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Angina pectoris, or simply angina, is recurring heart muscle cramping from blockage of the arteries feeding the heart (coronary arteries). Angina represents early cardiovascular disease. An ‘attack’ of angina, signified by silent, mild or crushing chest pain, may turn into a full-blown heart attack, when part of the heart muscle dies.

To prevent angina attacks, doctors prescribe blood vessel-dilating medications (e.g., nitroglycerin tablets), which patients put under the tongue when an attack begins. ‘Nitro’ works by causing nitrate release that relaxes the coronary vessel muscular walls, letting more blood flow through, but it does not address the underlying cause of chest pain symptoms.

Why aren’t plant-based diets “prescribed” more for coronary artery disease?

Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated how simply putting cardiac patients on a quasi-vegan diet, without any change in their exercise regimens, could lower patients’ angina attacks by 90% within just 24 days. And while we know that plant-based diets can reverse heart disease, dissolve plaque, and open up arteries (in many instances without drugs or surgery), physicians themselves may be preventing their patients from choosing a plant-based diet. Why? Because they often assume their patients won’t have the discipline to make fundamental changes to their diet. What’s more, traditional medicine relies more on drugs than lifestyle modifications, even when patients are faced with a choice between surgery, which contains inherent risks, and drugs with serious potential side effects.

What dietary changes may help treat angina and improve heart health?

Blockage of the coronary arteries is a direct result of buildup of LDL cholesterol that comes from eating saturated and trans fats, cholesterol found in animal products and processed foods, and lack of fiber. A plant-based diet alone may prevent angina attacks and improve heart health, but even more may be achieved by also changing modifiable behaviors using lifestyle medicine. Adding an exercise program approved by one’s physician, for example, and implementing simple stress management techniques may minimize the risk of developing heart disease.

Topic summary contributed by John and Dawn

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