Heart Health - THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS
by Nilima Pathak
with heart disease need not automatically lead to angiography, angioplasty
or bypass surgery. Reversing it may be as simple as following dietary
and lifestyle changes—leading to heart cure. Better still is prevention
You suddenly develop chest pain on exerting yourself. It's natural to visit a doctor. He knows you have angina, the blockage in your arteries is 70 per cent or more. Yet, he insists on a checkup to see the degree of blockage. Grim-faced after the test, he suggests that you immediately need angiography, an expensive affair.
If your relatives insist on knowing more, their queries are met with a terse reply: "The condition of the patient is such that he can die of a heart attack any moment." They are bound to ask if angiography will help. The doctor suggests: "After that he may need a bypass surgery!" After instilling fear in the minds of the anxious relatives, the doctor explains no further.
Confronted with a do-or-die situation, the money is arranged even if it means borrowing. If for some reason the decision is postponed, many hospitals refuse to discharge the patient! "His condition is so serious that you will be responsible for his death," says the doctor. This usually does the trick!
Do you know what is angina? Or angiography? Or a bypass? No? Good enough! You'll easily shell out Rs 20,000 (about US $ 450) towards an angina test, Rs 200,000 (about US $ 4,450) towards angioplasty and another Rs 200,000 for a bypass! After this, you return to your old diet and lifestyle. All because you haven't been told the actual cause of heart disease. Result: The symptoms recur within four-five years.
But if you take care, heart disease can be reversed without using drugs or surgery! There are alternative ways of coping with heart problems by simply changing your lifestyle. But that does not mean all tests can be avoided or that there is no need for angioplasty or a bypass. It's simply that taking precautions now can later save you from the surgeon's scalpel.
Read these extracts from Dr Dean Ornis's Program for Reversing Heart Disease:
• Back in 1977, when I was a second-year medical student, I asked several cardiologists if they would be willing to refer patients to the first research study I was planning. "What's the name of your study?" one prominent cardiologist asked me. "It's entitled, 'Effects of Yoga and a Vegetarian Diet on Coronary Heart Disease.' Would you refer any of your patients to it?" "Well, Dean, I'd like to support your research, but it sounds too weird. What would I tell my patients—that I'm referring them to a swami?"
• In 1979, during my senior year of medical school, I spent a month in India and Sri Lanka with Swami Satchidananda and four other medical students to learn more about the various medical systems there. I went there expecting to come back with a real enthusiasm for these alternative approaches. I was already convinced of the usefulness of yoga, since it had helped me so much in my own life and I had already conducted my first study on the effects of lifestyle changes (including yoga) on coronary heart disease. We landed in New Delhi, and one of our first stops was to visit the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, considered the most prestigious western-style medical school in India. I presented our preliminary research findings there—and found myself in the curious position of being an American lecturing to a very skeptical audience of several hundred Indian doctors about the value of ancient yoga techniques! Most of these Indian physicians viewed yoga as their "illegitimate stepchild", and instead embraced western medicine to the exclusion of their own heritage and traditions.
How ironic! An American gives us Indians a dose of our own medicine!
As a student at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Dr Ornish had the privilege of assisting Dr Michael DeBakey in the operating room when the latter performed coronary bypass surgery. Says Dr Ornish : "I became a little disheartened as I saw the limitations of technological approaches that literally and figuratively bypassed the underlying causes of the problem. It was the difference between temporizing and healing."
Research studies prove that diets high in fat and cholesterol cause blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure to go up, whereas low-fat, low-cholesterol diets cause blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure to go down. Also, that yoga and meditation help in reversing heart disease. Interestingly, these age-old methods to maintain health, described in the Vedas, are now popular in the West.
Dr Bimal Chhajer, director, SAAOL, with centers in New Delhi and Mumbai, agrees: "We are still hooked to the modern medical techniques which the West shunned years ago. And it will probably take us another 10 years to forego these and follow our age-old traditional art of healing."
"The problem is that people usually decide on alternative systems as a last resort," laments Imran Ali of the Integrated Medical Center (IMC), New Delhi. "A person suffers a heart attack and is rushed to a heart specialist. He is saved and then asked to control his weight, take a balanced diet and do regular exercises. That's when he comes to us! Why not earlier? Why do people have to undergo trauma and then learn? If they visit us early enough, the heart attack or stroke wouldn't occur in the first place," he says.
Heart disease, a common killer, has been on the rise for the past many years. The heart becomes starved of oxygen carried in the blood. If the oxygen deprivation is brief, chest pain occurs. And if prolonged beyond a few minutes, the result is a heart attack. The causes are many. Tackling one of them is not the solution. Stress, hypertension, excess fat, high cholesterol level, smoking, alcohol intake, obesity, diabetes, blood pressure and use of oral contraceptives (especially for women who smoke) result in blockages in the heart tubes. The process continues for years, till the blockage in a tube reaches up to 70 per cent. And that's when heart disease is diagnosed.
