Join the Fight Against Heart Disease on National Wear Red Day

Over 20? You probably have heart disease, but it's not too late to reverse it

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day this month you should slip into something red. Friday, February 3, is National Wear Red Day. And like pinning on a pink ribbon to promote self-exams during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you wear red as a reminder to get checked for the risk factors that contribute to heart diesease, such as cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. Once you know your risk, you can take control of your health.

Heart health is not a particularly sexy topic -- women don’t fear it the way they do breast cancer, even though heart disease claims more lives than all types of cancer -- combined. In fact, heart disease is the #1 killer of women, but because we associate it with old age, we just consider it a natural part of getting older.

But it's not. One of the most eye-opening interviews I’ve done was with Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Reversal Program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Dr. Esselstyn’s work has shown that we can eliminate, and in some cases reverse, heart disease simply by changing our diet. He took patients who had bypass surgery and suffered subsequent heart attacks (but wouldn’t survive another procedure) and put them on a vegean diet -- no animal products whatsoever -- and watched their clogged arteries open back up. Under the advice of his cardiologist, former president Bill Clinton went vegan and has also watched his heart woes disappear.

“What we really want people to understand fully is that if they have been eating the typical Western diet and they’re over 20, they have heart disease,” says Esselstyn. "It’s in a much more subtle form, but everybody has this disease."

According to Esselstyn, people in undeveloped areas of the world who already adhere to a meatless diet don’t even know what heart disease is -- it isn't the inevitable consequence of bad genes or old age.

What health experts want us to understand is that, in most cases, heart disease is it’s usually a sign of shared lifestyle, not an inherited gene. We all grew up eating the same foods and practicing the same health habits. Just because my mom’s father and brother both died of massive heart attacks, and my dad and granfather have undergone bypass surgery, it doesn’t mean that heart diesease in my genes.

It makes me sad when I hear people talking about whether or not they can "afford" to eat a piece of cake or a slab of steak, based what it will do to their waistline. What we really need to be thinking about is how the junk we eat affects our arteries and the rest of our health. Cheese, for instance, is the number-one source of artery-clogging saturated fat in our diets. A tiny, one-ounce serving packs as much fat as a glass of whole milk, and we eat, on average, 30 pounds of the stuff a year.

“So one really is left with the personal decision of, do I continue to eat foods that will grow my disease, or should I stop the disease now in its tracks?”

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