Treating the cause of the biggest killer of men and women

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

A suboptimal diet was responsible for an estimated 1 in 5 premature deaths globally from 1990 to 2016 [1]. CVD was the leading cause of these diet-related deaths which totalled at 10 million [2]. That’s 10 million people who may not have had time to say goodbye to their loved ones. That’s 10 million families destroyed and left broken. That’s 10 million people who could have given themselves a future by just swapping what they put on their plate.

A whole foods plant-based diet is the only eating method ever to stop and even in some cases reverse heart disease (3-7). On the other hand, following an unhealthy lifestyle over time causes CVD (8-12), most children by 10 years old display fatty streaks in their blood vessels which is the first sign of this (13).

If left unchecked this can lead to the narrowing of blood vessels (14) in our twenties to thirties (atherosclerosis) and eventually strokes and heart attacks when we get to our forties and over. The savage reality of this was hammered home when CVD attempted to snatch the life from an unexpecting person at the end of my drive.

​​My brother spotted a person collapse heavily to the floor. When my family and I got to the person they were in a very bad way. Their head was severely damaged from the fall, and after attempting to get them to respond, it turned out they weren't even breathing. Sparing some of the gory details and not quite believing it was all happening, I started CPR.

This was a very similar situation to what happened several years ago when my Dad suffered a similar issue and unfortunately wasn't one of the lucky ones to make it through, so immediately I knew what was at stake as soon as we found this person unresponsive and not breathing.

My brother sprinted off, barefoot to get a nearby defibrillator (AED). An ambulance zoomed down in about 5 minutes (followed by 3 more a few minutes later) - it's an incredibly short time for the NHS, but it felt like an age whilst doing CPR. After a few hits of the defibrillator and more CPR, the person started irregular rasping breaths for a few minutes..... and then about 10 minutes later their breathing was stable.

Chatting to the paramedics after it seemed the person had suffered a heart attack and our fast-acting had given them the best chance possible at life. However, from my British Red Cross training I knew that it was unlikely that CPR and even a defibrillator would help, but this time they were lucky.

According to the British Heart Foundation '30,000 people suffer from out-of-hospital cardiac arrests every year in the UK and unfortunately, only 1 in 10 survive' (15). It was lucky that we all had first aid training and even luckier that my brother knew there was a nearby defibrillator (AED).

Don't leave life and death down to luck, give yourself and those around you the best chance of a long, happy life and prevent this type of horrific CVD event by following a healthy lifestyle.

Treating the symptoms of CVD is vital, in this case, it was a heart attack and without action, the individual would have died. But treating the cause is powerful.

It comes down to prolonging your life vs what you put on your plate.

In no way is this information meant to replace the advice given by your doctor, always follow the advice of your health professional. Inform your doctor if you are making any large changes to your lifestyle.

As always, don't just take our word for it, have a read through some of the evidence we use which is all referenced below.


1) A.A. Abajobir, K.H. Abate, C. Abbafati, et al. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 Lancet, 390 (2017), pp. 1345-1422].

2) Afshin, A., Sur, P.J., Fay, K.A., Cornaby, L., Ferrara, G., Salama, J.S., Mullany, E.C., Abate, K.H., Abbafati, C., Abebe, Z. and Afarideh, M., 2019. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, 393(10184), pp.1958-1972.

3) Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA 1998;280(23):2001–7.

4) Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet 1990;336(8708):129–33.

5) Esselstyn CB Jr. Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiol 1999;84(3):339–41, A8.

6) Daubenmier JJ, Weidner G, Sumner MD, et al. The contribution of changes in diet, exercise, and stress management to changes in coronary risk in women and men in the multisite cardiac lifestyle intervention program. Ann Behav Med 2007;33(1):57–68.

7)] Frattaroli J, Weidner G, Merritt-Worden TA, Frenda S, Ornish D. Angina pectoris and atherosclerotic risk factors in the multisite cardiac lifestyle intervention program. Am J Cardiol 2008;101(7):911–8.]

8)Yusuf S, Hawken S, Ounpuu S, et al. Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case control study. Lancet 2004;364(9438):937–52.

9) Ford ES, Bergmann MM, Kröger J, Schienkiewitz A, Weikert C, Boeing H. Healthy living is the best revenge: findings from the European Prospective Investig.

10) Chiuve SE, McCullough ML, Sacks FM, Rimm EB. Healthy lifestyle factors in the primary prevention of coronary heart disease among men: benefits among users and nonusers of lipid-lowering and antihypertensive medications. Circulation 2006;114(2):160-7

11) Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, et al. Primary prevention of coronary heart disease in women through diet and lifestyle. N Engl J Med 2000; 343: 16–22.

12) Chiuve, S.E., Rexrode, K.M., Spiegelman, D., Logroscino, G., Manson, J.E. and Rimm, E.B., 2008. Primary prevention of stroke by healthy lifestyle. Circulation, 118(9), p.947.

13) J. P. Strong, H. C. McGill. The pediatric aspects of atherosclerosis. J Atheroscler Res 1969 9(3):251 - 265.

14) National Health Service. Atherosclerosis 2012. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Atherosclerosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#commentCountLink (accessed January 2014).

15) BHF UK estimate - volumes and survival rates are only routinely published for England and Scotland NHS England (2020) Ambulance Quality Indicators (www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/ambulance-quality-indicators/)