Many people who wouldn't dream of giving up meat may joke about missing bacon when the subject of going mostly or completely vegetarian comes up, but this really is not laughing matter. Research in fact does support the use of a plant-based diet in boosting cardiovascular health, even in those with established cardiovascular disease. Of course, everyone is different, but this is effective in enough people to produce significant results in studies.
Early Findings on Cardiovascular Health
In a 1985 program at the Cleveland Clinic in the USA, changing to a plant-based diet was found to have some amazing effects against cardiovascular disease. One patient with restricted blood flow to the heart began to show improved circulation in this area only three weeks after changing their diet! Within ten months, another who had severe blood flow restriction in their right calf got to experience complete pain relief and much improved pulse volume. Others, who were also put on cholesterol-lowering drugs, saw either a halted disease progression or even reversal of their cardiovascular issues if they stayed on their diet. These results may seem unbelievable, but they happened, and they happened by dietary changes targeting the root causes of cardiovascular issues, which include inflammation and oxidative stress. Even though conventional medicine can be lifesaving in the event of a heart attack, the authors state that these interventions typically show little effect on life extension or prevention.
A New Study Adds to Previous Findings
In this 2014 study, 198 people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or diabetes sought nutritional advice after seeing the trial's advertisement. Most were men, and their average age was 62. They attended a seminar explaining how a plant-based diet can help cardiovascular health, and were given recipes and instructions on how to modify other dishes. The core diet consisted of legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruit, with use of flax seed meal advised as it contains beneficial omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Almost all animal products (with emphasis on meat and dairy) were excluded, and unfortunately they saw it appropriate to exclude avocado and nuts too (I do not recommend this; these contain anti-inflammatory fats and vitamins).
The results of this study were amazing, considering that all had cardiovascular disease and over one-fifth had previously suffered a heart attack. Unfortunately, 13 out of 21 non-adherent volunteers experienced an adverse cardiac event, with two dying. In the group of 177 adherent volunteers, 104 out of 112 with angina enjoyed improvement or resolution. Thirty-nine agreed to tests which revealed reversal of coronary artery disease, where the blood vessels of the heart have restricted flow. Only one major cardiovascular event, a stroke, occurred among the adherent volunteers, meaning that 99.4% avoided major cardiac events.
This study also mirrors research showing that a vegetarian diet reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by around 40%: 50% for men, and 30% for women. Of course, the best nutritional advice is individualised, so support from a qualified naturopath is recommended over magazines or well-meaning advice.