Healthy Living

You Are What You Eat

Over thirty years ago, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., a former surgeon, researcher and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic began a ground-breaking program in which he put men and women with advanced coronary disease on a plant-based, oil-free diet.

His program was based on a revolutionary idea that we could do away with the heart-disease epidemic by simply changing our diets! It was an idea that challenged conventional cardiology. Yet, within months, the health of the people in his study improved significantly: angina symptoms eased, cholesterol levels dropped significantly and blood flow showed a marked mprovement. Miraculously, twenty years later, the group remained free of symptoms.

Dr. Esselstyn’s findings are revealed in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, a book that Columbia University professor and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz describes as one in which “a hard-nosed scientist shows us his secrets for successfully cleaning the rusty arteries of so many patients and it doesn’t even hurt.”

“In the late 1970’s, early 90’s, I was chairman of our breast cancer task force at the Cleveland Clinuc. And it was frustrating to me to find that no matter how many women on whom I performed surgery I was doing absolutely nothing for the next unsuspecting victim. This led me to begin global research, and it was quite apparent that there were a number of cultures where breast cancer was 30 to 40 times less frequent than the United States. For instance, if you looked at breast cancer in rural Japan in the 1950’s it was very infrequently identified and yet soon as those Japanese women would migrate to the United States, by the second and third generation, they now had the same rate of breast cancer as their CAucasian counterpart.

Even more powerful, perhaps where the prostate cancer rates in the entire nation of Japan in 1958: There were 18. That was one of the most mind-boggling public health figures, I think that I have ever encountered. By 1978 the number was up to 137 deaths, which pales in comparison to the 28,000 that will die of prostate cancer this year in this country.

“So somewhere alon the this review, I somehow began to feel that my bones would long be dust before I got the answers to cancer and nutrition, but in hindsight, I’m not sure that that’s correct. Nevertheless, I thought there’d be more bang for the buck if we’d really go after the leading killer of women and men in the Western Civilization- which is heart disease. As part of this global research, there were any number of cultures where cardiovascular disease was virtually non-existent. And the common denominator of place like Okinawa, rural China, the Papua Highlands, central Africa and Tarahumara Indians in Northern Mexico where cardiovascular disease was non-existent was the fact that they all thrived on whole food plant nutrition, without oil. (Meat represents less than five percent of the Tarahumara tribe’s diet).

“The dream became that if we could get patients to really begin to save their hearts, they’ll also be saving themselves from the common western malignancies of breast, prostate, colon and, perhaps pancreatic cancer. So that’s what initiated my research.

“And, then, in 1985 we took a group of patients with cardiovascular disease to see if they could eat a plant-based diet. We wanted to see if it would halt or reverse their disease.

“Our specific program is geared towards patients who have significant cardiovascular disease. Let’s say for example, someone has a heart attack. They don’t want another one. They’ve had a stent; the don’t want another. Or they’ve had a bypass surgery. They don’t want another one. Or they’ve been told that they have to have a bypass and they’ve rather not have it.

“There is a spectrum of those who have cardiovascular disease who can really benefit from treating the causation of the illnesss. You see, when it comes down to it, it’s this: Ever since the days of Hippocrates, there’s been a basic covenant of trust between the caregiver and the patient whenever possible. The caregiver will share with the patient what is the causation of the illness. And, sadly, today in cardiovascular medicine, it’s not being done. People will have their first stent and they’ll have to have a second and third and a fourt. Then they might start having stents to keep the stent open.
Then they might have to have a bypass.Then they have to have stents to keep the bypass open. Why? Why is the disease progressing? Because they haven’t been told how to treat the causation of the illness. And, sadly, none of the drgs, none of the procedures, none of the bypass operations really treat the causation of the illness, which is why the disease is progressive and why the mortality is so high.

“All experts would agree, however, this disease appear to have its inception when we progressivel injure the lifejacket or the guardian of our blood vessels, which is the delicate, innermost lining of the artery called the endothelium. And the endothelium manufacturers an absolutely magic gas, called nitric oxide, which has some very wonderful unusual functions that makes it the great salvation of our vascular health. To begin, nitric oxide will prevent all those cellular element flowing in out bloodstream from ever getting sticky. Nitric Oxide is the strongest vessel dialator in the body. When you climb stairs, your arteries to your heart to your legs, they widen, they dilate that’s your nitric oxide. Nitric oxide prevents the wall of your artery from becoming thickened, stiff or inflamed and protects you from getting high blood pressure and hypertension. Lastly, and this is the absolute key – a healthy safe, normal amount of nitric oxide will protect you from ever developing blockages or plaque. So, literally, all of those on the planet who have cardiovascular disease have their illness because they so sufficiently trashed, injured and copmpromised the capacity of their cells to make nitric acid and simply don’t have enough to protect themselves.”

According to Dr. Esselstyn’s plan, food to avoid are any with a face or a mother, dairy products, all oils, refined grains and nuts. Foods that you are allowed, in fact, encouraged to consume are vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruit and various beverages. Alcohol, in moderation, is fine. The doctor’s findings and advice about diet is included in part one, The heart of the Matter, of this book. Part Two, The joy of Eating, includes strategies for instance, what to eat in a restaurant or at someone’s home, as well as recipe’s created by Ann Crille Esselstyn, who has, as her husband put it, “learned a great deal about how to concoct wonderful meals
that meet the strict standards of my nutrition plan.”
Yet, his plan, surprisingly, does not include any
nuts whatsoever.

“How many people do you know who will eat one nut? Nuts are highly addicting and if I ever told my patients that they could have two or three walnuts, that’s not what they would hear. They would say, ‘Gee, I guess I’ll have them in the glove compartment, I’ll have them in the bathroom, the hallway, the dining room, the kitchen, the basement, the workbench.’ However, I will be flexible on this. If I ever see a study where they take patients who were thoroughly diseased with cardiovascular illness and they give them peanut butter and cashew sauce and all the nuts they want and doctors can halt and arrest their disease, then I will relinquish. Until then, I would describe what we have now as a winner! We have a program than can halt and reverse this disease without nuts. And I’m really rather hesitant. “I treat vegans as well. Why? Vegans eat oil.

Vegans eat French fries. Vegans eat glazed donuts! On my diet you are going to eat whole grains for your cereal, bread, pasta, rolls and bagels, hundreds of different types of legumes and beans. Marvelous red, yellow and green leafy vegetables. Also sweet potato and fruit. There are now hundreds of recipes and books.”

And one of those books is The Engine 2 Diet, written by Dr. Esselstyn’s son, Rip, a former professional triathlete and firefighter with the Austin Fire Department where he introduced his passion for a whole-food, plant-based diet to Austin’s Engine 2 Firehouse in order to rescue a firefighting brother’s health. Rip now is a spokesperson and ambassador for Whole Foods, where he developed his own line of Engine 2 plant-perfect food.

There’s no doubt that a plant-based diet, also evidenced in The China Study, would benefit all of us. It’s a matter of total commitment. “The time is now,“ says Dr. Esselstyn. “The weight of scientific evidence and public opinion, once the truth is known, will prevail. And finally, we can start teaching people how to walk alongside the edge of the cliff, instead of desperately trying to save them after they fall off.

“With this approach, the war against our most devastating diseases can be won.” Dr. Esselstyn then adds, with a laugh, “Although I can be a taskmaster, I’m told that I’m not as mean as I look.”

Mean? No. Determined? Yes! But, then again, he only has your good health in mind.