On Tuesday, November 5, 2013, Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., addressed a packed room of eager spectators at the Oberlin Public Library. Dr. Esselstyn, a renowned Cleveland Clinic surgeon, was to discuss his book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” which argues a plant-based, oil-free diet can not only prevent and stop the progression of heart disease, but also reverse its effects.
Here, we discuss five of the most surprising insights about heart disease from Dr. Esselstyn’s presentation:
1. There Are Cultures in the World Without Coronary Artery Disease
According to Dr. Esselstyn, in cultures such as rural China, the Papua New Guinea highlanders, central Africa and the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico, coronary artery disease is virtually nonexistent. These cultures rarely (if ever) consume meat and other animal derivatives. The diet of the Papa New Guinea highlanders, for example, is plant-based of which a variety of sweet potatoes supply more than 90 percent of dietary intake.
2. Any Person Who Eats a Traditional Western Diet has a Foundation for Heart Disease
The traditional western diet is characterized by a high consumption of dairy products, refined sugars, salt, refined vegetable oils, and fatty domestic meats. According to Dr. Esselstyn, if you’ve been following this diet, you have built the foundation for future heart disease. “It’s not your age, it’s not your genes, and it’s not the luck of the draw,” Dr. Esselstyn said. “It’s what you’ve been eating.”
For further proof, Dr. Esselstyn shared how, throughout WWII, circulatory diseases in people in occupied countries like Norway significantly dropped after livestock was removed and they were forced to adapt plant-based diets. Heart disease rose again when animals were reintroduced in 1945.
3. Most Cardiologists Are Not Treating the Cause of Heart Disease
While not a cardiologist himself, Dr. Esselstyn said he’s dissatisfied with how most of today’s cardiologists treat the symptoms of heart disease rather than the cause. “What is cardiology today?” Dr. Esselstyn asked. “Drugs, first stent, second stent, third stent, fourth stent, bypass, more stents, and then you go into heart failure. We’re dealing with pills, procedures, stents and operations that have absolutely nothing to do with the causation of the illness. The question is can we do better?”
Dr. Esselstyn argues we can by refocusing our diets to comprise only whole grains, legumes, lentils, vegetables (especially leafy greens) and fruit. His argument is supported by other well-known physicians, including Mehmet Oz, MD, (television’s Dr. Oz), who said: “I am a cardiovascular surgeon infatuated with the challenge and promise of ‘high-tech’ medicine and surgery. Nonetheless, I have become convinced that the most overlooked tool in our medical arsenal is harnessing the body’s own ability to heal through nutritional excellence.”
4. Getting the Right Support is Key to Improving Lifestyle
As we’ve learned, adopting a low-fat vegan lifestyle is far from easy. Dr. Esselstyn says this is his biggest pushback from critics. “The idea that patients will not make this kind of lifestyle transition is absolutely a mistaken belief,” he said. “It’s not that the message is wrong, it’s how the message is articulated.”
In his book, Dr. Esselstyn details a study in which 17 patients who had experienced 49 cardiac events in the years leading up to the study remained compliant to a low-fat, plant-based diet for two decades. According to Dr. Esselstyn, after beginning the eating plan, there were no more cardiac events in the group within a 12-year period. “Show them respect, give them your time. Tell them exactly what they’ve done to cause the illness and what they can do [to reverse it]. Patients are empowered by the knowledge they are in control of the disease that was destroying their lives.”
Want to learn more about plant-based, oil-free eating? See what Dr. Esselstyn had for dinner at Kendal at Oberlin before his presentation here!