A recent study authored by Dr. Francesca Crowe of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, showed that being vegetarian reduces the risk of death or hospital admission from heart disease by nearly 32 percent. It is nothing new to hear doctors recommend a diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, and less cholesterol and saturated fats from meat for a better quality of life. But we are delighted to learn about the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP), a low-cost instructional program that helps people change their lifestyles to prevent and reverse disease through the vegan diet.
In CHIP’s courses, participants learn to decrease their cholesterol, triglyceride and blood-sugar levels by losing weight, lowering their blood pressure, exercising, changing their diets and stopping smoking.
The CHIP program was created by Dr. Hans Diehl, a Seventh Day Adventist, with a commitment to inform the world about the importance of a positive lifestyle. There are CHIP chapters almost in every city, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds.
Dr. Diehl is the director of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute of Loma Linda, California, USA and the clinical director of the Coronary Health Improvement Project. In founding CHIP, he was motivated by the efforts of an epidemiologist in Finland, Dr. Pekka Puska, who transformed a region known as the “Valley of Beautiful Widows” due to the very high fatal heart disease rate into one of the healthiest provinces in Finland; and by visionary American inventor Nathan Pritikin, who found that many Western diseases stem from foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat: animal products.
In this Finnish region, the death rate of men in their 40s and 50s was abnormally high, with most succumbing to coronary artery disease. Dr. Puska was determined to bring down this group’s mortality rate, and in the 1970s, was successful using a community-based intervention model.
This method of bettering public health deeply impressed Dr. Diehl and became the foundation of CHIP’s format for changing lives.
Nathan Pritikin, an inventor with numerous patents, was told he had coronary artery disease at the young age of 41. Mr. Pritikin refused to be a victim and started examining health data to see if there was a way to resolve his condition. He discovered that those who had a cholesterol level of under 160 milligrams per deciliter almost never had coronary artery disease.
Another fact he discovered was a number of conditions that are prevalent in Western societies, including coronary artery disease, typically do not occur in those who exercise and follow a simple, whole-foods diet, high in unrefined, fiber-rich carbohydrates and very low in fat.
Dr. Diehl learned that Mr. Pritikin used simple changes in clients’ dietary, smoking and exercise habits to dramatically improve conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gout, arthritis and obesity, which Nathan Pritikin called “diseases of dietary abundance.”
Intrigued by this approach, Dr. Diehl visited the first Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Barbara, California, USA, where Mr. Pritikin informed him that the Center’s success rate was “about 80%.” Amazed at this percentage, Dr. Diehl did a statistical analysis to determine the precise success rate and found that it was actually even higher. Eighty-three percent of Mr. Pritikin’s formerly hypertensive clients who had been on medication were drug-free and had normal blood-pressure levels.
Dr. Diehl then observed that the Center’s program promoted a fiber-rich diet centered around unrefined grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. The program also prescribed progressive exercise for its participants. Seeing clients’ rapid, consistent and almost miraculous improvement under the staff’s close medical supervision, he wondered how this lifestyle-change method could be implemented at the community level.
Instead of having people spend thousands of dollars for treatment at a private institute, he thought, perhaps the same results could be obtained at a much lower cost, thus reaching a broader segment of society. For the next few years Dr. Diehl worked as a research fellow at Loma Linda University, USA lecturing about the possibility of reversing many of the chronic conditions prevalent in Western societies through lifestyle change, and soon developed a following.
Finally, in 1986, CHIP began when the Creston Valley Hospital in British Columbia, Canada invited him to conduct a four-week program in its community of 5,000 adults. During the program Dr. Diehl delivered 40 hours of instructional lectures to some 400 enthusiastic participants. Since that auspicious beginning, CHIP has graduated over 50,000 participants worldwide.
In an interview with CHIP director for Los Angeles, California, USA, Ed Cabil, he talks about the nature and mission of CHIP.
Mr. Cabil said: “The way we get the message out about the importance of adopting a vegan lifestyle, we go to schools, we go to churches, we go to restaurants, vegan restaurants. And so we put articles in the newspapers, we go to the media to spread the word. And people come, because people are suffering. And we have a message for people who suffer, and that is: Change your lifestyle, exercise, and the lifestyle change will facilitate a reversal of your condition.”
Mr. Cabil explains the main components of the program which is the assessment and providing the education, the meals, and then support. He said: “We provide them the meals because if you change people to a vegan meal, the food has to taste good. So we provide delicious vegan meals, so they don’t miss the meat and the milk and the dairy and the cheese and all the fat and the butter and the cream and the sugar. And then we provide support. Support means that we continue with an alumni program, following the 30-day CHIP exercise. And we provide restaurant experiences, cooking classes, just great things for people who desire to make a positive change in their health.”
Mr. Cabil talks about the types of people who come to CHIPs events. “We have people come from all ranges of life and cultures and ethnic backgrounds, just people who are suffering. People who are suffering are looking for help. They are desperate. And usually the people who come to us are people who have gone to the doctor, and their doctors have told them, “Well, it looks like you are going to be on a lifetime of medication.” And so they choose not to be on a lifetime of medication. And so as a result, CHIP is available. And they come.”
Mr. Cabil attributes CHIP’s high success rate in constructively transforming lives to the methods it uses to teach the program’s core principles. He explains: “There are actually six levels of thinking. And knowledge is the lowest level of thinking. So we have a program designed to take them to the level of comprehension, and then let them be able to apply what we teach them. But the most important thing is that we allow them to analyze and then digest the informational parts of CHIP, and the diet part and the exercise part.”
“But the total part that we give them is the evaluation, where they make a sound judgment based upon all the facts that they have gathered, from knowledge, from comprehension, from application, from analysis, from synthesis. And so when they reach level six, which is the highest level of thinking, evaluation, they make sound judgments. And as a result of that, they continue to stick with the program. They do not fall apart. They do not revert back to their old habits of eating hamburgers and all that.”
Since Mr. Cabil lost his wife to breast cancer 20 years ago, he made a vow that he would do everything he could to make sure people live. He said: “I am committed to helping people to live. … And I know that health is the thing that lets you know that now is the best time of your life. And so without health, you can’t have a good time. So I feel good because I see people have a good time. When they come through the CHIP program and they are happy, and when we go on our alumni trips and vacations, I can just see so much joy in there. So I just feel good because I know that I made a difference.”
We are grateful to Ed Cabil, for providing us an excellent introduction to the Coronary Health Improvement Project and how its program is bettering public health across the globe through promoting the vegan diet and exercise. We are very happy to know that many lives have been saved due to the benevolent work of CHIP staff members like Mr. Cabil.
For more information on the Coronary Health Improvement Project, please visit www.CHIPhealth.com