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Why eating plants strengthens your musculoskeletal system

Falsely believing I was a prisoner of my genes, I knew with certainty that I was destined to get heart disease.

My father, who is 82 years old, has had countless cardiac procedures over the past 25 years including cardiac bypass, numerous cardiac stents and angioplasties, and blockages removed from his carotid arteries–the vessels that carry oxygen to the brain–as well as Femoral artery bypass and stents. Both of my Grandfathers died of heart attacks as well as numerous uncles. My paternal grandmother died of complications from a stroke. At best, I could prolong the inevitable by eating “right” and trying to maintain my weight.

I had no idea what eating “right” really meant. I thought eating lean meat was healthy when in reality the cholesterol is in the lean portion of the meat. I thought if a little olive oil was healthy then a whole lot would be healthier. This is also known as the “bigger hammer theory” in orthopedics; if a little hammer is good then a bigger hammer is better–and if a little hammer doesn’t work, use a bigger hammer! The reality was I did not have any education on nutrition in medical school. Being a busy orthopedic surgeon, I did not see the need to educate myself. The old saying “when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear” is very true in my case.

At the age of 53, I needed cardiac bypass surgery. I had an 85% blockage of my Left Anterior Descending coronary artery, an 80% blockage further downstream, and a 70% blockage of my Right Main coronary artery. My cardiologist thought the blockage was too significant to stent and recommended bypass surgery, which would entail cracking my chest open.

As fate would have it, prior to my arteriogram, the test that determined my blockage, a partner of mine recommended I read the book “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell, PhD. I had never heard or read anything like it. In the book Dr. Campbell referenced another book, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” by Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., which I also promptly read. In addition, I did some research on the statistics related to coronary bypass surgery. In a 2005 study in the American Journal of Cardiology there was close to a 45% failure rate after 12-18 months.

Armed with the information contained in these two books along with the statistical information I found, I decided to cancel my bypass surgery. Instead, my wife and I adopted a whole food, plant based diet. Within six months I had a normal stress test, my total cholesterol was down from 494 to 115 (HDL 64 and LDL 15), and my triglycerides fell from over 3,200 to 175.

What were your previous numbers?

It's great for the readers to see the numerical changes. And I felt better than I had in years. At this point I knew this “diet” was working to improve my health but I wanted more information. I committed myself to studying nutrition. The more I learned, the more I saw the connection between food and its effects on the body, in particular the musculoskeletal system.

As an orthopedic surgeon, I primarily treat patients who develop shoulder-related issues. The orthopedic community has known for years that rotator cuff tears start in the area of the rotator cuff that has the poorest blood supply. In addition, most tendinopathies, where the tendon which attaches to the bone begins to deteriorate, occur in are