Interview with Dr. Arun Kalyanasundaram, Interventional Cardiologist

For the physician, all relevant research comes into actual practice in the clinic.  For the patient, the clinic is where they receive their treatment and interact with their doctor on an ongoing basis. Very often, clinical technique makes the key difference for patient compliance and successful treatment. So the Vegetarian Prescription considers the clinical experience of physicians practicing vegetarian nutritional medicine to be a vital source of knowledge and experience. To make this knowledge more widely available, we are posting a series of interviews with various current practitioners. 

Interview with Dr Arun Kalyanasundaram, a medical doctor, practicing Interventional Cardiology in the Seattle area:

How did you become interested in vegetarian nutritional medicine?

During my training and subsequently, I noticed that patients have lifestyle issues that contribute significantly to progression of coronary artery disease and its risk factors.   Vegetarian nutritional medicine not only made sense, but also has a wealth of data backing it up.

What diseases do you mostly commonly prevent and treat by prescribing a vegetarian diet?

Although the list of diseases is endless, I primarily see patients with diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidemia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. I have patients in each of the above categories who have been successfully “treated” by making dietary changes.

What are the advantages of vegetarian nutritional medicine over other treatments?

Vegetarian nutritional medicine is the only treatment with no side effects. Patients who have just been through an interventional procedure, especially when they’ve experienced a heart attack, often find this is a wake-up call, and they are ready to try a different approach to taking care of their health.

The ability to work without any of the “negative interactions” with other modalities of treatment – i.e. medications and invasive procedures – is invaluable. Most patients who have made the change also feel substantially better in other aspects of their life, besides the intended health benefit.

How do you explain the concept and treatment to your patients?

I use various health-behavior techniques to try to effect change. For several patients, knowing that they have a disease that is life-threatening, and they have the ability to make a difference helps them make the transition. Most times, once patients are presented with the data, they understand the rationale.

What obstacles do you commonly encounter when practicing vegetarian nutritional medicine and how do you handle them?

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the lack of knowledge about the importance of making a lifestyle change. There are several components to the knowledge deficit. Further, there are psychological and cultural barriers at times.

Educating patients on the need for change, and acknowledging that this is one of the hardest things they are going to do, helps patients accept the need for a change of diet. Constant encouragement, providing the tools, and reinforcement along the way, all help the patient change their diet.

How do you integrate vegetarian nutritional medicine with the patient’s other treatments?

Vegetarian nutritional medicine, by its “lack of side effects” as I had mentioned earlier, works really well with every modality of traditional therapy.

What do you think it will take before prescribing veg medicine becomes more widespread?

I feel that things are heading in the right direction. Not only is vegetarian nutritional medicine a safer approach than using drugs or surgery, but it is also way more cost effective. Educating the next generation of medical professionals will a big step toward the practice becoming more widespread.

Why do you think it is important to be taught vegetarian nutritional medicine in medical school?

Nutritional medicine is not taught as a course traditionally. Teaching vegetarian nutritional medicine in medical school will enable the next generation of doctors to have the skill set to not only better treat disease, but also to promote the health of their patients.