Heart Disease Treatment: Drugs vs. Diet

As heart disease continues to be the leading killer, I thought you might be interested in comparing the latest approaches to addressing this disease.

Heart Treatment Comparison Chart

The numbers for the chart come from five different research studies, which I have combined onto a single graph so that they can be easily compared. In each study, patients were in two groups, one with a particular treatment or diet, and one group without. In each case, I scaled the death or disease rate such that the untreated rate corresponds to 100%. Then the other individual bars on the graph represent the percentage of death or disease rate for the treated patients relative to the untreated rate.

The first study we graph looked at stents which are a common form of intervention for heart disease. The technology is certainly impressive that can guide a compressed metal mesh tube from a leg artery into a coronary artery and by inflating a small balloon expand the stent locking it into place. And there is some evidence to suggest that stents do lead to a lower incidence of restenosis than balloon angioplasty alone. However, a Duke study1 indicates that longevity is not improved by a statistically meaningful amount, perhaps 3%.

Statin drugs including Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor, and the like are prescribed widely to people exhibiting high cholesterol in their blood tests. And in fact these drugs do lower the cholesterol blood test results. Sadly, the blood test results are not accompanied by a very large reduction in death rate. In 2010, a meta-study2 of 65,000 patients indicated an all-cause death rate that improved only about 9%, a small fraction of the diseased population. Given the liver damage, muscle pain, and cognition impairment that statins cause in many patients, the small benefit may not be worth the detriments, especially when there are better solutions.

Avoiding the damage that comes from eating meat reduces heart disease. A British study3 found a decrease in heart disease of 32% in vegetarians compared to meat eaters. This improvement is over three times that of statin drugs and while statins have many negative side effects, the side effects of eliminating meat from the diet are positive in terms of reducing other diseases.

The most exciting news comes from a study of heart patients that were put on a diet of whole plants. That is, not only did they avoid all meat products (beef, poultry, pork, fish) but they also cut out all dairy products, eggs, processed foods, and added oils. The result is nothing short of astounding. An earlier, smaller study4 found these patients that averaged 2 to 3 cardiac incidences (angina, stents, CABG, heart attacks) in the eight years prior to the diet change had zero cardiac incidences in the 12 years that followed the diet change. A larger study5 published in July 2014 found that unlike the earlier smaller study that showed a 100% elimination of heart disease, the larger study showed only a 99% reduction in heart disease relative to those who chose not to change their diet. Only 99%. Still impressive!

I hope you will agree with me that before embarking on a path to statin drugs and interventional procedures, you may want to consider a whole plant-based diet. Every day more people are willing to make the change and getting spectacular results. Not only does this diet banish heart disease, but also stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and a large percentage of cancer. Thus about 70% of our deaths are unnecessary and caused by eating animal products, oils, and refined foods instead of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Also, many non-fatal childhood illnesses such as constipation and, surprisingly, chronic sinus infections just go away when children switch to eating only whole plants.

To learn more about the relationship between nutrition and health, I recommend these books and vidoes. To dig deep into the science, here are links to original research papers. And here are tasty but healthy recipes. If you are looking for a doctor that understands nutrition, try here.

Please let me know what else I can do to help you. And if you can, please help us.


John Tanner, PhD
Director, NuSci, The Nutrition Science Foundation


  1. http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149%2806%2900281-5/abstract
  2. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=416105
  3. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2013/01/30/ajcn.112.044073.abstract
  4. http://www.heartattackproof.com/reversal01.htm (free) or   
    http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149%2899%2900290-8/fulltext (paid)
  5. http://www.dresselstyn.com/JFP_06307_Article1.pdf


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