Michael Greger MD

Michael Greger MD

Posted May 12, 2010

Published in Health

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The cause of our number one killer

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The number one cause of death in the United States every single year for both men and women since 1918 (when a bird flu virus likely triggered the deadliest plague in human history) continues to be heart disease. William Clifford Roberts recently published a landmark review on the cause of our number one killer.

Dr. Roberts is executive director of the Baylor Cardiovascular Institute, has authored more than 1,300 scientific publications, written more than a dozen textbooks on cardiology, and has been the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology for 25 years.

The review, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice, was entitled "The Cause of Atherosclerosis." Doesn't he mean causes? Aren't there lots of things that increase our risk of heart disease, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, inactivity, cigarette smoking, etc.? None of those matter, he says, unless our cholesterol is too high. All those other things can speed the buildup of plaque in our arteries; but since the plaque itself is made out of cholesterol, if our cholesterol level is low enough, there is nothing with which our body can actually build plaque. According to Dr. Roberts, atherosclerosis simply does not occur if cholesterol is low enough.

If cholesterol is the cause of atherosclerosis, how low does our cholesterol have to be for us to become heart-attack proof? Ideally, our bad cholesterol--"LDL"--should be under 70. Quoting the review: "If such a goal was created, the great scourge of the Western world would be essentially eliminated." There are only two ways, he says, to get it down that low: (1) put a hundred million people on a lifetime of high dose statin drugs starting in their twenties, or (2) be what he calls a "pure vegetarian fruit eater," which is the term he uses for those eating whole food vegan diets.

If we put everyone on drugs, then thousands of people would suffer side-effects. So, according to Dr. Roberts, "Of course a... [vegan] diet is the least expensive and safest means of achieving the plaque-preventing LDL goal, but few in the Western world are willing to live on the herbivore diet." In his words in a recent interview: "The best way to prevent heart disease is to be a...non-flesh eater, a non-saturated fat eater." "Because humans get atherosclerosis," he reasons, "and that's a disease only of herbivores, humans also must be herbivores."

The cause of our number one killer is elevated cholesterol. According to Dr. Roberts, probably the most renowned cardiovascular pathologist in the world, that means the cause of our number one killer is: not eating vegan.

[excerpted from volume 3 my Latest in Nutrition DVD series (all proceeds to charity). Volume 4 should be out in July--send a blank email to: to be the first to know when it's out!]


3 Comments | Leave a comment


This is what I have firmly believed since becoming vegan in 1983 however, I read recently on Dr. Gabe Mirkin's eZine, that latest research shows our cholestrol numbers are no longer used as mortality indicators. How can this be I ask myself? If common sense prevails (which it usually doesn't as I've seen when it comes to individuals and what they eat), then it should be a no brainer. Our bodies manufacture cholestrol and if we add to that - well, the math is pretty simple. Why then I wonder, would some researchers deny this? I am of course constantly reminded by my meat eating acquaintances that their "mother/grandfather just died at age 100, an avid meat eater". I'd like to make it there too, but as with all vegans, SANS the statins, stents and bypasses and rather with peace on my plate! Keep up the great work Dr. Greger!! We enjoy your educational articles enormously!


As for people living to an old age as meat eaters: Yes, of course, given that nearly everyone in the world is a meat eater, there will be plenty who live to an old age (and plenty who don't). Some may make it to old age, but with declining mental acuity, diseased and barely able to move themselves. Look at Okinawans who eat a mostly plant based diet to see the population with the greatest number of centarians... but also to see an elderly population who are active and healthy out up until they pass.


I am 75. Been vegan for three years. Always had very high cholesterol. normal weight, No other signs of heart disease, 125/75, rate 60. Vegan diet has done nothing to lower my cholesterol. I wonder how many other people it doesn't serve to control cholesterol? I wonder if it matters? Your article seems too absolute in it's conviction. I also eat a lot of pistachios every day with no effect on cholesterol. I like being vegan and will continue with it. But I really think those who advocate it should be more cautious in their supportive language. If you or anyone have an idea what I can do to lower my LDL cholesterol I'll do it and report back whether it works. I doubt I'll get an answer to this challenge. I haven't found anyone in the nutrition business willing to be accountable for their pronouncements.

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