A significant majority of patients in these studies have experienced an "unclogging" of many blocked arteries after following Ornish's program, while patients in the control groups (receiving conventional therapies) have not. This recommendation of a vegetarian diet makes sense in light of population surveys that reveal fewer vegetarians die from heart disease than nonvegetarians. In addition, vegetarians typically have lower levels of total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (known as bad cholesterol). Removing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat is important but so is eating plenty of foods that are unrefined, organic, high in fiber, and fresh -- these measures reduce the amount of the harmful oxidized cholesterol in the body.
Some practitioners of nutritional therapy, however, maintain that effective treatment and prevention of heart disease goes beyond restricting cholesterol and fat. Certain nutritional deficiencies may put people at risk for heart disease by:
- contributing to weak blood vessel walls
- promoting vessel-blocking plaque buildup
- encouraging blood to clot
- increasing blood cholesterol
Adding these important nutrients to the diet (by eating unrefined foods and taking supplements) is recommended:
- coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone)
- vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- vitamin C
Essential fatty acids can also be helpful. They can lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and flaxseed oil or fish oil capsules decrease the blood's clotting ability, thereby reducing the danger of blockages.
Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks, and whole-milk dairy products. The ideal heart-treatment program allows for just some egg whites and nonfat dairy products. Saturated fat is found in animal foods and a few vegetable foods (such as palm and coconut oils).