Can You Reverse Heart Disease?

Dr. Dean Ornish is the founder and president of Preventive Medicine Research Institute— a nonprofit organization. He also works in the University of California, San Francisco as a clinical professor of medicine. Over 20 years ago, Dr.Ornish discovered that it was possible to reverse heart diseases. He developed a 4-step regimen that enhances the heart's health. This article addresses the question, "can you reverse heart disease?" and outlines the steps to follow.

Can You Reverse Heart Disease?

According to the book, The Spectrum, authored by Dean Ornish, the answer to this question can be yes, you can absolutely reverse heart disease.

Dr. Ornish talks about some of his patients in his program who were scheduled for a heart transplant. Some of them did not need a heart transplant after undergoing his program. After studying heart patients in his program, Dr. Ornish discovered that the heart's ability to pump blood and the flow of blood to the heart could be enhanced through lifestyle changes. Patients can experience changes in the two functions in less than a month. Within the same period, the frequency of chest pains reduces by 90%. Dr. Ornish also explains that his program could reduce the blockage in severely blocked arteries in a year and reverse the condition within 5 years. The condition became worse in patients who did not go through his program according to the study.

How to Reverse Heart Disease

Having answered the question, "can you reverse heart disease?" you will naturally want to know how to reverse heart disease.

1. Quit Smoking

It is easy to reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease by quitting smoking. If you smoke a cigar, cigarette or pipe, your risk of heart attack is twice than a nonsmoker. In addition, smoking puts you at a high risk of experiencing a sudden cardiac death.Smoking as few as one or two cigarettes a dayincreases the risk of cardiovascular disease including a stroke or heart attack. Nonsmokers are also at a risk if they are constantly exposed to smoke.

Health Goal: Stop using tobacco products and avoid smokers.

2. Reduce Triglyceride, and LDL Cholesterol

Composed by triglycerides and cholesterol, the fatty substances or lipids increase fatty deposits in the arteries, which block the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart, and the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is the worst form of lipids. You are at a high risk of cardiovascular disease if your total cholesterol level is above 240 mg/dl.

Health Goals:

  • Lower triglycerides to less than 150mg/dl
  • Maintain total cholesterol below 200mg/dl
  • Reduce LDL cholesterol to less than 130mg/dl
  • If your risk of cardiovascular disease is high, reduce LDL cholesterol to 100mg/dl. This fits for diabetes patients and those with multiple risks of heart disease.
  • ŸIf you are suffering from a blood vessel or heart disease, reduce your LDL cholesterol to less than 70mg/dl

NOTE: Doctors recommend that you obtain your cholesterol profile at 20 years old. The profile should include triglyceride, LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels. Your doctor can also advise you on how often you should take cholesterol tests.This can help you better monitor your cholesterol and heart health.

3. Increase the HDL Cholesterol Level

HDL cholesterol pushes bad cholesterol from arteries to the liver for excretion. Increasing your HDL cholesterol levels reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. And when you have a level of less than 40mg/dl, it can be assumed as a low cholesterol level.

Health Goal: Increase HDL cholesterol to more than 55mg/dl for women and more than 45mg/dl for men.

4. Control Your Blood Pressure

A high blood pressure strains the kidneys and heart, which in turn increases the risk of kidney disease, heart failure, stroke, and heart attack. Patients with high blood pressure are under higher risk of experiencing a stroke.

Health Goals:

  • Reduce your alcohol intake as it increases blood pressure.
  • Maintain your blood pressure at less than 120/80. Patients suffering from any cardiovascular disease or diabetes should reduce their blood pressure to less than 130/85.
  • Try to apply exercises, low-salt diets, weight management and medications when necessary to control your blood pressure.

5. Treat Diabetes

Diabetes refers to a condition where the body cannot produce or utilize insulin, which leads to high levels of blood sugar. Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease especially in women. This is because diabetes increases other risk factors including high LDL levels, high blood pressure, lower HDL and high total cholesterol levels.

Health Goals:

  • Achieve a hemoglobin A1C test of less than 6.5 if you are suffering from diabetes.
  • Lower your hemoglobin A1C to less than 5.7 if you are not suffering from diabetes.
  • Visit your doctor regularly.

6. Control Your Body Weight

Excess weight increases the heart's workload of distributing nutrients throughout the body. Excess weight increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It also increases other risk factors including blood pressure, blood cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides.

