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Apr 9, 2017

Can Congestive Heart Failure Be Reversed?

by Dr. Dan Kalish

How to Reverse Heart Disease

If you are wondering how to reverse heart disease the answer has been clearly delineated by a group of doctors who have devoted their professional lives to understanding this issue.

Dr. Dean Ornish was the first such physician who demonstrated that heart disease can be prevented. Furthermore, his programs not only prevented heart disease, but once established can reverse heart disease with simple to adopt lifestyle changes and without the use of surgery or medication. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn further documented Dr. Ornish’s work, in his landmark studies with patients. Through his role at the Cleveland Clinic where he too, using simple dietary and lifestyle changes was able to reverse heart disease and prevent heart attacks in patients that had well established coronary artery disease.

Heart Disease Starts Early In Life

In the 1950’s autopsies looking at the vascular health of young men killed in the Korean War, uncovered that by a very young age, their early 20’s, the process of blood vessel damage was well underway as a result of the typical American diet.

The stresses on the heart that culminates in life threatening disease processes were already well under way. With the regular consumption of high animal protein and high animal fat diets, young Americans were sitting time bombs for later cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, stroke and potentially congestive heart failure.

Diet is Key to Eliminating Risk of Heart Disease

Many people wait until disaster strikes before addressing any significant lifestyle changes including radical shifts in diet. I remember my Uncle Kuni, who when I was a child survived a massive heart attack and immediately afterward took on a strict vegetarian diet.

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When I was growing up he seemed eccentric and a bit extreme, but now I understand his near death experience pushed him to a new way of viewing food and the purpose of eating. He ate to stay alive, not for his personal pleasure or as a distraction or as a way to modify his mood. He ate clean food, exercised daily and lived for 20 years after that initial cardiac event. In fact he outlived almost all of his siblings who didn’t get that early “memo” that food matters and that what we eat is truly a matter of life or death.

Last year one of my patient’s, Kathy S.’s father was dying. Kathy called our office asking, “can congestive heart failure be cured?” and I felt so helpless to be consulted so late in the game. I wanted to be upbeat and positive but when she asked me, “Dr. Kalish can you reverse congestive heart failure, have you done this in your practice?” I had to say unfortunately no and find an appropriate referral for the patient to an integrative cardiologist for this late stage treatment. The sad reality is so many of us wait until it’s too late to ask these questions and miss out on the time when heart disease can be addressed in it’s early stages. Asking the question is congestive heart failure reversible or can congestive heart failure be reversed, at the moment when one has waited a lifetime to address the issue is such a horrible place to be because the progression of this disease has likely moved to the point that only disease management, not reversal is possible. Once heart disease has progressed this far, it can be managed and symptoms can be improved but I’ve never seen congestive heart failure be reversed even with the adoption of extreme diet changes and extensive supplement programs and medications in the late stages of the disease.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

If diagnosed early enough (unlike Kathy’s father) congestive heart failure can be helped with natural treatments.

There are some promising natural treatment options that can be incorporated into a program that includes medication and medical management of the disease. One issue occurs when the heart lacks energy or ATP and research shows the majority of patients have low CoQ10 levels. Therefore, CoQ10 supplementation can provide some improvement in patients by helping mitochondrial production of ATP improve, giving the heart additional energy reserves.

What I would have hoped for Kathy is that we could have had that conversation twenty years ago because there is so much that can be done when problems with heart function are caught early enough. In my clinic we run organic acids tests on patients even without any signs of advanced heart disease and we often see early warning signs of CoQ10 levels being low by measuring hydroxymethylglutarate levels in the urine. Abnormal hydroxymethylglutarate is representative of low CoQ10 levels and will show up as an easy to identify marker decades before problems like a heart attack or congestive heart failure occur. The organic acids test panels also include markers for oxidative stress, such as 8-OH-DG which is strongly correlated with onset of heart disease. Lowering 8-OH-DG can provide protection to blood vessels and heart tissue and when complemented with a high plant based and antioxidant rich diet it can be the basis of a preventative program.

The best selling supplements in my clinic are now my mitochondrial repair/CoQ10 products. Not only can they act in a preventative way but they also give people a sense of abundant energy and well being so often missing. If one considers these two problems together then it all makes more sense. Lack of antioxidants as evident by elevated 8-OH-DG leads to oxidative stress and the mitochondria themselves are very sensitive to this type of free radical damage. Once damaged, mitochondrial production of ATP is compromised and one sees high hydroxymethylglutarate on the organic acids testing indicating mitochondrial dysfunction and lack of CoQ10 for the body and in our example here, for the heart. This lack of available energy, coupled with decades of a diet low in antioxidants compounds the problem until eventually people end up at the end of a very long road, with problems as extreme as congestive heart failure.

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Dr. Dan Kalish

Dr. Dan Kalish

Founder of the Kalish Institute
Dan Kalish, DC, IFMCP, is founder of the Kalish Institute, an online practice implementation training program dedicated to building Integrative and Functional Medicine practices through clinical and business courses.