The Daily Beet

11 Dec Q&A with Dr. Esselstyn

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Today is Dr. Esselstyn’s 80th birthday! We thought we’d post a Q&A with him today in honor of his birthday.


If you would like to wish him a happy birthday, please leave a comment and we’ll be sure to get it to him!

Question: What is coronary heart disease?

Answer: Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of woman and men in western civilization. It is predicated to become the #1 global disease burden by 2020.

It consists of an inflammatory buildup of blockages in arteries to the heart muscle. These blockages are made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and inflammatory cells. Blockages can become severe enough to cause symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain (angina). When blockages suddenly become complete, the portion of heart muscle fed by that blocked artery is now deprived of oxygen and nutrients, thus it is injured or now dies. This is a heart attack. The patient may survive or succumb if the event is accompanied by a fatal heart rhythm.

Question: Who develops heart disease?

Answer: Everyone eating the typical western diet. In autopsy studies of our GI’s who died in the Vietnam and Korean wars almost 80% at an average age of 20 years, had disease that could be seen without a microscope. Forty years later in 1999, a study of young persons between the ages of 16-34 years who have died of accidents, homicides and suicides, finds the disease is now ubiquitous.

Question: What is the cause of the disease?

Answer: It is the typical western diet of processed oils, dairy, and meat which destroys the lifejacket of our blood vessels known as our endothelial cells. This cell layer is a one cell thick lining of all of our blood vessels. Endothelial cells manufacture a magical protective molecule of gas called nitric oxide, which protects our blood vessels. It keeps our blood flowing smoothly, it is the strongest dilator (widener), of our blood vessels, it inhibits the formation of blockages (plaques), and t inhibits inflammation.

Question: With such natural protection why do we ever develop heart disease?

Answer: Every western meal of processed vegetable oils, dairy products, and meat (including chicken and fish) injures these endothelial cells. As individuals consume theses damaging products throughout their lives, they have fewer functioning endothelial cells remaining and thus less of the protective nitric oxide. Without enough nitric oxide the plaque blockages build up and grow creating eventually heart disease and strokes.

Question: Can it be stopped or even reversed?

Answer: Yes. First we must look at the lessons learned from cultures where there is a virtual absence of coronary artery heart disease such as rural China, the Papua Highlands of New Guinea, Central Africa, and the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico. Their nutrition is plant based without oil.

Beginning in 1985 I initiated a study of seriously ill coronary artery disease patients. Their nutrition became plant based without oil. Their cholesterol levels plummeted. Their angina disappeared. Their weight dropped. I have reported this study at 5 years, 12 years, and 16 years, in the peer reviewed scientific literature and again beyond 20 years in my book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. In some of the patients we had follow up angiograms (x-rays) of previously blocked arteries demonstrating striking disease reversal, which is a testament to my often quoted statement “The truth be known coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist and if it does exist

It need never progress.”

            BEFORE                         AFTER

The greatest gift to these patients is the increasing recognition that they are the locus of control for their disease – not some pill or procedure. They have made themselves heart attack proof and lose the greatest fear of all heart patients and their families – when will the next heart attack occur?

Question: What about drugs, stents, and heart bypass surgery?

Answer: Admittedly in the midst of a heart attack a stent or bypass may be live saving, however, for the remaining 90% studies confirm that they do not prevent future heart attacks or prolong life. They are associated with significant complications such as hemorrhage, heart attack, stroke, cognitive decline, depression, and death. The benefits erode with the passage of time as the stents and bypasses may themselves develop blockage.

Some drugs may decrease blood pressure and the heart workload. Others interfere with clotting which helps a stent remain open. Statin drugs lower cholesterol. Noneof these drugs or interventions addresses the basic causation of disease and not surprisingly the disease progresses with the need for more drugs, stents, and repeat bypasses.

Question: Why aren’t physicians using nutrition therapy?

Answer: Most physicians have no training or understanding of the power of nutrition. In a busy practice they would not have the time for it. It is my belief that physicians must accord the plant based lifestyle transition its due. Every patient with cardiovascular disease should be referred to a physician or nurse practitioner with the knowledge and expertise in these counseling skills.

Question: But I understand physicians don’t feel patients will make this transition. How come?

