Wolf Blitzer Interviews Esselstyn & Ornish - the Doctors Who Influenced Bill Clinton's Heart Disease Reversal Diet- September 24, 2010
If you received this post via email, click here to get to the web version with the video and links. You'll find the video of the interview at the end of this post.
Yesterday my husband and I had the pleasure of watching Drs. Esselstyn & Ornish explain on national television just how a plant-based diet can prevent or reverse heart disease. Unfortunately, nine minutes can't do it justice. So here's the rest of the story.
As we watched, we enjoyed an amazing homemade whole wheat cheese-less pizza topped with kalamata olives, fresh basil, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts--that took just minutes to put together!
September 2004: Bill Clinton has quadruple bypass surgery to repair blocked arteries after he experienced chest pain.
February 10, 2010: Clinton has two stents placed in one of his previously-treated arteries, after one of his bypass grafts completely closed up. According to his physician, Clinton had "toed the line" about adhering to diet, exercise & medical therapy. Click here for the Medtronic (the stent company) press release.
Spring, 2010: The stents fail to prevent further cardiovascular blockages. This is not an unusual occurrence. Clinton decides to read the medical literature about preventing and reversing heart disease. He discovers that there is only one way to do this--a strict plant-based diet loaded with green leafy vegetables, and without meat, chicken, fish, dairy, or added oils. The two physicians who are pioneers in this treatment approach are Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish. Clinton decides to conduct his own personal clinical trial.
Zero cardiovascular events have occurred in Dr. Esselstyn's original group of 17 compliant patients that he has followed for over the past 25 years. Esselstyn continues to work with hundreds of other patients who have similar success stories. There is no mortality, no morbidity, no expense from following a plant-based diet--if you eat in a way that makes the cap over your plaque super strong!
Like most Americans, Wolf Blitzer didn't seem to understand why bypass surgery or stents cannot cure cardiovascular disease. These procedures only treat emergency blockages. And statins are no guarantee that it won't happen again. Too bad Dr. Esselstyn didn't have a chance to tell Blitzer this:
"Some people think the "diet" is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme."
"The elephant in the room when we talk about stents and bypass surgery--those procedures don't protect from new heart attacks. Stents & bypasses are used to treat large arterial blockages. Yet according to many research studies only a small percentage of heart attacks are caused by the largest build-up of plaque. The rest are caused by the more numerous newer blockages that are far more inflamed and much more likely to rupture than the larger older, more stable plaques. So this is why those procedures don't treat the disease. They are treating the symptoms."
Just published: Am J Cardiol 2010 Sep 15;106(6):902-4. Esselstyn, CB Jr. "Is the present therapy for coronary artery disease the radical mastectomy of the twenty-first century?"
--Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn--
And take it from two of the country's top cardiologists:
"Multiple studies show that if you have one ruptured plaque you have many." -Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic-
"We can't cure this disease until we address the fundamentals of lifestyle." -Dr. Eric Topol-
Wolf seemed surprised at Dr. Esselstyn's suggestion that the only way we will ever stop this disease is by changing the eating habits of our children.
"What? Are you suggesting that our kids shouldn't drink milk, or enjoy French fries, and chocolate cake-all the pleasures of life?" Blitzer asked.
Unfortunately, there wasn't sufficient time for Dr. Esselstyn to answer that question. But, if he had had time, here's what he might have said.
It All Starts in Adolescence according to the PDAY Study: Atherosclerosis begins in youth. Fatty streaks and clinically significant raised lesions increase from age 15 to age 34. 100% of the autopsies done on 15-34 year old accident victims showed fatty streaks in the aorta and 50-75% showed streaks in the coronary artery--all precursors to later coronary artery disease. Click here for study.
By 65-70 we all have it. All males 65 years & older, and all females 70 years & older who have been exposed to the typical Western diet have cardiovascular disease & should be treated as such. Without making any changes, you can expect to have a catastrophic event (a heart attack or stroke) in your 70's or 80's. -Dr. Lewis H. Kuller, The University of Pittsburgh-
Dr. Ornish waffled when he answered Blitzer's question about whether or not it was necessary for everyone to be on such a strict plant-based diet--even people without heart disease. Ornish suggests there can be a spectrum (the title of his latest book) of dietary strictness--based upon whether one has heart disease or not.
There's a bit of a problem here. Heart disease is often invisible, and it's years in the making. We often don't know what's going on inside of our blood vessels until it's too late.
Cholesterol levels, and other risk factors don't always predict future coronary events accurately. Cardiovascular disease lurks in the unseen damage we do to the endothelial linings of our blood vessels, from the foods we eat. This inflammatory process starts a cascade of bad-news biological events that lay down atherosclerotic plaque, damages vessel linings, and if we're unlucky, puts us at risk for vessel-blocking plaque ruptures--that set us up for heart attacks, invisible strokes, major strokes, dementia, and more.
