Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States both for men and women, killing 25% of Americans, and heart disease deaths are most often due to ischemic heart disease (e.g., heart attack).1 These facts are well known among doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. However, did you know that virtually all “heart attacks” are preventable by diet and lifestyle? If you have never heard this, you are not alone. In my opinion, our education as health professionals tends to focus on the treatment of disease, using drugs, surgery, and other technological advances, and unfortunately, generally underemphasizes relatively inexpensive preventive techniques, including healthy dietary and lifestyle changes. Furthermore, doctors and nurses are trained to pay close attention to disease trends within families and to remind patients of their family histories. As a result, patients often leave doctors’ offices and hospitals with a misconception that if certain diseases, such as heart attacks, are common in their family, they will also likely die from the same disease. I have encountered many people who feel that their fate with regard to disease is sealed in their genes. In actuality, I strongly believe that heart attacks (and most other common chronic diseases that impact Americans) have more to do with families eating the same fatty, salty, sugary, high calorie, processed, animal based, low nutrient foods and sharing the same couch than having similar DNA.As deliverers of health care, we have the opportunity to empower ourselves and our patients as we become more familiar with the current research on preventive health, and as we personally embrace healthier diets and lifestyles.

Let’s consider heart attacks in more detail. Plaques develop as a consequence of damage to the endothelial cells that line our coronary arteries. Only about 12% of heart attacks are actually related to coronary arteries closing off due to large old plaques. The remaining 88% of heart attacks are due to rupture of relatively young, fatty coronary artery plaques.2 Subsequently, clot forms in an attempt to heal this injury, but often occludes the vessel, so that not enough oxygen rich blood reaches the heart muscle. This death of heart muscle (myocardial infarction) is often referred to as a heart attack. There is credible and comprehensive research that this cascade of events, which is often fatal, is directly related to a typically Western diet.

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