Answer: Nutrition counseling is a skill which physicians don’t possess. Of all the encounters a patient with cardiovascular disease experiences, perhaps the least time and lowest priority is nutritional counseling. I see many patients with heart disease who recount that nutrition was never even mentioned. It is therefore unlikely that the patient feels that nutrition is important.

Question: What is that you do differently?

Answer: In an intensive 5 hour counseling session for a group of heart patients my first priority is to eliminate the mystery of what causes their disease. It has not been stress, or genes. It is their western diet of processed oil, dairy, and meat. Hypertension, diabetes, and smoking must be controlled but food trumps all. I spend at least an hour defining the protective role of endothelial cells and nitric oxide functioning as the ultimate guardians of our blood vessels. They quickly understand that their lifetime of ingesting these harmful products has totally overwhelmed and destroyed their endothelium to an extent where it is unable to protect them. They fully grasp that they must forever eliminate ingesting foods that will further destroy their already compromised endothelium. They understand heart disease is a food borne illness.

Question: Where is the good news?

Answer: They understand that they can halt their disease. They are presented with my scientific articles demonstrating reversal of disease. They learn that anginal chest pain may diminish or disappear within 10-14 days in some patients while others may take longer. We share our data confirming reversal of carotid artery disease to the brain, coronary artery disease of the heart, peripheral vascular disease in the extremities, and the reversal of erectile dysfunction. They are made to appreciate how rapidly and powerfully the endothelial function may be restored. The most significant message in our counseling is patient awareness that they are empowered to be the locus of control of their disease.

Question: What is your criticism of the present management of heart disease through drug stents and bypass surgery?

Answer: It is expensive, dangerous, and ineffective. None of these approaches addresses the factors that cause the disease. A doctor would never treat poison ivy without advising the patient to avoid exposure to poison ivy plants. Sadly the usual treatment of cardiovascular disease almost never includes hours of patient counseling so they may completely eliminate the foods which are injuring their endothelium. Stents may block, bypass veins shut down, drug doses increase, and blood vessel disease worsen. The present cost of this non-treatment of heart disease is unsustainable even in our wealthy nation.

Question: Dr. Esselstyn, are you a threat to the stenting and bypass industry?

Answer: Not really. Stents and bypass surgery in an emergency setting are absolutely lifesaving. However, for non-emergency situations an intensive lifestyle trial of 3-6 months would eliminate the need for most interventions. It is of interest that when physicians and some interventional cardiologist themselves develop the disease they come knocking at my door.

Question: What forces are lined against you?

Answer: The government, drug industry, and some of my own profession. The USDA every five years produces a food triangle which promotes the very foods which guarantee that millions of Americans will perish.

The drug industry has a $21 billion dollar income from statin drugs alone. The stent manufacturers make billions more. Neither of these companies would want this epidemic resolved.

Physicians who perform stents and bypass surgery earn millions and are hardly clamoring for fewer patients.

Question: Any final thoughts?

Answer: When people learn to eat plant based to eliminate heart disease it could inaugurate a seismic revolution in health. Other diseases that resolve include obesity, hypertension, stroke, heart attacks, gall stones, diverticulitis, asthma, osteoporosis, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and a marked decrease in the common western cancers of breast, prostate, colon, endometrial, ovarian, and pancreatic.

To paraphrase John Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for your health, ask what you can do for your health.”


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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • brec
    Posted at 10:49h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday, Doc! It’s been a while since we’ve talked, but I’ll take this happy occasion to report that I’m doing fine. (I’m the guy in Reno who plays poker tournaments.) I now have hardly any limitation on exercise or exertion. ‘Scuse me, time for me to chomp my mid-morning leafy greens…

  • Liz Nickel
    Posted at 11:10h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn,
    I had the pleasure of meeting you and hearing you speak in Anderson several years ago. You rock! May God bless you with many more fruitful years!

  • Gary J Wilkerson
    Posted at 11:31h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday sir!!! My parents died at 70 of cancer.. I chose a different path… a different lifestyle, a longer life… some relatives got into 80s or more… You are a huge inspiration for me… I only with my family would follow…

  • Thomas Larson
    Posted at 11:58h, 12 December

    Still young, trim, fit, and vital at 80. What an example for all of us heart patients. Thanks Dr. E for blurbing my book, “The Sanctuary of Illness,” and for your doctor visits by phone. Wonderful photo of you and Anne. Thomas Larson

  • Rachel Kirby
    Posted at 13:14h, 12 December

    Happy Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn! Thank you so much for all you do – you are an inspiration. Thank you again!

