[disinfo ed.'s note: the following is an excerpt from The Protein Myth: Significantly reducing the Risk of Cancer, Heart Disease, Stoke and Diabetes while Saving the Animals and the Planet courtesy of John Hunt Publishing.]
Current research suggests that death from cardiovascular disease is on the decline. However, the incidence of people who get heart disease remains the same, and risk factors may be increasing.1 (Cardiovascular disease includes stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure, and other conditions like arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, and peripheral arterial disease.) Discoveries that isolate the cause of heart disease and offer cures like the remarkable breakthroughs made by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. and Dr. Dean Ornish should, consequently, excite cardiologists. Yet in spite of the proved effectiveness of these new treatment options, most mainstream cardiologists and cardiovascular treatment facilities have ignored them.
Dr. Esselstyn began a twelve year cardiac disease arrest and reversal trial in 1985. Five years into the study he published his first findings and the complete report seven years later. Dr. Dean Ornish began his first clinical trial in 1986, issued his first report a year later, and then in 1990 published the results of his study in a widely acclaimed book, Dr. Dean Ornish‘s Program for Reversing Heart Disease.2
Both trials showed conclusively that heart disease can be prevented and reversed though a low-fat, plant-based diet.3 Prior to these trials the field of cardiology considered coronary heart disease to be irreversible.
Dr. Ornish’s plan calls for a diet of no meats and no added fats with an emphasis on whole grain foods, vegetables, fruits, and beans. It permits the consumption of egg whites and nonfat dairy products. Ornish combines his diet with exercise, stress management, and group support. With this plan he was able to reverse severe coronary artery disease without statins or other drugs.4 Praise for Ornish’s work, however, is often accompanied by negative criticisms on how difficult the plan is to follow or some other comment that casts it in a less than favorable light. The Mayo Clinic Heart Book, for example, offers a generally favorable review, but comments that “many people find that the program…requires substantial lifestyle changes.”5
Dr. Esseltsyn’s program, described in his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, calls for avoiding oils, meat, fish, fowl and dairy products.6 His trial involved 18 patients who in the eight years prior to the trial had experienced 49 coronary events such as “angina, bypass surgery, heart attacks, strokes and angioplasty.” After 12 years on Dr. Esselstyn‘s program, these 18 patients experienced only one coronary event, and that particular patient had dropped out of the program for two years. After he came back and resumed Esselstyn’s plant-based diet he had no further cardiovascular disease occurrences.
The medical establishment does not react to heart disease arrest and reversal programs like those Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish have set up with great enthusiasm. Dr. Campbell, for example, recalls the kind of responses he witnessed from his colleagues steeped in surgical and drug treatment procedures when the evidence began accumulating that nutrition could prevent cardiovascular events from occurring.
I remember when my superiors were only reluctantly accepting the evidence of nutrition being able to prevent heart disease, for example, but vehemently denying its ability to reverse such a disease when already advanced. But the evidence can no longer be ignored.
Those in science or medicine who shut their minds to such an idea are being more than stubborn; they are being irresponsible.7
Dr. Esselstyn practiced at the Cleveland Clinic, called by some the “best medical center for cardiac care” in the country, if not the world. Patients fly there from all across the globe for advanced heart disease treatment. It was during Dr. Esselstyn’s work there that he conducted the trial described above.8
Besides winning an Olympic gold medal in rowing and a Bronze Star for military service in Vietnam, Esselstyn was President of the Staff at the Cleveland Clinic, member of the Board of Governors, chairman of the Breast Cancer Task Force, and head of the Section of Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery. He was also the president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, author of over 100 professional scientific articles, and he was included on a list of the best doctors in America in 1994 – 1995.9
After he had completed his trial with the eighteen coronary patients and after his retirement in the year 2000, Esselstyn proposed to the Cleveland Clinic that he set up an arrest and reversal dietary cardiac program like the one he had done, as an option to be offered to every patient in the clinic suffering from heart disease.10 The program cost little and presented no risk for patients. The Clinic rehired him as a consultant in 2009 to direct the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Reversal Program at the Cleveland Wellness Institute.
