Can you reverse the progression of coronary heart disease?

Yes. Healthy lifestyle changes can halt plaque build-up in the arteries. They can also lower risk of type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and help shed excess weight.

Plaque build-up in our arteries usually happens over many years. Often, we don’t even know the damage is taking place. But boy oh boy, the end result - a heart attack - comes fast and furious. Learn how to halt arterial damage.

Reverse Heart Disease

So effective is the Pritikin lifestyle in reversing risk factors for heart disease that Medicare now reimburses for Pritikin’s diet-and-exercise programs for qualifying individuals with a history of cardiovascular events.

Can I reverse the progression of coronary heart disease?

Yes. To understand how, here’s a little background on how heart disease happens.

Most heart disease results from atherosclerosis, which is cholesterol build-up, or plaque, in the artery’s inner walls. Plaque can burst or rupture, which triggers blood clots that may block blood flowing to the heart. The result is a heart attack.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that with healthy lifestyle changes and, if needed, medications, many people are able to stabilize atherosclerosis, making plaque less likely to rupture.

How did I get plaque in the first place?

Plaque is caused by the piling up of LDL “bad” cholesterol and other apoB-containing lipoproteins in the artery walls, resulting in inflammation.

Collectively, these many damaging forms of cholesterol are known as non-HDL cholesterol.

But keep in mind that cholesterol is not the only contributor to plaque build-up. Other plaque producers include type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as precursors of these conditions, such as pre-diabetes (a fasting blood glucose of 100 to 125 mg/dL) and pre-hypertension, which is a resting blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89.

The more of these risk factors you have, the more plaque you likely have, and the more inflamed – and damaged – the inner walls of your arteries become.

High levels of artery-damaging lipoproteins like LDL are the result of several factors. Some, such as genetics, age, and gender, are beyond our control. Others we can control. Three key dietary factors that clog arteries are:

  1. Saturated fats (such as butter, palm oil, coconut oil, meat fats, and milk fats like full-fat milk and cheese)
  2. Trans fats (found in margarines, vegetable shortenings, and partially hydrogenated oils)
  3. Dietary cholesterol (found ONLY in animal products, not plants)

Losing excess weight

Another priority for improving heart health is losing excess body weight. That’s because being overweight or obese can adversely impact our cholesterol levels independent of the amount and type of dietary fat we’re eating. But certainly, all types of dietary fat can promote weight gain because all types of dietary fat, from vegetable oils to butter, are very calorie dense.

Refined carbs, high-calorie drinks

Refined carbohydrates and especially sugar-rich beverages can also promote weight gain, and, in doing so, elevate apoB-containing atherogenic lipoprotein levels.


What’s more, refined carbohydrates, particularly those containing fructose, and excess alcohol intake can lead to elevated levels of triglycerides, which increase heart attack risk.

Tobacco smoke

Tobacco smoke can also damage arteries, making it easier for more blood cholesterol to end up in artery walls.

How does plaque rupture lead to a heart attack?

In most cases, plaque ruptures in much the same way a boil ruptures. The rupture then triggers a blood clot that chokes off blood flow to the heart. Without oxygen, heart muscle dies.

Plaque that has burst or ruptured has been called the single most common lethal event of the industrial world.

How long does it take to lower my risk of a heart attack?

The really good news is that in just three to four weeks, the chances of suffering a heart attack can go way down. Very quickly, plaque can become far less vulnerable to rupture. By stabilizing plaque, most people can significantly lower their risk of a heart attack.

How can I stabilize plaque and lower heart attack risk?

Lifestyle changes can yield dramatic benefits. In more than 100 studies published over the last 30 years, the Pritikin Program has been found to lower virtually all modifiable risk factors for a heart attack, including LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, triglyceride fats, and inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, as well as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and excess weight.

Daily exercise and a diet that focuses on fiber-rich, unrefined carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are the hallmarks of the Pritikin Program. The program also substantially cuts down on heart-damaging saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol.

Heart disease is virtually absent in cultures that eat fiber-rich, plant-based diets like the Pritikin Program, such as the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico, the Papua Highlanders of New Guinea, and the people of rural China. In fact, noted Dr. Colin Campbell of Cornell University in his book The China Study, which details his research in the 1990s on the dietary habits of China, hundreds of thousands of rural Chinese go for years without a single documented heart attack.

Can the Pritikin Program help me avoid heart surgery?

The Pritikin Program has been found to eliminate the need for coronary bypass surgery, as well as relieve angina (chest) pain. A five-year follow-up of 64 men who came to the Pritikin Longevity Center instead of undergoing bypass surgery (which had been recommended by their heart surgeons) found that 80% never needed the surgery. Of those taking drugs for angina pain, 62% left the Center drug-free.

The Pritikin Program has also been found to dramatically lower cholesterol levels. Among more than 4,500 men and women attending the Pritikin Longevity Center, documented in the Archives of Internal Medicine, LDL cholesterol fell on average 23% in three weeks.  Non-HDL cholesterol fell 24%.

Can I actually shrink plaque build-up?

Yes. Several scientists, including Caldwell B. Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, have found that plaques are stabilized, and actually shrink, when heart patients adopt lifestyle changes similar to the Pritikin Program.

Summarized Dr. Esselstyn in Preventive Cardiology : “Compelling data from nutritional studies, population surveys, and interventional studies support the effectiveness of a plant-based diet and aggressive lipid [cholesterol]-lowering to arrest, prevent, and selectively reverse heart disease. In essence, this is an offensive strategy.”

A diet based on fiber-rich, whole foods, like the Pritikin Eating Plan, “can achieve total disease arrest and selective regression even in advanced cases,” concluded Dr. Esselstyn.

Bottom Line:

The Pritikin Program can reverse the progression of coronary heart disease, which can dramatically reduce heart attack risk.

More Heart Health Articles

Book a Stay

A stay with us will change your life!
book now

Success Story

I'm back to my high school weight!
read story

For Questions & Reservations Call

Get more information via email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Pritikin Newsletter

Every week we send out our email newsletter with recent articles, new recipes, special promotions, and upcoming events. Sign up today!