  • Melissa & Joe Carroll
    Posted at 13:19h, 12 December

    Happy Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn!!! Wishing you a fantastic celebration & the very best always!!!! Thank you for all your research & studies. You have brought amazing health to our family & we thank you!!! Cheers to You, Melissa & Joe

  • Maria
    Posted at 13:45h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday to you Dr.Esselstyn. Though it is impossible for me to meet you in person, I would like to express my deepest thanks for sharing your knowledge to us. I also wanted to give you a big hug for it. May God bless you more with good health, and more success.Thank you for making a difference to a lot of peoples’ lives. More power!

  • Plant Strong in Florida
    Posted at 13:47h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday, my friend! You are a role model and inspiration for us. I met you and your team at the August Farm weekend at your gorgeous family farm and will return in 2014. Health care = self care! Have a happy healthy year! Love Sami’s Bakery products here. K. Caldwell

  • Snorter
    Posted at 14:10h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday Doctor Esselstyn! Can you please tell me your opinion of fruit, and whether you consider eating an excessive amount (say, 20 pieces a day) is dangerous given the fructose levels, or do you think all that fibre would sufficiently dissipate and break down any harmful effects that fructose might have on the system?

    • Engine 2 Team
      Posted at 14:17h, 12 December

      We wouldn’t recommend that someone eat 20 pieces of fruit per day. Eat a well balanced diet with lots of cooked and raw food, grains, starches, beans and vegetables.

      • Snorter
        Posted at 15:38h, 12 December

        Thanks! Would you consider 5 pieces of fruit for breakfast excessive, with a mix of seeds?

        • Engine 2 Team
          Posted at 16:05h, 12 December

          Have you had an opportunity to read either book yet?

          • Snorter
            Posted at 16:23h, 12 December

            Unfortunately no, but I’ve read virtually all that is in the public domain about you, your work and the Engine 2 Diet. I’ve also read many scholarly papers but can’t seem to get a satisfactory and definitive response to whether the fructose in fruit represents a danger to blood sugar levels.

          • Engine 2 Team
            Posted at 18:00h, 12 December

            I’d start by reading some of the literature – Dr. McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn, China Study or our 2 books that are out.

          • Snorter
            Posted at 21:29h, 12 December

            Thanks, will do 🙂

  • Chris
    Posted at 14:26h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday Doc. Been on your regime for 4 weeks now ever since I heard you speak in Fremont. Have lost 15 pounds and periodic chest pains have disappeared.

  • Deb Stein
    Posted at 14:58h, 12 December

    happy birthday with many more healthy active years.

  • jmueske
    Posted at 15:03h, 12 December

    Happy 80th birthday Dr. Esselstyn! I found you a year ago when I began my journey to stay off statin drugs. I feel I know you from the many documentary films I’ve had the pleasure to see you in. Thanks for the Q&A I can share with my family and friends. Most of all, a heartfelt thanks for your study and research toward the cause of plant based diet!

  • Tammy K.
    Posted at 15:31h, 12 December

    Happiest of Birthdays, Doctor Esslelstyn!! May your day be blessed! Thank you for all your work.

  • Scott Beavers
    Posted at 15:40h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. E! You are a hero, mentor and amazing person! I left you a voice mail a few years back with some questions and you personally called me back. I will never forget that. As others have attested, you truly care. Keep spreading the truth 🙂

  • TJI999
    Posted at 15:45h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday – thank you for sharing your life saving message with us!

  • jerry wilson
    Posted at 16:43h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn. We want to thank you for bringing health to so many of us through your teachings and example. It was a pleasure meeting you at the Immersion on the California coast a couple of years ago. Best wishes to you and your family!

  • Patricia Massari
    Posted at 16:45h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday!! I share your talks, ideas and research often…thank you so much for all your work…

  • Ann
    Posted at 17:06h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn! Thanks for all you do!

  • Heleen Roex-Haitjema
    Posted at 18:04h, 12 December

    A very happy birthday to you Dr Esselstyn! Your work has been and still is invaluable. We felt honoured to be able to meet you and listen to your presentation last Oct in Naples FL. Best wishes from Down Under (and The Netherlands 🙂 for you and your family, Heleen and Alphonse

  • Donna Birchard
    Posted at 18:59h, 12 December

    Best wishes on your birthday Dr. Esseltyne. I am a fan of your work and come your way via Dr. Sid Baker. May you continue your work and service to others by not only making clear the importance of healthy lifestyle changes, but providing the nuts and bolts of how to implement them.