Many people at the Clinic were excited about Dr. Esselstyn’s work. Staff members and trustees of the Clinic who had developed coronary disease themselves were approaching him for treatment.11
Esselstyn notes that work is presently being done with “stem cells to try to make new blood vessels grow.”12 He asks if it would not just be easier to prevent the disease in the first place.13
Campbell concurs. “We, the public, turn to doctors and hospitals in times of great need,” he says. “For them to provide care that is knowingly less than optimal, that doesn’t protect our health, doesn’t heal our disease and costs us tens of thousands of dollars is morally inexcusable.”14
It is worthwhile noting that in contrast to heart disease arrest and reversal programs, in 1996 a team of surgical specialists from the Cleveland Clinic flew to Brazil to investigate a new
operation that an unknown surgeon, Dr. Randas Batista, had developed to treat heart failure by strengthening the heart muscle. It involved removing a wedge-shaped piece of tissue from the left ventricle, the main chamber of the heart. Batista had 400 patients under his care and claimed the operation was hugely successful.15
After consulting with Dr. Batista, the surgical team returned to the Cleveland Clinic and tried out this procedure for themselves on 62 patients, all of whom gave their consent. But the operation turned out to be a dismal failure. Within three years more than a third of the patients had died, and only a quarter were free of heart disease.16
When surgery was involved, the Cleveland Clinic flew a team of experts to Brazil which subsequently operated on 62 patients in an experimental procedure that was highly dangerous, involved intense pain, cost enormous fees, failed to provide perceived benefits for three-quarters of those operated on, and ultimately proved fatal for more than a third of the participants.
The bias favoring surgery and drugs over treatment by means of nutrition could hardly be more apparent. If the patients who were operated on unsuccessfully with the Brazilian procedure could go back and do it over again — especially those who died — can any rational person doubt that they would choose heart disease arrest and reversal treatment over the one offered by the Cleveland Clinic, the best cardiovascular clinic in the world? Cutting open patients’ chests and splicing in new blood vessels to bypass clogged arteries costs $13 billion a year. One half of all bypass procedures clog up again within 10 years. One third of all angioplasty procedures clog again within four to six months. In contrast, the patients who participated in Dr. Esselstyn‘s program were still disease free two decades after they had finished the program, and never experienced one spasm of pain.17
It costs considerably less per year, obviously, to undertake a low-fat, plant-based diet as the sole treatment for cardiovascular disease. But while that is great for the bank accounts of patients, it is also a part of the problem. Medical facilities are not anxious to forego their cut of that $13 billion a year heart bypass industry which open heart surgery provides.
Cutting open someone’s chest, it goes without saying, is a surgically complicated, serious, and painful procedure. As Dr. David Eddy, a professor of health policy at Duke University noted, “a coronary artery bypass may change the life expectancy of a 60 year-old man with triple vessel disease, but it will also change his joy of life for several weeks after the operation, the degree and severity of chest pain, his ability to walk and make love, his relationship with his son, the physical appearance of his chest and his pocketbook. Pain, disability, anxiety, family relations, and any number of other outcomes are all important consequences of a procedure.”18
Patients should not have to endure this kind of sufferingwithout at least being informed that other possibilities exist.
As for Dr. Esselstyn, his goal remains untarnished. He has glimpsed the possibilities and he forges ahead as do all pioneers when faced with mainstream status quo rejection.
I have an ambitious goal: to annihilate heart disease — to abolish it once and for all. Your arteries at the age of ninety ought to work as efficiently as they did when you were nine….We have shown that [this] number one killer in Western civilization can be abolished, through consumption of a plant-based diet. But we can do much more. If the public adopted this approach to preventing disease, if, by the millions, Americans abandoned their toxic diets and learned a truly healthy approach to eating, we could largely limit all those diseases of nutritional extravagance — strokes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis,and adult-onset diabetes. Meanwhile, we would see a marked reduction in cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, rectum, uterus, and ovaries. Medicine could relinquish its primary focus on pills and procedures. Prevention, not desperate intervention, would become the order of the day.19
Most medical facilities ignore the work of Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish in favor of more traditional approaches. At the Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Dr. John Young, director of comparative medicine and chairman of Americans for Medical Progress, a pro-animal testing organization, and his staff work on research projects that include vivisecting pigs in the study of cardiovascular disease. He makes the same pitch all animal researchers make when they want public sympathy and support: the research is exciting; we’re right on the verge of a cure; it’s just around the corner.
