Conquer Heart Disease without Pills or Surgery

Dr Vernon Coleman

When I first started writing a syndicated column about medical matters, well over half a century ago, I got into a great deal of trouble for daring to suggest that some patients with high blood pressure might be able to reduce their need for pills (maybe entirely) by making some fundamental lifestyle changes.

I recommended losing weight, giving up smoking, avoiding too much stress, learning how to relax, cutting out fatty foods and so on and although I had only been qualified for a year or two this advice seemed to me to be extremely sensible, straightforward and non-controversial. After all, I remember arguing, if stress and fat rich foods can cause high blood pressure then surely a lifestyle which involves learning how to deal with stress and avoiding fatty foods must help reduce a high blood pressure.

Today this advice is pretty widely accepted as sound, sensible and effective. Most doctors who have a rudimentary understanding of medicine and whose thinking has not been entirely influenced by the unsubtle promotions of the drugs industry acknowledge that many patients with high blood pressure can avoid drug therapy by following these simple guidelines.

At the time, however, I was regarded as a dangerous heretic. I remember that one eminent doctor, undoubtedly a pillar of the medical establishment, wrote to one of the newspapers which carried my column expressing the view that drug therapy was the only remedy for high blood pressure. Other pillars of the medical establishment sent similarly indignant letters and my column was quickly dropped by several editors who felt that the advice I was offering was too far out of touch with mainstream medicine to be acceptable.

The irony was, I feel now, that safe, sensible, effective advice was being censored because it was simple, because it consisted of too much common sense and not enough high technology and because it did not offer the all- powerful pharmaceutical industry any commercial opportunities. (Over the years I have been ‘fired’ by well over forty local newspapers for having the effrontery to question accepted medical wisdom.)

This was, I think, my first experience of being described as ‘controversial’ for proposing a course of action which seemed to me to be fundamentally sound. The sad bottom line is that the lifestyle solution to high blood pressure attracted criticism because it offered no possibility for profit.

A similar situation has developed with regard to the treatment of heart disease.

Most patients and nearly all doctors regard surgery and drug therapy as the only two ways to treat heart problems. Triple and quadruple bypass operations are now almost commonplace – and a major source of revenue for surgeons around the world. There are over 60 different pharmaceutical products available for the treatment of heart problems and many of these are among the world’s best-selling and most profitable drugs. Doctors who make their living with a scalpel tend to recommend surgery for every heart patient they see whereas doctors who make their living with a pen and a prescription pad are more likely to recommend drug therapy.

To say the least the consequences of all this surgery and this epidemic of prescribing are not always ideal. The unavoidable fact is that giving an anaesthetic, chopping open the chest and physically assaulting the delicate tissues of someone with a dodgy heart is a risky business which results in thousands of deaths every year. As always the irony is that in order to survive hospitalisation and surgery you really need to be in tip top condition!

Pills aren’t necessarily safe either. There are always risks with drugs and powerful drugs which have an effect on the heart can produce damaging, uncomfortable and sometimes lethal side effects. And, of course, it’s worth remembering that many heart patients have to undergo surgery and take drugs. Indeed, the nearest the medical establishment ever gets to a ‘holistic’ approach is to offer surgery and pills!

But the good news is that there is evidence now available to show that surgery and drug therapy are not the only ways to tackle heart disease.

It has, of course, been known for some time that it is possible to prevent heart disease by changing your lifestyle. Family history is a major factor in the development of heart trouble and you can’t do much about your parents or grandparents. But whether you come from a line of people with healthy hearts or vulnerable, fragile hearts you can dramatically improve your chances of avoiding cardiac trouble by following such simple rules as avoiding fatty foods, taking regular, gentle exercise, learning how to cope with stress and keeping as far away from tobacco as possible.

The recent breakthrough (made largely through the work of an American doctor called Dr Dean Ornish) has been to show that it is actually possible to treat patients with existing heart disease by encouraging them to make significant changes in the way they live. Dr Ornish was the first clinician to provide documented proof that heart disease can be halted or even reversed simply by a change in life-style. After one year the majority (82%) of the patients who made the comprehensive lifestyle changes recommended by Dr Ornish showed some measurable reversal of their coronary artery blockages.

In a regime which, is it seems to me, a perfect example of holistic medicine in practice Dr Ornish and his colleagues have shown that by persuading patients to follow some simple basic rules – which include taking half an hour’s moderate exercise every day, spending at least an hour a day practising relaxation and stress management techniques and following a low fat vegetarian diet they can frequently help get rid of coronary artery blockages and heart pain. This advice is hardly likely to prove popular with surgeons and drug companies, of course. Sadly, I’m afraid that the potential for making money out of this sort of ‘commonsense’ regime is far too slight to please the medical establishment. If your doctor hasn’t heard of the non- surgical, non-drug treatment of heart disease it is probably because she obtains all her post-graduate medical information from drug company sponsored lectures and publications.

Dr Ornish isn’t the only doctor to have produced important work in this area. In a review entitled ‘The Natural Cure of Coronary Heart Disease’ (published in the journal ‘Nutrition and Health’ back in 2003 Dr Allan Withnell concluded that the medical literature: ‘strongly suggests that lifestyle and particularly diet are the cause and the cure of coronary heart disease. The proof will lie in persuading the cardiac patient to change his lifestyle to the extent recommended and observing the result.’ Dr Withnell has put emphasis on the words ‘to the extent recommended’ and his point is important. It’s no good just cutting down from two burgers a day to one.

Naturally, patients with heart disease must get a doctor’s advice, help, support and guidance before following this sort of regime. And it is, of course, vitally important that patients who are already taking drugs do not suddenly stop them (stopping drugs too quickly can be extremely dangerous – many modern drugs are so powerful that they need to be tailed off gradually when the time has come to stop them).

But my advice to anyone suffering from heart disease is simple: before you agree to surgery or consent to starting on what may well be a long term course of drug therapy, do ask your doctor if she will help you follow the sort of programme initiated by Dr Ornish. If your doctor hasn’t heard of this type of therapy for heart disease and isn’t interested in finding out more then I suggest that you find another medical adviser. Any medical practitioner who is so wedded to drug company propaganda that she won’t even consider this type of minimalist interventionist therapy isn’t worth patronising.

And even if this holistic approach to heart disease does not completely remove all your symptoms (and, according to the evidence the odds are very much in your favour that it will) the chances are high that you will become much healthier and stronger. You will, therefore, be better able to cope with the traumas of whatever surgery or drug therapy you might need.

Taken from Dr Vernon Coleman’s international bestselling book `How to Stop Your Doctor Killing You’ which is available via the bookshops on and

Copyright Vernon Coleman October 2023