The Power Of Plants: How We Can Fight Chronic Diseases With Food

Fighting Chronic Diseases

Can we stop, manage and even reverse many of the world’s most common chronic diseases simply by changing what we eat? The short answer is yes! Here we explain both how and why food matters so much when it comes to life threatening conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, many forms of cancer, and other lifestyle related illnesses.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Nothing kills more Americans than heart disease and stroke. More than 859,000 Americans die of heart disease or stroke every year, which equates to one-third of all deaths. These diseases take an economic toll, as well, costing the U.S. healthcare system $199 billion per year and causing $131 billion in lost productivity on the job.

In the case of stroke, coronary and vascular heart disease and peripheral arterial disease (PAD), there is strong human evidence that a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains can be very beneficial in managing, halting and even reversing these life-threatening diseases. Meanwhile, the role of dairy, oils and fats is controversial, and the role of meat, poultry, eggs, processed and refined foods appear to be detrimental.

While a rapidly growing number of medical professionals and healthcare systems now recognize the effectiveness of a WFPB diet in treating heart disease, Million Dollar Vegan supporters Dean Ornish, M.D. and Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. were the first medical professionals to research and demonstrate how comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even the most severe coronary heart disease without the aid of drugs or surgery.

To this very day, Ornish and Esselstyn are showing people around the world how to use food to manage, reverse and reduce their risk of this killer disease.

Resources for managing, reversing and reducing your risk of CAD, vascular disease, stroke, PAD, and related illnesses like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can be found here:

WATCH: Dr. Esselstyn explains how plaque in our arteries is formed
READ: How to ‘Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease’ by Dr. Esselstyn
FIND: Medical facilities offering The Dean Ornish Reversal Program
GO: On a Whole Food Plant Based Excursion
COOK: Whole Food Plant Based Recipes
READ: How simple lifestyle changes can reverse most chronic diseases, by Dr. Ornish
CHECKLIST: Dr. Michael Greger’s ‘Daily Dozen’ checklist identifying the 12 foods we should aim to eat every day to stay in the best of health


Each year in the United States, more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and almost 600,000 die from it, making it the second leading cause of death. The cost of cancer care continues to rise and is expected to reach almost $174 billion by 2020.

Regardless of its cause, cancer only becomes a disease once malignant cells evade our immune system, which is why the most innovative cancer treatments are immunity boosting. As we learned in chapter 5, a WFPB diet can boost our immune system too.

In 2008, Million Dollar Vegan supporter Dr. Dean Ornish published landmark research showing that comprehensive diet and lifestyle changes could slow, stop or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer. This was tied to the fact that our diet and lifestyle can affect gene expression, “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease.

In his seminal work, The China Study, biochemist T. Colin Campbell showed that cancer development is primarily a nutrition-responsive disease rather than a genetic one, and that high-antioxidant WFPB nutrition has a positive biological effect on our body’s defense systems, enabling them to control and, on occasion, even reverses cancer development.

Controlled studies also showed that animal-based protein and dietary fat consumption has the opposite effect on cancer, by turning tumor development “on”. The World Health Organization (WHO) has responded to this evidence by classing processed meats (deli-meats, ham, chorizo, pepperoni, bacon, sausage, etc) as a Group 1 carcinogen, putting it in the same cancer-causing category as smoking. Non-processed meats, such as beef, lamb and pork, have also been classified as carcinogenic and a probable cause of cancer.

Furthermore, dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese) are linked to prostate cancer and also associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer in people with lactose intolerance. The Life After Cancer Epidemiology study found that, among women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, those consuming one or more servings of cheese, ice cream, or whole milk daily had a 49 percent higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming none. Researchers followed 52,795 women who were part of the Adventist Health Study and found that women who consumed 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cow’s milk per day had a 30 percent increased chance for breast cancer. One cup per day increased the risk by 50 percent, and 2-3 cups were associated with an 80 percent increased chance of breast cancer.