The distribution of the weight is also a risk factor. People whose weight is concentrated in the middle are under a higher risk of a cardiovascular disease than those whose weight is in their legs and arms. The ideal waist circumference is less than 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for women. The best weight measurement is BMI, which is obtained via dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in squaremeters.

Health Goals:

  • Maintain your waist measurement at less than 35 inches if you're a woman.
  • Maintain your waist measurement at less than 40 inches if you’re a man.
  • Achieve the normal BMI, that is, 18.5 to 24.9kg/m2. You are overweight if your BMI is higher than 24 and obese if it is higher than 30.
  • Control your body weight through diet and exercise.

7. Start and Maintain an Exercise Program

When asking the question, "can you reverse heart disease?" one of the must answers could be involving an exercise program. Exercising enhances the strength and health of your heart. It helps your heart pump blood to all parts of the body and reduces other risk factors. Exercising controls your blood sugar level, lowers cholesterol levels, and lowers blood pressure. In addition, it reduces stress, helps you stop smoking, and control your body weight.

Health Goals:

  • Seek you doctor's advice on the best exercise program.
  • Start with 30 minutes of exercise everyday and advance to rigorous exercises. Aerobic exercises such as swimming, walking, jogging, and jumping rope are recommended.
  • Do 10,000 steps every day on your pedometer.

8. Maintain a Healthy Diet

Can you reverse heart disease? One essential answer is to maintain a healthy diet and eat beneficial foods to your heart health. Health diets can reduce the chances of getting cardiovascular disease including high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Some foods and diet plan that are beneficial for the heart are listed below.

Health Goals:

  • Eat foods rich in mono-unsaturated fats such as peanut, canola and olive oils.
  • Reduce the intake of sodium, trans fat, saturated fat and refined sugar in your diet.
  • Take plant based foods.
  • Take omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts, tuna, flaxseed, salmon, and almonds.

Chart of Beneficial Foods for the Heart


Benefits for Your Heart Health

Cold-water, fatty fish

This kind of food contains long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA that have many cardiovascular benefits. Consuming fish or fish oil regularly reduces mortality rates by 17% while statin drugs reduce deaths by 15%.

Monounsaturated fats

They increase HDL and reduce triglycerides and LDL levels. Monounsaturated fats reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce oxidation and inflammation and decrease thrombosis. Sources of monounsaturated fats can include olives, macadamia nuts and avocados.

Antioxidant-rich foods

These foods strengthen the antioxidant defense systems which prevent oxidative damage. This damage is a high risk factor for heart diseases. Antioxidant foods include fruits, vegetables, organ meats, and red meat.

Polyphenol-rich foods

Polyphenol-rich foods are beneficial to the heart by reducing LDL and blood pressure levels, preventing the increase of oxidized fats and improving insulin sensitivity. Food sources include tea, coffee, blueberries, redwine, dark chocolate, herbs and spices among others.


Consuming nuts reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing some risk factors, like reducing waist circumference and BMI, as well as controlling blood pressure.

Soluble fiber

A diet high in soluble fiber lowers the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular attacks. Other benefits include enhancing excretion of LDL, reducing cholesterol levels, inhibiting the synthesis of fatty acids and enhancing LDL receptors.

9. Develop a Diet Plan

Another important step to answering the question, "can you reverse heart disease?" is to develop a healthy diet plan. You can start with the plan outlined below.


  • Take oatmeal and dried cranberries. Oatmeal will provide complex carbohydrates.
  • Drink 4oz. of natural fruit juice.
  • For morning snacks, you can opt for a cup of green tea with no sugar or milk, bananas, a bar of non-fat granola.


  • Brown rice with stir-fried veggies and low-sodium teriyaki.
  • Green salad combined with wheat roll, chickpeas, edamame, fat-free dressing and beans.


  • Take high protein and low-fat tacos made of brown rice, salsa cheese, sour cream, and corn tortillas.

Night snack

  • Combine hummus and dipping vegetables.

Risk Factors of Heart Disease You Should Avoid

There are some risk factors that would trigger heart disease. Avoid the following risk factors:

  • High levels of cholesterol: Your total cholesterol level should be less than 150.
  • Smoking: This affects your heart and blood vessels thereby increasing your risk of heart disease.
  • Unhealthy weight: Excess weight increases your cholesterol level, blood pressure and your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes: Type 1 and 2 diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Inactive lifestyle: According to the American Heart Association, a sedentary lifestyle heightens your risk of heart disease.
  • Family gene: You are at a high risk of heart disease if the disease runs in your family.
  • High blood pressure: Maintain your blood pressure at 120/80 always.
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