Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Is it possible to reverse coronary artery disease?

Ask the doctor

Is it possible to reverse coronary artery disease?

Q. I have coronary artery disease. Is this something I can have cured or get rid of, or is keeping it from getting worse the best I can do?

A. If you have the gumption to make major changes to your lifestyle, you can, indeed, reverse coronary artery disease. This disease is the accumulation of cholesterol-laden plaque inside the arteries nourishing your heart, a process known as atherosclerosis.

Some of the best evidence that coronary artery disease is reversible comes from autopsies performed on people who lived through prolonged periods of starvation during World War II. Their coronary arteries showed little or no atherosclerosis. But as the economies of war-stricken countries recovered and diets "improved," atherosclerosis returned. These findings are considered proof that extreme dietary changes can cause atherosclerosis to melt away.

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