Want to learn more about increasing your resistance to cancer through food? Here’s how:

READ: How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger
WATCH: T. Colin Campbell, PhD. discusses the effect of diet on cancer
READ: Beyond Cancer: The powerful effect of plant-based eating
COOK: How Not To Die cookbook
WATCH: Mary-Beth’s cancer recovery story
READ: The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell, PhD


More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and another 84 million adults in the United States have a condition called prediabetes, which puts them at risk for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can cause heart disease, kidney failure, and blindness, and costs the U.S. healthcare system and employers $237 billion every year.

Studies show that eating a high-fat, standard American diet can cause fat particles to build up inside our cells. These fat particles interfere with insulin’s ability to move sugar out from our bloodstream and into our cells, so instead of powering our cells, the glucose remains in our bloodstream, eventually leading to diabetes.

A WFPB diet, which is naturally low in fat, is a powerful tool for preventing, managing, and even reversing type 2 diabetes because it allows insulin to function properly. It has been shown to be effective at reducing and managing symptoms of type 1 diabetes as well.

In a 2003 study funded by the NIH, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine tested thousands of patients with type 2 diabetes and determined that a plant-based diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than a traditional diabetes diet that limited calories and carbohydrates. Within weeks on a plant-based diet, participants saw dramatic health improvements. Their insulin sensitivity improved, and HbA1c levels dropped. In some cases, you wouldn’t even have known they’d had the disease at all.

Nutritional Biochemist, Dr. Cyrus Khambatta, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002, and has, for the past decade, been educating people with type 1 diabetes, type 1.5 diabetes, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes how to reduce reverse insulin resistance through a WFPB diet and exercise with outstanding patient results.

For more information about how you can manage and even reverse your diabetic or prediabetic condition, check out these great resources:

WATCH: Tackling Diabetes with Plant-Based Nutrition
COOK: Forks Over Knives cookbook
LEARN: How to Master Diabetes with Dr. Cyrus Khambatta
READ: How To Reverse Diabetes with Dr. Neal Barnard
WATCH: How U.S. Veteran Bob reversed type-2 diabetes with a WFPB diet
COOK: Cookbook for Reversing Diabetes

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia, is an progressive brain disease that affects about 5.7 million Americans. It is the sixth leading cause of death among all adults and the fifth leading cause for those aged 65 or older. In 2010, the costs of treating Alzheimer’s disease were estimated between $159 billion and $215 billion, and by 2040 these costs are projected to jump to between $379 billion and $500 billion annually.

While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, there is a way to prevent cognitive decline, to slow its progression and improve the quality of life for those who already have a diagnosis. And what most of the 47 million people living with Alzheimer’s worldwide don’t know is that by making the right lifestyle choices they could have reduced their risk of developing this devastating disease by up to 90%.

This staggering statistic is often discussed by pioneering neurologists Doctor’s Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, co-directors of the ‘Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program’, who, through their award-winning work, have found that one of the biggest factors in our long-term neurological health is what we choose to put on our plates.

Scientists have suggested that Alzheimer’s is essentially a garbage disposal problem: the brain’s inability to cope with the junk we’ve fed it over a lifetime, which makes a lot of sense. Poor nutrition can damage our brain in numerous ways; causing inflammation (a hallmark of chronic illness), clogging blood vessels (the cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke), and depriving our brain of the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Though our brain may only seem like a small part of us, it actually uses up to 25 percent of the body’s energy and, because food is energy, our brains are especially vulnerable to each nutritional choice we make.

Nobel prize-winning physician Dr. Dean Ornish is currently directing the first randomized controlled trial to determine if comprehensive lifestyle changes can reverse the progression of early Alzheimer’s disease, with positive results expected. Meanwhile, existing studies show that eating a predominantly plant-based diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 53 percent, while exercise can reduce risk of the disease by 40 percent and stroke by 25 percent.

The evidence that “brain food” exists is therefore very promising, and all the more reason to get active and to adopt a whole-food plant-based lifestyle:

READ: Award-winning book: The Alzheimer’s Solution
PARTICIPATE: In Dr. Ornish’s Alzheimer’s Reversal Trial
TRY: Dr. Barnard’s Simple Steps to Brain Health
WATCH: Doctor’s Dean and Ayesha Sherzai discussing brain health

Now that you know the healing power of plant based whole foods, why not sign up for our FREE Vegan Starter Kit + Health & Nutrition Guide to get all the support you need to succeed on your journey to optimal health.

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