It’s an idea that medicine doesn’t fully embrace: the body is a self-healing system. Even people with heart disease can completely reverse the condition by a change of lifestyle, a new research study has found.

So, instead of just containing a disease with the help of drugs, people can reverse their condition by adopting healthier life choices, including better diets and moderate exercise.

This has been illustrated by a study of more than 5,000 young people – aged between 18 and 30 – who were already showing signs of heart disease, including coronary artery thickening and calcification.

Checking their progress 20 years later, researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine discovered that those who adopted healthier lifestyles reduced, or even reversed, their symptoms, but those who added another bad habit saw the condition worsen.

Just 10 per cent of the group had adopted five healthier lifestyle options – including losing weight, moderate exercising, eating more fruits and vegetables, not smoking, and drinking only one or two glasses a day of wine – and these had seen their heart disease reverse. But another 25 per cent had adopted at least one of the healthier choices, and they saw their symptoms improve.

“It’s a positive message. It’s never too late, and you’re not doomed,” says lead investigator Bonnie Spring. “It helps debunk two myths,” she adds, “the first is that it’s nearly impossible to change patients’ behaviours. The second myth is that the damage has already been done. Clearly, that’s incorrect.”

Source: Circulation, 2014; doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.005445
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