In an interview on PBS early in 2009, Young showed off a magnificent, lean and muscular, black-and-cream-colored pig confined in a small holding pen and said: “The cardiovascular system of a pig is almost identical to that of a human being, okay? The coronary arteries, the heart muscle — virtually identical, so pigs are a favorite model for cardiovascular disease.”20
It seems a terrible waste that Dr. Young and the staff of the Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center work on experimental heart disease operations that take away the lives of beautiful pigs, like the one Dr. Young displayed, when the exemplary trials completed by Dr. Esseltsyn and Dr. Ornish have scientifically demonstrated that heart disease can be prevented, arrested, and reversed through diet. Undoubtedly, to Dr. Young and others involved in heart surgery, like those at the Cleveland Clinic who participated in the Brazil experiment, heart disease arrest and reversal treatment, no matter how successful, does not meet their standards. We should take a closer look, then, at why, from the standpoint of logic, heart disease arrest and reversal therapy is far superior to drug and surgical procedures.
For a person standing with his/her arm extended into a furnace, the best way to prevent that person’s arm from being burned to a crisp is to have him/her remove it from the furnace. Healing can then begin. That is essentially what the Esselstyn/Ornish treatment does. Since animal protein is the underlying cause of heart disease (and stroke) because it puts saturated fat and cholesterol into the digestive system leading to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure, the best way to halt the progression of the disease and to begin reversing its effects is to stop the cause, which is the consumption of animal protein. It should be apparent that neither Dr. Young nor any researcher at the Cleveland Clinic is likely to surpass this simple method of saving someone from “burning their arm to a crisp.” Remove their arm and the burning stops. Reduce the cholesterol count to 150 mg/dL or below and the heart disease stops. Then start the healing, which includes complete rest from the original cause.
Apparently, though, this is not a satisfactory method for Dr. Young and mainstream medical practitioners more attracted to complexity. In general they seem intent on finding some way in which a person can remain with his/her arm in the oven without burning it, or, in the case of heart disease, can continue consuming animal protein with the accompanying high cholesterol it produces. To many people, that is a farfetched dream that after decades of failure no longer deserves public tax funding, nor should innocent animals be forced to sacrifice their lives to try to achieve a goal that is essentially unethical. It is unethical because 1) it is just plain egotistical arrogance to insist that human beings should be able to put poisons (animal protein) into their bodies and get away with it just because they have a craving for the poisons, and 2) a treatment has now been developed by Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish to treat heart disease so that research to find other treatments that scientists like Dr. Young continue to work on are not necessary, especially when they involve operating on and killing innocent animals.
In comparing his method of cardiovascular treatment to conventional medicine, Dr. Esselstyn described it this way. “All the interventional procedures carry considerable risk of morbidity, including new heart attacks, strokes, infections, and for some, an inevitable loss of cognition… And the benefits of intervention erode with the passage of time; eventually, you have to have another angioplasty, another bypass procedure, another stent… Mine carries none.”21
Heart disease has been the number one killer in America for 100 years. Every day nearly 3,000 Americans will have heart attacks and 2400 will die of heart disease.22,23 It costs 30 billion dollars a year for heart disease for drugs to control cholesterol, blood pressure and other risk factors. Patients pay $46,000 for bypass operations in which one out of every 50 patients will die of complications. Angioplasty is a simpler procedure but also expensive, and one in about every sixteen angioplasty patients will experience “abrupt vessel closure“ which can lead to death, heart attack, or an emergency bypass.24 Angioplasty patients cannot feel very secure walking around knowing that at any second they may become one of those 1 in 16 who experience “abrupt vessel closure.” Similarly, it cannot be very reassuring for bypass patients lying on the operating table just before going under knowing that they could be among those 1 in 50 who willdie of complications from the operation.
All of this can be prevented. But champions of animal esearch and surgery and drugs would rather continue in the direction of painful open heart surgery in needless bypass operations causing patients unwarranted suffering. According to long-term studies, bypass patients do not even have fewerheart attacks than those who do not have surgery.25
The clinical trials conducted by Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish have proved incontrovertibly that cardiovascular disease can be arrested and reversed through nutrition. Ornish has even widened his research to include prostate cancer and has shown that prostate tumors can also be arrested and reduced through a nutrition program.26 But even though the success of Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish has by now been widely reported, few hospitals and medical centers have made an effort to include nutrition arrest and reversal treatments in their cardiac programs. The Ornish program has, fortunately, been picked up by a few hospitals and with great enthusiasm in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, including Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, which is affiliated with the New York Presbyterian Health System, a teaching affiliate of no less than the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, one of the top medical schools in the country.
