plant based nutrition

Cardiologist’s Case Study: A Patient’s Lab Results After 30 Days on a Plant-Based Diet

Adam is a well-known Detroit businessman who is legendary for his huge smile, energy, and successful restoration business. We became friends at a CrossFit gym a few years back. On social media, Adam was known for food posts that were usually centered around his love for bacon and burgers. He was about as meat-oriented as anyone I have ever met. As we all know, change has to come from within, and so we maintained our friendship despite the fact that we were polar opposites when it came to food.

In March of this year, Adam texted me to tell me he was ready for a change. He hadn’t had a health crisis yet (he is in his 40s), but he knew his diet, heavy in processed meat, could not work in the long-term. I was shocked, pleased, and, of course, supportive when he suggested going fully plant-based for 30 days. On top of this 30-day challenge, a huge departure from his normal diet, was the added challenge that he ate nearly every meal out at restaurants. So he was going to have to do some extra maneuvering.

The Bacon-Lover’s 30-Day Vegan Challenge
To document a baseline, we arranged for some advanced blood work at the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity at the end of March. On April 1, he jumped right in, switching out eggs and bacon for oatmeal and fruit plates. Lunches of soups and vegetables began to appear on his Facebook page. Dinners of steak house appetizers, tofu stir fries, and entrees from my plant-based restaurant GreenSpace Café got him through the first few days. He bravely and publicly posted about his diet switch on social media and received a lot of positive support. There were, of course, a few taunts and invitations to return to the dark side.

He found grocery shopping difficult at first, so I helped him through a couple shopping trips. We filled his baskets with fresh whole foods along with a few processed vegan choices. To his credit, Adam quickly decided to only eat whole-food, plant-based meals.

He stuck to the program 100 percent, and began to notice that he got better sleep and had increased energy and greater brain clarity. He was not overweight, so he didn’t need to lose weight, but he did mention his bowel movements were easier with all the added fiber from the fruits and vegetables. He made it through the 30 days successfully.

May 1 was the day we had scheduled for his repeat laboratory studies. To be honest, we were both nervous. What if there were no changes from his abnormal baseline lab results? We knew that 30 days was not a very long time, and perhaps wasn’t long enough to see significant changes. We were both overjoyed when the results returned.

Advanced Lab Results After 30 Days on a Plant-Based Diet

Adam’s first baseline blood level showed a seriously elevated C-reactive protein at 6.1 mg/L. High sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is a marker of inflammation that has been linked to heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Adam’s repeat level was 0.7, a dramatic and meaningful decline to normal.

Adam’s baseline microalbumin/creatinine ratio had been a very worrisome 8.5, indicating his arteries were sick from his food choices. This simple but powerful urine test reflects the health of the arteries in the kidneys and throughout the body. If elevated, it predicts increased risks of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Adam’s second test, just one month later, showed an undetectable level! This dramatic improvement shocked and pleased us all.

Adam’s total cholesterol fell from 224 mg/dl to 196, his LDL cholesterol fell from 142 to 115, and his LDL particle number fell from 1714 to 1474. These are significant improvements in just 30 days.

I’ve practiced medicine for over 30 years and have eaten a plant based diet for nearly 40 years. Even after all that time, I am still so impressed at how quickly the body can recover when excess salt, sugar, fat are removed and whole plant foods replace meat, dairy, and processed foods. I am proud to report that Adam is still eating a plant-based diet, encouraged by the way he feels and the results of his laboratory reports. I recommend all of my patients dive headfirst into a vegan challenge of at least 21 days in length. The patients that take the challenge feel so much better, and many continue long-term as Adam is now doing. It’s inspiring to see!

Adam’s labwork showing his improved results after 30 days. 

Adam’s labwork showing his improved results after 30 days. 

Dr. Joel K. Kahn, MD, FAAC

Citing Sources:

4 Foods Shown to Reverse Artery Disease

I was taught in medical school that coronary artery disease (CAD) progresses from minor “fatty streaks” in youth, to plaques in early adulthood, to complicated plaques causing heart attacks and death later in life. The arrows always pointed to the disease advancing and never reversing. This paradigm was first shown to be incorrect in 1990 by Dr. Dean Ornish, who used a plant-based diet without added fats along with walking, social support and stress management to reverse CAD on follow up angiograms. Since that first report, the data that heart disease can be reversed by intensive lifestyle changes emphasizing a plant based diet became so robust that the Ornish Lifestyle program was recognized by Medicare in 2010 for reimbursement as a therapy of CAD.

Although researchers like Dr. Ornish did not emphasize particular plant-based foods, subsequent studies suggest that certain foods may have special abilities to reverse CAD. Four foods that could reverse plaque in arteries are discussed here.

1) Garlic. The ability of garlic to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood clotting has been recognized for some time and has been shown again in a recent trial. In addition, garlic, along with onions, provides a source of sulfur in the diet which may be crucial for optimal amounts of antioxidants. In a study published earlier this year using baseline and follow up CT angiograms of heart arteries, garlic reduced areas of low attenuation plaque at the one-year follow-up.

2) Pomegranates have powerful antioxidant properties and may improve the function of the HDL cholesterol moiety to boost the “reverse cholesterol transport” that may reverse CAD. In studies of mice, pomegranates can reduce atherosclerosis. In humans with increased oxidative stress at risk for CAD, pomegranates reduced evidence of arterial damage. In another study using pomegranate juice for 3 years, the degree of narrowing in carotid arteries of five study subjects was reduced.

3) Bergamot. The bergamot is a citrus fruit that is native to the Calabria region of Italy. It has powerful antioxidant components that lower blood sugar and cholesterol. In a recent study of subjects with thickened carotid arteries, those given bergamot supplements had a marked reduction in carotid intimal thickening after six months of therapy.

4) Green tea. Green tea is comprised of many bio-active compounds that may lower oxidative stress, inflammation and cholesterol fractions leading to improved arterial health. In a study using angiographic analysis, the more green tea that was consumed, the lower was the risk of heart attack. A relationship between tea intake and lower cardiac mortality risk has also been reported.

The optimal goal of therapy of patients with CAD should be the reversal of disease with intensive lifestyle related measures and not just disease management. Indeed, in the Lifestyle Heart Trial, participants managed with medical therapy alone demonstrated progression of their CAD in follow-up. In addition to the scientifically proven approach utilizing a whole food, plant based diet without added oils, as demonstrated by the Lifestyle Heart Trial, certain specific plant based foods may have unique properties for promoting the reversal of CAD. A diet rich in garlic, pomegranates, bergamot fractions, and teas may accelerate the reversal of CAD.

Follow Joel Kahn, M.D. on Twitter:

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes: An Urgent Call to Action

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes: An Urgent Call to Action

The explosion of Type 2 diabetes following the epidemic of obesity in Western countries is well known. The implications for a rise in heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure and amputations is overwhelming. Type 2 diabetes is to a large part a food-borne illness associated with excess calories and processed foods. Logic would have it that if poor food choices and obesity result in Type 2 diabetes, then better food choices and weight loss reverse the disease. 

The ability to reverse Type 2 seems so obvious that further scientific studies might seem superfluous. Dr. Neal Barnard previously demonstrated the superiority of a plant-based diet and weight loss to standard diets in Type 2 diabetes. My friend Marc Ramirez, a former University of Michigan right guard, developed Type 2 diabetes following weight gain in his 30s. On multiple medications for “management” of his disease, he was not aware of the potential to reverse it. After viewing the documentary Forks Over Knives he immediately transitioned to a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet just over four years ago. He lost weight easily and within a few months was off all medications with normal lab results. He remains free of medication to this point and has normal laboratory values. 

More hope comes from new data available this week. The new study involved 30 volunteers with Type 2 diabetes who followed a 600-700 calorie diet consisting of three diet shakes a day and 240 grams of non-starchy vegetables for eight weeks. Some had been treated for diabetes for up to 23 years. After eight weeks their usual diet was resumed but at one-third of their prior caloric intake and they were followed for six months. They were seen monthly.

What was found? Thirteen of the volunteers were free of Type 2 diabetes after six months of maintenance diet. Participants lost on average 30 pounds. Many remained overweight or obese but had lost enough to allow normal insulin production and action. 

Lead researcher Professor Roy Taylor commented that, “What we have shown is that it is possible to reverse your diabetes, even if you have had the condition for a long time, up to around 10 years. If you have had the diagnosis for longer than that, then don’t give up hope — major improvement in blood sugar control is possible. The study also answered the question that people often ask me — if I lose the weight and keep the weight off, will I stay free of diabetes? The simple answer is yes! The bottom line is that if a person really wants to get rid of their Type 2 diabetes, they can lose weight, keep it off and return to normal. This is good news for people who are very motivated to get rid of their diabetes.” 

While a larger trial of nearly 300 subjects is underway, the concept that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed, and not just managed, continues to build momentum as the best solution to the growing epidemic of “diabesity.”

Joel Kahn, MD, FAAC

Why The World Must Shift To Plant-Based Diets: A Doctor Explains

Maybe you already believe in the idea that “you are what you eat.” Now, a powerful new study takes that a step further, suggesting that the health of our planet is also what we eat.

In this new study, scientists calculated that eating more plant-based foods—and less meat—could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions 29 to 70 percent by the year 2050, as well as reduce mortality around the world between 6 and 10 percent. That translates to millions of lives and billions of dollars saved.

“Dietary change could have large health and environmental benefits,” Marco Springmann, the lead author of the study and a sustainability researcher at Oxford University, told the Washington Post.

Scientists used health and emissions models to predict the impact of dietary changes. By projecting what would happen to the health of the world and its citizens by eating more servings of fruit and vegetables, along with reducing the consumption of animal products, the scientists highlighted the profound global impact of a plant-based plate.

A plant-based diet will not only help us live longer but will also reduce the changes that are damaging our planet.

The Oxford study examined four different dietary scenarios out to the year 2050. One was a “business as usual" global diet. The second approach analyzed a healthier diet in which people, on average, consumed adequate calories based on a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables, less sugar, and just half a portion of red meat per day. The third and fourth patterns the scientists looked at were stronger dietary shifts toward vegetarianism, and finally full vegan-ism.

The results: if everyone followed the dietary recommendations in the second approach, food-related emissions would be reduced by 29 percent. If vegetarian diets were adopted, they'd be cut by as much as 63 percent. And as for full vegan-ism? Global emissions would be slashed by a stunning 70 percent.

Plus, the researchers estimated that dietary changes could lead to savings of $700 billion to $1 trillion per year on health care, unpaid care, and lost working days, while the economic benefit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions could be as much as $570 billion. The study also suggests that three-quarters of all benefits would occur in developing countries, although the per capita effects of dietary change would be greatest in developed nations, due to higher rates of meat consumption and obesity. “In terms of health care benefits, because the health expenditure is so large in the U.S., we find that the pure health care savings that would be associated with dietary shifts would be the largest actually of all countries,” Springmann said.

So what does this mean for you? Springmann went on to tell Reuters, “we do not expect everybody to become vegan." But he does believe that more are moving in a plant-based direction. “We already see a plateauing of meat consumption in higher income countries, like Europe,” he told theWashington Post.

And as this study shows, even small changes toward a more plant-based diet will not only help us live longer but will also reduce the changes that are damaging our planet.

Joel Kahn, MD, FAAC