Can a plant-based diet reverse arterial plaque?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Yes, it appears that a plant diet low in saturated fat can help reverse the build up of fatty deposits called plaque in arteries. But this diet must go along with a healthy lifestyle that includes moderate intensity exercise, managing stress, and not smoking.

Plaque causes trouble when it builds up in our arteries. It narrows the arteries and slows or blocks the flow of blood. This narrowing is called stenosis. It can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Studies conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues showed that people who follow a plant diet low in saturated fat and make other lifestyle changes can reverse plaque build-up in coronary arteries. The study results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998. The researchers found that intensive lifestyle changes decreased the size of stenosis by an average of 4.5% after 1 year. The number was even better after 5 years -- 7.9%.

The people in the study who did not make any diet or life changes showed an average increase in their size of stenosis by 5.4% after 1 year. They did worse after 5 years. The increase in stenosis size rose to 27.7%.

However, this study included a very select group of people. Similar results may not been seen in people with less severe disease.

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