"A cardiologist knows that unless the blockage increases, the patient won't have a heart attack. And he can advise the patient to take care. Instead, he insists on a bypass or angioplasty. After all, he also has to survive in the competitive field of heart specialists!" says Dr Chhajer wryly. Most patients agree to take angiography without a second thought. After that the cardiologist advises angioplasty, a risky process which can lead to complications, including death. In a bypass, the patient is fitted with a new tube, in lieu of the tube that has a blockage. He is then told to live comfortably for another five years.
Dr Chhajer adds: "If you don't change your lifestyle, this tube also starts blocking. If it blocks up to 15 per cent in a year, by the fifth year you are back to square one! The real solution has been eluding us because the root cause of heart disease has not been tackled. Hospitals, bypass surgeons and angioplasty specialists have financial and academic reasons to promote their system."
Supporting Dr Ornish's program, Dr Dayal Mirchandani, director, Institute of Psychological Medicine, Mumbai, says in his book Healing Heart Disease Naturally: "The dramatic advantage of this program is that the arteries keep opening up over a period of time, while after surgery the patient's arteries tend to clog up again."
Dr Mirchandani advises: "It is possible to avoid surgery if one starts the program at an early stage. The ideal solution is a program of prevention and screening for heart disease. There is no doubt that a program of appropriate diet, exercise and non-smoking prevents the discomfort and suffering caused by coronary artery disease. One should also have regular screening for cholesterol, one in childhood and once every five years after the age of 20. After 40 it is wise to have a full medical examination, which includes an exercise stress test, every year or alternate year."
Says Raj Sethia, Delhi-based businessman: "I go in for regular checkups now. Recently, the angiogram showed blockage in my arteries. And I had an angioplasty done for the third time! This when I do yoga, run about 10 km a day, am a vegetarian, drink not more than two glasses of wine, have cut down on milk products and follow a good dietary program." Well, certain things are beyond one's control. As Sethia says: "Why it should happen, the doctors don't have an answer." Interestingly, in 1987, a cardiologist warned him that he would have a heart attack within the next 10 years. Not surprisingly, he underwent the first angioplasty in 1992.
Now, the world's Who's Who is following alternative medicine techniques. The list includes politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, artists, sportsmen and industrialists. Dr Chhajer states: "Although people are aware and thus scared of heart disease, they do not know what to do about it. And by the time the patient sees the cardiologist, he becomes an emergency case." Chhajer's SAAOL, apart from looking into the causes of the disease, presents a viable long-term solution. "The aim is to control all cardiac risk factors and prevent or cure the disease from the root. A combination of guided lifestyle, yoga, meditation, stress reduction program and dietary-cum-cooking training is offered to patients."
It's a three-day training and two-month follow up program. By then a person is so used to feeling healthy and fit, that he doesn't give up. Dr Chhajer prescribes zero oil food. The minimum oil requirement of the body, he feels, can be met by natural food intake. And that much is enough.
Shattering the myth that some brands of oil are fat-free, he says: "The labels are written in a mischievous manner by some oil manufacturers. You can't take them to court because they are not lying. Only misleading."
Dr Mirchandani warns: "Do not use safflower oil. You may get confused as the manufacturers claim that it is the safest oil for the heart. The best oil to use in cooking is olive, followed by rapeseed and then groundnut (peanut) oils."
Now even cardiologists publicly talk about the need for lifestyle changes. But according to them, it's good only after a bypass surgery or angioplasty. Dr Alok Chopra, cardiologist at Delhi's Aashalok Hospital, says: "No doubt, temporarily these can be lifesaving for many patients. Because in an emergency, you can't ask a patient to meditate! A patient's body-mind has to be healed. And that does not mean a person is to be blamed for what he is undergoing. Unhealthy lifestyle and food complement the cause, but it can be reversed."
Interestingly, at Aashalok Hospital, he does angioplasty and bypass! "That's because I'm not yet able to convince people of the effectiveness of integrated medicine," he admits. Yet, he says: "Cardiologists, no doubt, are running institutions that provide a person 'the gift of time'. This means-get the bypass done and afterwards, cure yourself." He adds: "I happen to be an allopath. But after studying about 16 disciplines of alternative medicine, I have realized that any one therapy is not the answer. And practitioners should recognize that each therapy is complementary to the patient's will to heal."
"Integrated medicine is the answer to all diseases," Imran Ali also feels. He uses a combination of alternative medicine systems including acupuncture, acupressure, aromatherapy, reflexology, osteopathy and massages. He has successfully treated cases of heart attack, asthma, spondylitis, arthritis, backaches, sinus and migraine.
The only center of its kind, what's unique about IMC is that it helps you to decide whether you should try, for example, shiatsu or reiki or stick to antibiotics. "Many diseases stem from stress in modern life-hypertension, strokes and acute back pains. These are mainly due to poor eating habits and unhealthy lifestyles,," Dr Ali says.
The brainchild of Dr Mosaraf Ali, the eldest of five Ali brothers, IMC has centers all over the world including London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kenya. Therapies range from 3,000-year-old to modern ones. Dr Ali says: "Normally, heart patients take orange juice but avoid the seeds, which are most useful. Ayurveda's Shiro-Dhara is also very helpful for them."
