When it comes to heart disease, genetics contribute to some degree. But the truth is that many other factors are completely within your control. As the saying goes: Genetics load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. Things like food, exercise, and even environmental toxins can contribute to conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and, of course, heart disease.
I believe that the current way most doctors treat heart disease—using medication to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar—is misguided.
Instead, we need to ask why these and other problems occur in the first place. Spoiler alert: These are not medication deficiencies. Changing your lifestyle can often be a more powerful intervention to prevent heart disease than any medication.
For example, the EPIC study looked at how 23,000 people adhered to four simple behaviors: not smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. The researchers found that adhering to those four behaviors alone seemed to prevent 93 percent of cases of diabetes, 81 percent of cases of heart attacks, 50 percent of cases of strokes, and 36 percent of cases of all cancers.
Likewise, the INTERHEART study, published in the Lancet in 2004, followed 30,000 people in 52 countries. Researchers found that changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90 percent of all heart disease.
And other research suggests that lifestyle intervention can be more effective than almost any other traditional medical intervention to reduce cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart failure, stroke, some cancers, diabesity, and deaths from all causes.
Plus, these modifications help you feel alive and healthy, without medication’s side effects.
Occasionally, I will use medications if I feel a patient shows a strong genetic predisposition for heart disease or if significant heart disease already exists. Under those circumstances, I carefully weigh a medication’s risks and benefits.
Still, most patients can achieve benefits through lifestyle changes. In fact, I’ve had patients lower their cholesterol (sometimes over 100 points) simply by incorporating positive dietary and lifestyle changes. Simply put, preventive medicine becomes the best form of medicine.
Here are the seven simple dietary modifications I recommend for preventing or reversing heart disease: