Reversing Heart Disease

Lifestyle changes, along with appropriate diet, exercise, yoga, and meditation, are what it takes to turn around heart disease


Heart disease has emerged as a major killer disease in the Indian sub-continent.

Physicians are quick to point out that our population has a propensity to develop coronary problems. No surprise that 10-14 per cent – more than 50 million people – of our adult population suffers from coronary artery disease. If this was not enough, the incidence of heart disease in the 20-40 age groups is 10 times more than what our counterparts in the US and Europe endure.

This is reason enough why the growing number of corporate hospitals offering quality medical care has quite, in effect, ensured that medical treatment and heart surgery reach our burgeoning middle class. The best part, however, is – a section of doctors is increasingly advocating heart-healthy lifestyles, alongside medical treatment, because the crux of heart disease is related to how we live and what we eat. Their new mantra is: “Make them walk; don’t chop.”

Tackling heart disease

In the West, the interest for alternative means to reverse heart, the “killer” lifestyle, disease caught on many years ago, even though mainstream medicine continues to treat patients conventionally — with pills and interventional procedures.

Dean Ornish, MD, and his workable plan for reversing heart disease, now spells great hope for many cardiac patients. His programme was the first to offer documentary evidence that heart disease can be both halted and even regressed by lifestyle changes.

After all, doesn’t it make sense to say that if a certain lifestyle brings on a condition, its opposite holds the potential to nullify its effects and/or symptoms? As Ornish reveals: the process of reversal calls for a commitment to major lifestyle changes. He also points out that, “Diet for reversing heart disease and other illnesses is somewhat restrictive because that’s what it takes to reverse it.” Less would, therefore, not work.

Ornish’s practical plan – as he explains in his best-selling book, Dr Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease [Ivy Books] — is followed today successfully in many climes. Close home, Bimal Chhajer, MD, founder of New Delhi’s Saaol Heart Centre, believes that alternate treatment for lifestyle disorders, such as heart disease, “just needs a prolonged period of persistent adherence to regime and medication.” In other words, it needs commitment.

A safe way out

If you think of it, who wouldn’t want to avoid major bypass surgery – not only the expense, but its risk and inconvenience — if they could? As Ornish explains, bypass surgery doesn’t address the underlying cause of the problem – it literally bypasses it! As a result, every time a heart patient undergoes a bypass procedure and needs another, the risks increase substantially, because there is more scar tissue, more adhesions, and fewer veins left to be used to do the bypass.

Dr Chhajer agrees, that, “Alternative treatment in preventive and interventional cardiology has proven beneficial for heart patients in the long-run.”

What does this mean? Medical procedures are not always the best solutions. So, what should heart patients do?

Says Dr Hansa of Yoga Institute, Mumbai: “Heart disease manifests because of erroneous lifestyles.” She implicates stressful and sedentary living, faulty diet and unwanted addictions as triggers for the disorder. Ultimately, she says, they all result in chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and increased risk of coronary artery disease, not to speak of high blood pressure [hypertension].

All for nothing

Ever wondered whether all this effort actually amounts to nothing? Or, whether you will be able to unclog your arteries without resorting to drugs or surgery?

Ornish’s study results are quite conclusive. Lifestyle changes lead to regression of coronary atherosclerosis [thickening of the arteries] after one year. In fact, the longer the person adheres to lifestyle changes, the better the outcome.

S C Manchanda, MD, and his colleagues at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences [AIIMS], New Delhi, have looked into the potential of yoga, coupled with diet control, moderate aerobic exercise, and control of risk factors, in regressing heart disease. Their published findings have been encouraging.

Interestingly, the AIIMS team reports excellent compliance to the total programme.

The paradox is: not all conventional physicians promote radical lifestyle changes as a primary line of treatment for heart disease, because they doubt conformity, or they feel unable, or not equipped, to enforce or encourage compliance, or outcomes.

However, available research clearly indicates the positive benefits of lifestyle changes on heart disease.

Healthy lifestyle ideal

Satish Gupta, MD, who took part in a research study of more than 500 heart patients with coronary artery disease from 1998 to 2004, says that lifestyle changes are ideal for the prevention of coronary artery disease.

Gupta, who runs the Healthy & Happy Lifestyle Programme, at Abu Road, Rajasthan, to stem the mounting epidemic, points out: “54 per cent of Indians have all three coronary arteries diffusely diseased, thus, making them unsuitable for coronary bypass surgery or angioplasty, as compared to only 21 per cent Americans and Europeans.”

Gupta has more than 2,000 heart patients on the rolls of his programme, which is offered free of charge. His programme has been lauded by President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam.

Participants and their spouses make regular visits to Abu Road, every six months, to participate in a follow-up one-week session during which their compliance to lifestyle changes is monitored.

Yoga benefits

Yoga Institute, Mumbai, has conducted research programmes involving patients with established coronary heart disease. These studies are used to determine the efficacy of a yogic way of life, practical yoga, and dietary changes on heart disease.

Many patients who incorporated yoga in their life have been able to reduce their coronary artery blockages significantly.

Says Jayadeva Yogendra, President, Yoga Institute, “The current interest in lifestyle changes and modifications in attitudes to prevent and treat cardiac disorders are a happy one. Yoga is no more and no less than a better way of living. Wholesome dietary habits, positive forms of physical exercise, healthy daily routines, adequate rest and sleep, including a balanced state of mind generating the right kind of attitude, are a guarantee against severe ailments, such as heart disease.”

