How a Vegan Diet is Changing Lives for the Better at a Cardiology Clinic in Pennsylvania

Throughout my medical training, I was always impressed with the many advances in medicine and medical technology. I graduated medical school in 2014 and throughout all of my residency and fellowship training, medicine and procedures continue to evolve every day. But as much as I am proud of our many technological and procedural advancements in the medical field, it is just NOT enough.

We have patients that come into the hospital with repeat heart attacks who are already on the maximum evidence-based medical therapy and have already had bypass grafts placed in their heart. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the annual incidence of heart attack in the US is 580,000 new heart attacks, and 210,000 recurrent.

During my time spent as an internist, I started taking more time discussing lifestyle modification with my patients. I believe that the future of medicine, and especially cardiology, lies in prevention. Why should we increase your blood pressure medications if we can modify your diet? Why should my patient give up hope of never having a heart attack again because medicine hasn’t worked? Why do we spend so much time focusing on increasing our patients’ insulin, instead of increasing their fiber intake?

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So I focused. I met with my clinic patients and dedicated time to discussing plant-based diet, exercise, and lifestyle modification. As a child, I never liked meat or dairy, and so it was only natural to transition to vegetarian and then vegan. I have been plant-based my entire adult life.

Although not all patients went vegan, I saw major changes to their chronic medical conditions with a shift toward plant-based eating. I was able to take patients off of blood pressure medications, and lower their cholesterol and insulin with their increase in whole plant foods, and their weight dropped. I said to myself, that’s it. This is how I have to practice medicine.

I brought this philosophy with me to my fellowship training. As cardiologists, we constantly see the results of the Standard American Diet. But evidence has shown that so much of cardiovascular disease is preventable with lifestyle modification, a plant-based diet, and exercise.

With the support of the cardiology department at Lankenau Medical Center, I started Pennsylvania’s first preventative cardiology clinic with a focus on plant-based nutrition. We provide traditional cardiovascular care, with the addition of education in evidence-based nutrition. We started in 2018, and already the results are flying in.

98 percent of our patients have committed to going vegan with an emphasis on whole, plant-based foods. Many patients have dropped significant weight, on track to bring their body mass index from obese to a healthy range. We have stopped many of our patients antihypertensive medications as their blood pressure has normalized without them. We have seen patients with coronary artery disease have a complete disappearance of chest pain symptoms. We have patients with atrial fibrillation who have seen a reduction in their amount of arrhythmia burden.

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We have patients who were barely exercising, now training for and completing 5Ks, and training for marathons. In fact, the day one of my patients agreed to go plant-based, we made a pact that if he can get to a healthy weight and cardiovascular standing, we would run the Philadelphia Marathon together. He started his training this month!

It doesn’t stop there. A plant-based diet reduces your risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and stroke. My patients aren’t only looking better on the outside, but they are also living their best lives, feeling energized and renewed, able to keep up with their children and grandchildren.

In the US, nine out of every 10 cardiologists are male. As a plant-based female in cardiology, I have accepted that I am in the minority. But looking at my peers, physicians in our late 20s-early 30s, makes me realize medicine is truly changing with our generation. More physicians are embracing lifestyle modification and using food as medicine.  Not only are 50 percent of medical students female, but the growing interest in plant-based eating and preventative medicine is exhilarating.

My goal is to continue to educate and share my passion for a plant-based diet with patients, physicians, and healthcare professionals. I am currently working on a pilot study to evaluate the effects of a plant-based diet on atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia that 6.1 million people in the US live with every day.

Heart disease remains to be the leading cause of death in the US and worldwide. About 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of 1 death every 40 seconds.

We can change this statistic, and we can change the future of healthcare. We can make this not only a world free of many painful chronic diseases, but a more compassionate world, free of harming animals and the environment. We can all live our best lives, starting today.