  • Stephen Janowski
    Posted at 18:59h, 12 December

    Hello Dr. Esselstyn.

    Happy Birthday!!!
    We talked in Syracuse a couple weeks ago. I was the the guy who watched
    Forks Over Knives and started eating a plant based diet and lost 70lbs since 8/1… Loved the lecture.
    Is it possible to lower blood pressure? Aside from reducing salt intake.

    Steve in Syracuse

  • Nestor Barazarte
    Posted at 19:16h, 12 December

    From Caracas, Venezuela, have a very happy birthday Dr. Esselstyn !!!
    Thanks to you and your team for your real interest in humanity…
    We keep your findings and advices very seriously.
    Bless you all.

  • Texas
    Posted at 20:26h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Esselstyn. You are an inspiration to me. I am now the vegan at the table and have been for over two years. I hope to look as great as you do at 80–and to enjoy good health always. All my best to you and your wonderful family! Here’s to you and many more healthy years!

  • Robin94123
    Posted at 21:54h, 12 December

    Thanks for the work you do and thank you for not being afraid to challenge the status quo. You are one of my favorite vegan heroes!

    Today we all celebrate the day you were born because we are glad that people like you are changing the world! Happy Birthday Dr Esselstyn!! 🙂

  • Laurie
    Posted at 22:39h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday!!! I am so grateful for your contribution to this wonderful cause! I’ve been eating a no oil, whole foods plant based diet now for 2 years and I feel amazing!! Just a question: are semi-sweet chocolate chips a food that ruin the endotheial cells if eating in small amounts?

  • David Hochstettler
    Posted at 22:40h, 12 December

    Happy Birthday! Thank you so much for all you do. Hopefully by following your recommendations I will be able to live long enough to do what I would like to do in life and have some fun along the way. Growing greens!

  • Bety
    Posted at 23:01h, 12 December

    Feliz cumpleaños Doctor Esselstyn, empece en Austin con el programa hace 2 años y estoy feliz con el cambio de vida ,Me siento de maravilla. Muchas gacias!

  • Dennis Bosch
    Posted at 00:15h, 13 December

    Happy 80th Dr. E! When I saw you at Healthy Lifestyle Expo in Oct 2013, I assumed you were in your late 60’s… proof of the benefits of a plant-based diet.

  • Jan Brewer
    Posted at 00:41h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Esselstyn! What a difference you’ve made in my life! I wish for you many, many more years of health and happiness.

  • jayceej
    Posted at 01:03h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Esselstyn! You and your wife look great.

  • Judy
    Posted at 01:47h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn. I have loved your books and talks. Wish I could share a meal with you and your wife just to talk about everything food and health. You are inspirational and a wealth of knowledge, thank you and many more healthy birthdays to come.

  • Angie
    Posted at 04:11h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn! I hope you have a very special day, and a wonderful year to come! Thank you for standing up to the medical establishment for all of us!

  • Cornelia Wilms
    Posted at 05:41h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Esselstyn! You and your wife look phantastic. I wish you joy and wonder. (I am not a patient, just a graduate of Dr. Campbell’s course in plant based whole food and a fan of yours, living a vegan life in Portugal)

  • Kathryn Lorusso
    Posted at 06:50h, 13 December

    Happiest of birthdays to you, Dr. E! Thank you for being such an amazing inspiration to me, my family and friends and for saving all of our lives many times over. We literally owe you our lives.

  • risa
    Posted at 07:20h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday, Thanks for all you have done and going to do.

  • Elaine West
    Posted at 09:01h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday! Thank you for being a light shining in the darkness. You’ve helped more people than you’ll ever know. Thank you for not keeping silent when the critics’ voices mocked, for being a brave pioneer and for the legacy that you have begun. God bless you!

