Heart disease: there is a cure

October 14, 2011 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 19 Comments

It was proven decades ago that heart disease could be reversed with a plant-based diet. And yet hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to needlessly die. Why the disconnect? That’s the subject of this morning’s video-of-the-day The Tomato Effect.

On Tuesday, in Resuscitating Medicare, I celebrated the news that Medicare was finally reimbursing plant-based diet programs for heart disease reversal, and shared a personal story of how my grandmother’s miraculous recovery from terminal heart disease inspired my own career in lifestyle medicine. On Wednesday, in Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped, I featured Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark 1990 study proving that heart disease can be reversed without drugs and surgery, and yesterday, China Study on Sudden Cardiac Death explained that there is nothing natural about getting heart disease or dying from it. If a plant-based diet can prevent, stop, and reverse heart disease, why are millions still condemned to die?

In The Tomato Effect I feature Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s landmark Preventive Cardiology editorial, “Resolving the coronary artery disease epidemic through plant-based nutrition.” Dr. Esselstyn, whose book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease inspired President Clinton’s dietary shift, details the “several mutually reinforcing institutional and commercial interests [that] oppose this lifestyle intervention,” from the billions raked in by the drug companies and stent manufacturers, to agribusiness influence resulting in USDA dietary recommendations “laden with foods that predispose millions of Americans to perish from cardiovascular disease.”

Financial interests and influence help explain institutional biases in government and among, say, cardiothoracic surgeons and interventional cardiologists, but why does the medical profession in general appear so resistant to embracing plant-based diets, the proven cure? The “Tomato Effect” describes a slavish devotion to orthodoxy within the medical establishment that has led to a long history of rejecting highly efficacious therapies because they happen to go against the prevailing conventional wisdom. Eventually, the truth wins out, but until then, how many more people have to die?

Dr. Esselstyn concludes an editorial he published in the American Journal of Cardiology last year with these words:

“The time is long overdue for legendary work. We can hardly be proud of a drug and interventional therapy that results in death, morbidity, inordinate expense, and disease progression and can never halt this food-borne epidemic. Every patient with this disease should be made aware of this safe, simple, enduring option to cure himself or herself. Most coronary disease need never exist, and where it does exist, it need not progress…. It’s simple: advocate a lifestyle of plant-based nutrition, make a bold leap toward a world free of heart disease, and lessen our use of scalpels and drugs.”

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: SerenityRose / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

View all videos by Michael Greger M.D.

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  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please leave any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and be sure to check out all the videos on heart disease.

  • Scott Beavers

    Great work again Dr. Greger. Please continue to highlight the great work by the other pioneers of this movement including but not limited to Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. and Rip Esselstyn, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard and PCRM, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Jeff Novick, Dr. John McDougall, etc.

    • Mike Quinoa

      Great list, Scott. I also like Dr. Michael Klaper, and (it goes without saying), Dr. Michael Greger. All these doctors provide a mountain of readily accessible, quality information for anyone seeking illumination. I find Dr. Greger’s site both elegant and entertaining, and the linked studies make this site a dream come true.

  • Judy54

    I have a question, my husband had a triple by pass in April of 2010, 4 months later had 2 stents put in. He was told he has ischemic heart disease. He is tired all the time, sleeps a lot, and thinks this is his lot in life and that he can never get better. He suffers from deep anxiety and depression this past year. I wish I could get him into a program to help him but just can’t afford it. Living with someone with depression and anxiety is so hard, he takes at least two Lortabs a day for his back problems. Sorry for rambling. Thank you, Judy

    • Becky Cancilla

      Judy, get a copy of Dr. Esselstyn’s book. Check out his website and also the website of Dr. John McDougall

      A lowfat plant-based diet can reverse heart disease. Many people with depression report huge improvements from eating a plant-based diet.

      Also, there is a free video on youtube that maybe your husband can watch with you. (The title is “Make Yourself Heart Attack Proof” in case my link doesn’t post properly, go to and search for that title.)

      • Mike

        Dr. McDougall’s website is actually

  • Mike Quinoa

    Beautifully written summary of the whole issue. The link to Dr. Esselstyn’s editorial takes you to PubMed (I’m not sure how to access the article there). This link gives you the complete(I believe) enchilada:

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Mike–you’re a genius! Thank you so much. I’m always trying to find full-text links. I’m changing the link right now…

      • Mike Quinoa

        No problem, Dr. Greger—glad to help in a little way.

  • Heidi Woodruff

    Judy54 get him to watch “forks over knives” DVD for health info. If that is not enough get him to watch “Earthlings” (available free online). He will never want to touch animal products again! If you are the shopper and cook in your house just start making healthy vegan versions of your favourite meals – see

  • LouiseF

    Why does Dr. Oz still push fish, chicken and “moderate” red meat consumption? It is because of the sponsors to his show or does he really not believe the China Study?

    • Toxins

      This also baffles me, as Dr. Oz has actually had the china study on his show before and advocated a plant based diet.

      Perhaps its the old tomato effect?

    • Craig Worrell

      Dr. Oz is not consistent about his messages. It is too bad because he has a overwhelming following with his TV show. He could reach so many people with the message about plant-based nutrition and it’s miraculous effects on our health.

  • Pingback: Treating COPD With Diet | Nutrition Facts | Michael Greger, M.D. |

  • eatyourbroccoli

    Dr G…..I had a recent ultrasound that confirmed I have atherosclerosis. I’ve since gone vegan. It has also been suggested i take 2,000 mg of niacin daily to help reduce the existing arterial plaque. Have you any resources that support or poo poo the recommendation? Is niacin safe, helpful,dangerous, harmful? Thank you for

  • Bruce Francis

    Could you comment on Linus Paulings research on Vitamin C and heart disease?

  • Nebuladancer

    “Why the disconnect? ”

    One reason is that medical education continues to teach that there is not cure to heart disease. My Pathophysiology just stated, unequivocally that there was no cure, that it was a continuously progressive disease that can only be managed. He stated this confidently to a room full of students who have no idea that this is false. A change needs to be made in the education spectrum!

    • Thea

      Nebulandancer: Wow. That’s a powerful comment. It so well demonstrates (first hand!) that even 3 years after Dr. Greger’s post, the Tomato Effect is still alive and well. Thanks for sharing your story.

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