The Canary and other Organs

Atherosclerosis is a whole body disease affecting every artery. Therefore any organ can potentially be compromised by impaired blood supply. A partially blocked artery may cause symptoms such leg muscle pain on exertion. A sudden complete blockage may result in a stroke. Diseased small vessels can cause dementia and kidney failure. Even in the absence of artery narrowing, an unhealthy artery may be unable dilate, resulting in erectile dysfunction.


Often the first sign of whole body artery disease is erectile dysfunction. The penis has one of the highest concentrations of endothelial cells in the body. Nerve signals cause these endothelial cells to produce more nitric oxide which dilates the arteries to inflate the penis with blood. Anything that narrows arteries or impairs endothelial cell function can disrupt this process which makes the penis a sensitive indicator of artery disease and provides an early warning for heart disease. It has been said that “the penis is the canary in the coal mine”. (Early coal miners carried canaries to warn them of toxic gases underground). Women have similar erectile type tissues and are also affected ( see Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction  ).
A short video on diet and erectile function: Raise the flag with a vegan diet


The human brain is an energy hungry organ and is responsible for a significant part of our resting energy use. The high-energy needs of neurons combined with their sensitivity to low oxygen levels makes a good uninterrupted blood supply to the brain critical. Neurons die within minutes of sudden loss of blood supply such as when a stroke occurs, leaving that part of the brain permanently impaired. Strokes also occur on a very small scale. Brain scans of older people on the usual Australian diet are often speckled with scar tissue as a result of these mini-strokes. This damage contributes the decline in brain function which begins as early as one’s forties. Those most severely affected develop vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is different but clearly related to vascular disease, sharing the same risk factors as heart disease. There is an impending epidemic of dementia because of the escalation in diabetes and obesity. You can avoid being part of this statistic. See Neal Barnard’s book: Power Foods for the Brain

Vision and Hearing

The light receptors and nerve cells at the back of the eye are also very sensitive to lack of oxygen. The blood vessels on the back of the eye can be viewed directly and impaired passage of red blood cells can be observed following a fatty meal. The macular is the area responsible for our central spot of high resolution vision and has an even more precarious blood supply. Macular degeneration is most likely the result of impaired local blood supply and other dietary factors.

The nerve cells of the inner ear have a precarious blood supply and are similarly damaged by arterial disease.


The kidneys are another high blood flow tissue that is frequently affected by artery disease, particularly disease affecting the smaller vessels that feed the individual filtering units. Early kidney damage is revealed by the leakage of small amounts of blood proteins into the urine, microalbuminuria. This is associated with dietary intake, of animal protein, animal fat and cholesterol (see Preventing Kidney Failure Through Diet )


Obstruction of some of the main arteries running down the legs is extremely common in older persons, particularly if they are diabetics or smokers. Usually this happens gradually and enough blood finds its way down side channels to keep the legs alive. Surgery is frequently performed to bypass blockages of major vessels, but if nothing is done to prevent progressive artery disease, amputation can be the end result.

Lower Back Pain

… is also linked to atherosclerosis (see Cholesterol and Lower Back Pain )