  • Kate
    Posted at 14:22h, 13 December

    Happy Birthday Dr Esselstyn! 80 & looking young, fit & healthy! Thankyou so much for all your great work and research! You have and are helping so many people solve their health issues the natural way which is amazing! Have a lovely birthday, best wishes and many thanks all the way from Australia, Kate xx

  • markcalhoun
    Posted at 14:31h, 13 December

    Happy (belated) Birthday Dr. Esselstyn. The greatest gift I’ve ever
    received was finding your website in early 2008, just after being
    diagnosed with three blockages of 100%, 85% and 80%, and avoiding bypass
    surgery. After buying your book and implementing your plan, just six weeks later my cholesterol had dropped from 212 to 76, my LDL
    had dropped from 156 to 34, and my Triglycerides had dropped from 154 to 54—all
    in just six weeks. I lost nearly 60 pounds–from 234 down to 174 in just three
    months. And my angina cleared up after a year, and the fear was gone. I’m am so, so thankful that God created you, and that your life (and work) has in turn provided me with an extended
    life. And my family thanks you as well! Thank you so much Dr.
    Esselstyn for being born, and for doing what you do. I hope your upcoming year is one the best years you ever had!
    Happy Birthday!

    • Terry Stanley
      Posted at 13:55h, 30 March

      Mark. I am also following the plant based plan Dr. Esselstyne recommends. Do you mind if I ask you a question about your experience? I would deeply appreciate it. My email is terrystanley@att.net

  • Kathleen Painter
    Posted at 14:58h, 13 December

    Happy 80th! You look wonderful! I first read your book on reversing heart disease when my father was dying a year ago…too late to save him. I have been eating a plant-based diet ever since! Thanks for all your work! If we can revolutionize our eating habits to eat a plant-based diet we can feed a world of 9 billion in 2050…and decrease all the health care costs! I love the engine2extra program. I just watched the workshop videos from last weekend.

  • Julie L Parks
    Posted at 12:54h, 14 December

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Esselstyn! Thank you so very much for all you’ve done to educate myself and others on all the “whys” for eating a no added oils plant-based diet. Throughout my day, when I make choices of what to eat, I’m always aware of those endothelial cells, thanks to you. Your life and work are such a great example for each of us. At this milestone in your life, celebrate you!

  • Vegan from Saudi Arabia
    Posted at 13:21h, 14 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. We appreciate you very much .

  • Melody Grandell Climo
    Posted at 13:53h, 15 December

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Esselstyn! Thank you for all you’ve done to help others. You are much appreciated.

  • Dan Boyle
    Posted at 17:14h, 17 December

    Happy Birthday Dr. Esselstyn! Keep promoting a healthy lifestyle for the people in our nation who are clueless to the benefits of a plant-based diet. Ten years ago, I immediately adapted a vegan lifestyle after having a stent operation following a heart attack. Your writings and that of Doctors McDougall, Ornish, Furhman, Barnard, and Greger are a constant inspiration. The medical establishment needs to wake up and advocate the healthy plant-based diet that you true heroes promote for the prevention and cure of our most deadly diseases.

  • Sunita
    Posted at 18:36h, 21 December

    I’m late but I hope my good wishes are able to reach you Dr Esselstyn…A very very happy birthday to you ! I am so glad that I could read your book, hear and see you at a Forks to Farms weekend (Atlanta) and to have my l life affected by your work.

  • lisa
    Posted at 20:34h, 21 December

    Happy Birthday! I have a guestion for you. I have been plant strong for 5 months now and havent lost one pound. I thought for sure I would start losing right away but not a pound has budged…what is wrong?

  • June D.
    Posted at 06:30h, 10 December

    Hello, my name is June, I need help for my brother. Our family has a history of heart disease. My brother is currently in the hospital, he had chest pain over the weekend and went to the doctor and was sent to the hospital for further evaluation. A heart cath/angiogram and testing revealed that he did have a mild heart attack and has 4 blocked arteries and his cardiologist is recommending quadruple heart bypass surgery. My brother is 58 years old. My question is has there been any success with stent placements/angioplasties and adopting the plant based diet to reverse heart disease? My brother does not want to have the coronary bypass surgery. His history is that 22 months ago he had 1 stent placement, thankfully he had no heart damage at that time and he completed a course of cardiac rehab, he has an active life style and runs each week and has made some healthy changes to his diet and exercise program. He said one of the blocked arteries is the same one that he

    had the prior stent placement. Ultimately the decision for surgery will be my brothers. I am looking for any hope to have angioplasties x4 and adopting a plant strong diet to reverse the heart disease. Your prompt reply would be greatly appreciated.

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