Cardiologists say that the way the blood clots is the greatest determinant of whether a person will suffer a heart attack or a stroke. The viscosity of blood, its stickiness and tendency to form clots are important factors that can be dealt with and save a person from cardiovascular tragedies.
"Stroke is one of the leading causes of paralysis," Dr Ali states. "Among the various types of paralysis, hemiplegia and paraplegia are the most common." To treat paralysis, he takes into account the diet, psychology and lifestyle of a patient. In a span of about 45 days, internal medicines and physical therapies like marma therapy, shiatsu and reflexology are administered to help the system to digest the toxins present in the body. Purgation and aromatherapy follow.
Dr Chhajer, on his part, says: "Our program is not only for those who have developed heart disease, that is blockage of more than 70 per cent, but also for those who have other risk factors. These include high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high-stress job or family life, and family history of high blood cholesterol. The right treatment will save them from a heart attack, bypass surgery or angioplasty."
Understandably, he is not completely against the administration of medicines or surgery. "Medicines may have to be administered till such time as the disease is reversed and, besides some side-effects, there is nothing to lose. I feel virtually all these high-technology surgeries like bypass and angioplasty would not be required in future if lifestyle changes are effected."
Similar views are shared by Dr Sunil and Dr Brijbala Vasishth of Vasishth Ayurved Hospital and Heart Center, Jammu, northern India. After doing research for two decades, the couple has evolved the Heart Disease Reversal Treatment based on ayurvedic principles. Says Dr Sunil Vasishth: "The approach of ayurveda for the treatment of heart disease is holistic, scientific and effective."
The patients are prescribed specially formulated ayurvedic drugs, dietary modifications, exercise, yoga and meditation. The formulations are devised and prepared at the Jammu center. "These drugs help in various ways. They reduce the plaque in coronary arteries by removing the deposited cholesterol and triglycerides, prevent the arteries from going into spasms, prevent blood from clotting and enhance the dissolution of blood clots. And also provide strength to the heart muscles."
Dr Vasishth claims: "A majority of the patients under this treatment do not require angioplasty or bypass surgery." Moreover, the patients are advised to follow a lifestyle and dietary change according to their mind-body constitution. "This approach of 'individualization' is peculiar only to ayurveda," he explains.
Cardiologists have done their bit regarding diet. Dr Chhajer has successfully evolved a complete system of cooking tasty food without a drop of oil. "Earlier, I advised patients to avoid oil and cholesterol. Since the food was bland, as soon as they recovered, there was a tendency to go back to eating regular food, which included oil and fat."
SAAOL recommends very low cholesterol (130-160 mg/100 ml of blood). The total intake of cholesterol in the diet should be 10 mg a day. A vegetarian person on a milk diet consumes as much as 200-500 mg per day, whereas for a non-vegetarian it goes up to 1,000 mg. High cholesterol foods include egg yolk, non-vegetarian food, and milk and milk products like ghee, cream, butter, ice-cream, chocolates, cheese or curd.
Researchers say that even a single meal high in fat and cholesterol may cause the blood to clot faster. That's why heart patients often get chest pain after eating a fatty meal. Also, nicotine in cigarettes causes chest pain as it causes the arteries to constrict. In people with coronary artery blockages, it is often found that exercise actually increases the tendency of blood to clot. While moderate exercise can be beneficial for a person who eats a high-fat diet and smokes, vigorous exercise increases the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
A person with normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and no other risk factors or family history, is also likely to develop angina only because of excessive stress. In fact, urbanites are three times more prone to heart diseases than rural people, mainly because of the stress factor.
Dr Krishan Chopra, chairman of the Heart Care Foundation of India, holds strong views. He says: "Good habits should be inculcated in a child right from the beginning." He holds today's fast life and competitiveness as the main reasons for stress, which eventually leads to coronary disease. "Stress makes life interesting as it keeps you on your toes," he says, "but too much of stress and tension leave a negative impact on your health." In his book, Your Life Is In Your Hands, he writes: "Repeated exposure to stress induces changes in the nervous system that can provoke the heart to miss beats. Cumulative stress can cause potentially dangerous irregularities of the heartbeat and decreased flow through the coronary arteries."
Emphasizing the right diet, he says: "The more we eat, the more quickly we leave the world! People who consume fewer calories live longer than those whose calorie intake is higher." He writes: "The incidence of heart attacks is rather high among vegetarians in India. The reason seems to be that they eat a lot of deep-fried foods, which have a lot of hidden fat. Also the oil used for cooking these foods is used many times and becomes oxidized. And oxidized oil is very harmful."
Dr Chopra also lays emphasis on yoga and deep breathing to calm down a person. "Deep, rhythmic nasal breathing produces a relaxed state of mind and body. When overcome by stress, hold the breath momentarily, and then take slow, deep breaths through the nose. It will have a positive effect on your emotions and help you overcome stress."
So, today, if you go for a checkup and find that you have a 20 per cent blockage or more, don't panic. Taking preventive measures like exercise, meditation, balanced diet, deep-tissue marma massage or aromatherapy can help reduce stress and thereby prevent or cure heart disease. And don't say we didn't warn you!
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