on the endothelial lining of the arteries.

Dr. Esselstyn’s study began when patients with advanced coronary artery disease came to him. He saw that despite the aggressive medical treatment, including bypasses and angioplasties, five of the original patients had been told by their cardiologists that they had less than a year to live. However, within just a few months, on Dr. Esselstyn’s plant-based diet program, the cholesterol levels, angina and symptoms, and the blood flow of these patients dramatically improved. The amazing thing was that 12 years later, 17 of Dr. Esselstyn’s patients had not had any further cardiac events. Twenty years later, Dr. Esselstyn noted that patients who were consistent with their compliance with the plant-based diet could survive without any symptoms of coronary artery disease.

Moreover, after five years of Dr. Esselstyn’s plant-based diet, his research group’s total cholesterol levels dropped from an average of 246 milligrams per deciliter to 137 mg/Dl. It’s important to note that an overall cholesterol level above 240 mg/dL indicates a high risk. In comparison, a level below 150 mg/dL is the prevalent cholesterol level in cultures where heart disease is nearly nonexistent. Dr. Esselstyn’s study showed the highest drop in total cholesterol ever documented in this type’s medical literature.

The book provides readers the same nutrition-based plan that changed the lives of his patients forever. Men and women who suffer from heart disease who adapt to a plant-based diet can reduce and maintain cholesterol levels that are low enough to help them overcome their risk of a heart attack.

How to Reduce Heart Disease

Protecting heart health is a matter of keeping proactive. It starts with eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. The current recommendation is for one to get about 150 minutes of exercise each week – that’s about 20 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Doing these two things can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the factors related to what causes heart disease.

The FDA has not evaluated these statements. The statements in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with your doctor before making any change to your diet or beginning an exercise program.

Center of Disease Control and Prevention
Life Extension
Dr. Esselstyn