Fit, lean, athletic people who are eating a Mediterrean Diet are not immune. Just ask Dr. Esselstyn. Just read my email--from people who exercised, ate right, & thought they were disease-proof. Just read, "I'm healthy, I exercise, I eat right, I'm heart-attack proof - "Not a moment too soon I thought of Tim Russert"
"Now I finally understand how we can have a heart attack or a silent stroke even if we think we don't have heart disease or atherosclerosis. Your coronary artery has to be 70% occluded to have symptoms, like angina. If your arteries are even 10-69% blocked, and you're inflaming them with what you eat, you're at risk. It's all about inflammation - Calm down the inflammation & you'll keep those atherosclerotic plaques safely stuck to your artery walls." From my post Yes, you can prevent and reverse heart disease, but are you up for the challenge - Let Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Convince You.
Why not just follow the Mediterranean Diet, which includes olive oil & fish? Yes, the Mediterranean Diet is better than the American Heart Association Diet & the Western diet, but it only slows the progression of heart disease--it doesn't prevent & reverse heart disease. And, sure who doesn't want to believe that it's healthy to eat fish & olive oil? I know I did. But followers of the Mediterranean Diet show reductions of only 19-25% in cardiovascular mortality compared to followers of more standard diets. Not a huge reduction in my book. Click here for a recent JAMA study.
Why can't I use olive oil? I've covered this at length in I'm Going to Miss My Olive Oil - Who Knew It Wasn't So Healthy After All? Drs. Esselstyn, Ornish, Vogel & Rudel Did but here's the short story: Dr. Lawrence Rudel fed African Green monkeys (who are close substitutes to humans for study purposes) olive oil for 5 years, and then compared their arteries to those of Green monkeys who were given saturated fat to eat. Rudel was shocked by the results--he expected the olive oil monkeys would be disease-free. Turns out even though the olive oil monkeys had high HDLs, they also had just as much coronary heart disease as the monkeys who ate saturated fat. Oops! Olive, soybean, palm, coconut, oils all contribute to heart disease--just avoid them.
Why can't I eat nuts? Recent studies say they increase HDL's, and lower LDLs? Esselstyn is skeptical about this reearch, based on the surprising results of Rudel's study. Just because the HDL's go up, & the LDLs go down, it's no guarantee that nuts are preventing or slowing down coronary heart disease. Little known fact: the nut industry has sponsored these cholesterol/nut studies & participants had to consume 2.3 ounces of nuts to accrue the lipid changes--that's 350-400 calories worth of nuts.
Then there's the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio thing--ideally we want to aim for a 2:1 or a 1:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, because a diet high in omega-6s is inflammatory. Most of us typically eat a diet that has a 17:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. Except for walnuts (and Esselstyn gives the OK for a few walnuts for folks without heart disease), most nuts are very high in omega-6s, and low in omega-3s. Cashews have a 117:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. And all nuts are high in calories and saturated fat. Almonds, the nut super-star is 6% saturated fat.
Isn't This Diet Extreme? Isn't it Too Hard to Follow? Doesn't It Take All the Fun Out of Eating?
Not at all. I'm someone who LOVED Kentucky Fried Chicken, corned beef sandwiches, Big Macs, barbecued ribs, and eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. Don't miss them at all. And I'm following this diet just for prevention. I have no diagnosed heart disease. But I saw two wonderful parents go through lengthy stroke-related declines, and if there is anything I can do to avoid that future, I'm going for it! Honestly, if I can do it, anyone can. Really. By now I can't imagine eating any other way--and I'm eating delicious food with lots of spice and zest--and it's far more interesting than broiled chicken.
Yoda: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Do you hear nothing that I say?
Luke Sky Walker: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different.
Yoda: No. No different. Only different in your mind. You must UNLEARN what you have learned.
Luke Sky Walker: All right. I'll give it a try.
Yoda: No. Try Not. Do. Or Do Not. There is no Try.
If the Esselstyn/Ornish Interview doesn't answer all of your questions, read Dr. Esselstyn's & Dr. Ornish's books.
If you want answers right now, read my summary of the day-long session I attended with Dr. & Ann Esselstyn--"What I learned from Dr. Caldwell and Ann Esselstyn's Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease "School".
Or go through my whole series of posts about Dr. Esselstyn's diet, how I adapted my cooking and recipes, and my successful experiment with the diet, click here, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Diet.
And Now For Wolf Blitzer's Interview with Drs. Esselstyn & Ornish
If you do not see the video, click here.
Stay tuned this weekend for some of my favorite plant-based pantry staples, and some of my long-promised recipes--that is if I can stand to sit at this computer any longer!