If more hospitals were to start using cardiovascular arrest and reversal programs it would be possible to begin reducing expensive surgical, radiological, and chemotherapeutic treatments for cardiovascular disease. However, this is just not a priority for heart surgeons and animal researchers who are content with the high salaries and peer prestige they receive for their work. They also get enormous grants in public funding plus quid pro quo employment security for bringing in huge sums of money for the facilities that employ them through patient fees and federally funded tax grants, of which their employers get from 50% to 75%. A further obstacle to the success of arrest and reversal therapy for heart disease are the drug and medical corporations responsible for producing the expensive drugs and equipment for surgical procedures and pre- and postoperative care. Continuing the status quo can only benefit these companies.
Simply put, the healthcare establishment does not want to seriously consider the preponderance of evidence that shows beyond all sustainable doubt that heart disease can be arrested and reversed through nutritional procedures.
Today we are privileged to live in a world of technological advance. Modern science is a marvel to behold. Scientists have developed complex prosthetic body substitutes that respond to electrical activity in the muscles through computer sensors.27 They are working on ways in which our own bodies might regenerate blood vessels. Research is being conducted for avoiding the risk of defects in childbirth. Exploration has begun on how to clone cells to create organs and even body parts.
In the field of cancer research, scientists are now trying to develop drugs to choke off the blood supply to tumors, thereby killing them. They are investigating many compounds including green tea and thalidomide, the drug responsible for the horrendous birth defects in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They also see promise in a drug derived from the bark of the African bush willow tree that Zulu witch doctors have used for centuries as a medicine and to apply as a poison to the tips of their arrows.28 Yet when it comes to recognizing that heart disease could be almost totally eliminated through nutrition so that it is nearly nonexistent as a threat to human life, scientists and surgeons married to surgery and drugs plug their ears and do not want to hear one word.
1. American Heart Association, “Cardiovascular disease death rates decline, but risk factors still exact heavy toll,”
(12/1/2007), http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml? identifier=3052670 2. Esselstyn, pp. 89 – 91.
2. Dean Ornish, M.D., Eat More, Weigh Less, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994).
3. Ibid., see Chapter 5.
4. Gersh, p. 190.
6. Campbell, p. 126
7. Ibid., p. 23.
8 . Ibid., pp. 125, 323.
9. Ibid., pp. 338 – 341.
11. Ibid., pp. 339, 340.
15. Richard Horton, Health Wars: On the Global Front Lines of Modern Medicine, (New York: The New York Review of Books , 2003), p. 436.
17. Esselstyn, p. 55.
18. Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think, (New York: First Mariner Books, 2007), p. 155.
19. Esselstyn, pp. 11, 108.
20. PBS interview of Dr. John Young, “Animal Testing Ethics,” Religious & Ethics Newsweekly, (August 15, 2008), Episode no. 1150, contains interview transcription and video, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1150/cover.html
21. Esselstyn, p. 4.
22. American Heart Association, “AHA Statistical Update, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2009 Update,” p. e22, http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.191261
23. Campbell, pp. 111 – 123.
24. Ibid., p. 124.
26. Annieappleseed Project, “Dean Ornish, Nutrition and Prostate Cancer,” from Dr. Gregor Newsletter, (Fall 2005),
http://www.annieappleseedproject.org/deanornutpro.html See also Washington Post, Rob Stein, “Study Shows Diet,
Exercise, and Reduced Stress Slow Prostate Cancer,” (August 11, 2005), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/
27. Robert Winston and Lori Oliwenstein, Superhuman, (New
York: Dorling Kindersly, 2000).
28. Ibid., p. 165.
David Irving is a vegan and an animal rights activist. His writings on various animal rights issues have appeared on Cyrano’s Journal, Thomas Paine’s Corner, All-Creatures.org, Press Action, Radical Noesis, Dandelion Salad, The Animals Voice, and other blogs and journals.
An accomplished musician, he is a composer and has played French horn with ensembles like the Marlboro and Cabrillo music festivals and the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Opera. He was a member of the 7th Army Symphony, the Graz Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra (Austria), and the Oakland Symphony. David attended the New England Conservatory of Music, the Vienna Academy of Music, and graduated Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University from which he also earned an M.A. in music composition. His compositions are performed in the United States and Europe.
He has lived in Boston, Vienna and Graz (Austria), San Francisco, and New York City. He presently makes his home in the upper Catskill Mountain region of New York where he attends to and is attended by his three cats, Lewie-Lew, Goldie Boy, and Loonie. David has a twin brother, Darrel, who is a classical guitarist and an editor and author of several books. They were born in Kankakee, Illinois and grew up in Bluffton, Indiana.