By Nilima Pathak August 2000 Being diagnosed 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 Being diagnosed 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 dietar
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