Simple living, high thinking

Yoga encourages a “simple living, high thinking” kind of non-materialistic, moderate lifestyle. It believes materialism or giving spiritual values a miss is the main cause of all misery, including disease, not to speak of an imbalanced state of mind. So, tuning your step with spirituality to ensure a long, healthy and happy life is imperative.

At a time when more and more Indians are swinging the other way – that is, getting more stressed out, eating the wrong food, putting on excess fat, and, in general, leading a life in the fast lane – it would, perhaps, make sense if we pause, reflect and change.

Because, reversing our lifestyle may not just help avoid, but also regress heart disease. Naturally.

Yoga cures

Yoga Institute conducts a 2-day camp every month for heart/hypertension patients. The timings: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Attendance cost: Rs 700.00 for two days, inclusive of training, practice, lunch and tea.

Participants are explained the link between heart disease and its causative lifestyle factors, and suggested lifestyle changes. Yoga teachers also discuss yoga philosophy and effective techniques during the programme.

Yoga Institute, Shri Yogendra Marg, Prabhat Colony, Santa Cruz, Mumbai – 400 055. Tel: 022-2611 9596. E-mail: yo***********@re********.com

Saaol goals

The Saaol Heart Centre offers three types of treatment:

In the Saaol Heart Rehabilitation Programme patients are educated and instructed about heart disease. They are taught physical exercises and dietary patterns one has to follow. The patients are also tutored on “Zero-Oil-Cooking.” The cost: Rs15,000.00.

The programme also offers “Natural Bypass” method, a machine-assisted treatment plan which helps open your collaterals/coronary arteries. It also helps reduce angina and increase the Ejection Fraction [pumping power] of the left ventricle for optimal heart health. Patients are advised 30 sittings of one hour duration each. The cost: Rs 3,000.00 per sitting.

In addition, patients are offered “Biochemical Angioplasty.” This includes a combination of different biochemicals which are infused into the patient through a slow drip. The injected substance dissolves calcification/clogs in the arteries. In the process, the reversal is hastened, naturally. The patient is advised to maintain appropriate lifestyle changes and regime. Patients are usually advised 15-30 doses depending on the severity of their condition. The cost: Rs 2,500.00 per sitting.

Bimal Chhajer, MD, p>Saaol Heart Centre, 14/84 Vikram Vihar, Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi – 110 024.

Regression advice

This is a free coronary artery disease regression programme for couples. — also, for single patients. Patients are encouarged to bring their spouses as lifestyle changes are something the couple [including the family] has to implement, especially in connection with diet/nutrition. To enrol, contact:

Satish Gupta, MD, Global Hospital & Research Centre, Post: Shantivan, Abu Road – 307 510, Rajasthan. Tel: 02974-228 101-6. Extension: 3116. E-mail: sm***********@gm***.com

Work on Your Lifestyle

Alternate heart treatment programmes advocate a strict vegetarian diet of heart-healthy fibres, with no animal fat and a low proportion [about eight per cent] of fat in total calories. Patients are encouraged to eat complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, brown rice, and soy products, instead of simple carbohydrates like sugar, white flour, and white rice.

Bimal Chhajer, MD, explains that restricting the intake of cholesterol and triglycerides from dietary sources and suppressing their pathological production through medication direct the body to use its depository sources to meet its everyday metabolic activities. Thus, deposited fats in the body reduce gradually.

Exercise is a mandatory part of any alternative treatment plan. Brisk walking – say twice a day for 30 minutes at a time – is recommended, as it gives the heart a good aerobic work-out. Patients also benefit from learning and regularly practicing stress-management exercises, which combine yoga, stretching, meditation, breathing and mental imagery.

Stress-management is advocated as stress impacts heart disease, both directly and indirectly. Besides, increasing the likelihood of extreme behaviour, such as over-eating or over-working, stress can directly worsen heart disease by causing our arteries to constrict and clog [blood clot] – the two principal factors that may induce a heart attack.

In addition, socio-medical studies also show that people who feel lonely or depressed are more likely to fall sick and die earlier as compared to persons who bond well with family and friends, feel loved and are a part of a family, or community.

This is also, says Chhajer, a key requirement for participants. If nothing else, a loving support group encourages patients to comply with a heart health programme. Last, but not the least, heart patients are advised to quit smoking and give up alcohol.

Reversal Made Simple

Herman Hellerstein, MD, a pioneer in the field of cardiac disease reversal, advocates seven goals for reversing coronary heart disease.

Reduce total cholesterol to below 200 mg/dl and LDL below 130 mg/dl, with a total cholesterol/HDL ratio of 3:5. Daily diet should consist of 1,500 to 2,500 calories, with saturated fat content under 10 per cent, total fat less than 30 per cent of total calories, and only 50 to 100 mg cholesterol per day

  • Achieve a blood pressure reading of 140/90, or better
  • Burn at least 150 to 300 calories a day through aerobic exercise
  • Maintain normal body weight
  • Reduce stress in your life
  • Do not use tobacco
  • Maintain normal blood sugar levels.

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  1. Information provided by CHARU Bahri is very relevant today also. I wish I had read it earlier. I recently started adhering to SAAOL program of Dr. Bimal Chajjer and already feeling better.


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