WOODLAWN — If you want to mend your ailing heart — or fix your sex life — one doctor says you should try going vegan.
Bronx cardiologist Dr. Robert Ostfeld is promoting a whole-food plant-based diet to help prevent heart disease and other illnesses, including diabetes, hypertension and even sexual dysfunction.
“Outside the need for emergency surgery, I’ve never seen anything come close to the breadth and depth of benefits that a plant-based diet provides,” said Ostfeld, a Yale- and Harvard-trained heart doctor who runs the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center.
The doctor says that more than 250 patients in his outpatient clinic have embraced the plant-based diet. At least five patients have volunteered that they've had significant improvements to erectile dysfunction, he said, though he suspects it's helped even more participants.
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Ostfeld, who is vegan, holds free monthly sessions for patients interested in creating a healthier lifestyle by switching to a plant-based diet. Patients attending the session also get to partake in a plant-based buffet lunch.
He says the diet can prevent heart and vascular disease, which is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., killing an estimated 600,000 men and women per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
His goal is to help patients decrease the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor and avoid heart surgery by giving up meat, dairy, fish and processed foods for whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Eating plant-based foods bathes your body in nutrients and helps to protect your blood vessels from developing cholesterol blockages, Ostfeld said, and also leads to good gut bacteria that may reduce your risk for heart disease.
The diet is working for Bronx resident Awilda Torres, 47, a housekeeper whose family raised farm animals in the Dominican Republic.
“I couldn’t breathe and I could barely walk,” said Torres, who weighed 250 pounds, had high blood pressure and asthma, and was on 19 medications when she first gave up animal products after consulting with Ostfeld in January 2013.
She has since lost 70 pounds, walks three miles a day, lowered her cholesterol, and is down to only three medications.
“We need this in the Bronx,” Torres said. Raising awareness and building better access to quality food and fruits and vegetables is imperative to reducing the borough’s high incidence of obesity and heart disease, she added.
Retired real estate agent William Kirkwood, 75, who survived a heart attack three years ago, said the diet is worth a try, despite his love for a juicy porterhouse steak.
“I want six-pack abs like he has,” Kirkwood said, pointing to his nephew, Anthony Zacchino, 28, a marathon runner, who credits his boundless energy to a plant-based diet.
Foregoing animal products even made one patient feel like “a rock star in the bedroom," the patient told Ostfeld.
Ostfeld says erectile dysfunction may result from a clogged artery to the penis and “is a canary in the coal mine” for heart disease — a sign that you may have blockages in the arteries leading to the heart.
Ostfeld recommends patients adhere to the diet strictly for three months. After that, he suggests patients allow themselves one cheat day a month, should the urge for pepperoni pizza arise.
Still, some people say the diet is too extreme.
“I love red meat. I could never give it up,” said Morris Park resident Barbara Groszewski, an administrative assistant, who worries about her health.
Ostfeld said he understands that the diet may seem harsh, but the alternative — surgery — could be even worse.
"I think it’s extreme when someone saws my chest open, takes a vein from my leg and stitches it into my heart," he said.