Michelle L. O'Donoghue, MD: Hi. I am Dr Michelle O'Donoghue from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. I'm thrilled to have joining me today two people I greatly admire for the work they have done in diet and better understanding the role that a plant-based diet may have for preventing and treating heart disease. First joining me is Dr Kim Williams, who is the former president of the American College of Cardiology. He is also the chief of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center. Welcome, Kim.
I would like to see it start from physicians. I would like to see that every patient who has a disease that can be helped by plant-based nutrition is afforded it.
Kim A. Williams, MD: Thanks for having me.O'Donoghue: Also joining me is Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, whom people may recognize from the movie "Forks Over Knives" as well as other documentaries about plant-based diets. He is the director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Reversal Program at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Welcome, Dr Esselstyn.
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, MD: Thank you, Michelle.
Dr Esselstyn's Journey to a Plant-Based Diet
O'Donoghue: People would be very interested to know about our personal journeys. Dr Esselstyn, how did you find yourself embracing a plant-based diet?Esselstyn: This is kind of a strange journey. I trained as a general surgeon, and after I finished my tour of duty in Vietnam as a combat surgeon, I was offered a position at the Cleveland Clinic in general surgery. Eventually, I became chairman of the Breast Cancer Task Force.It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I became especially disillusioned with the fact that for the many women I was doing breast surgery, I was doing absolutely nothing for the next unsuspecting victim. That led to a bit of global research where I found it quite impressive that in such countries as Kenya, breast cancer was 30-40 times less frequent [than in the United States]. In rural Japan in the 1950s, breast cancer was very infrequently identified, and as soon as Japanese women migrated to the United States (and the second and third generations), they had the same rate of breast cancer as their Caucasian counterparts.Perhaps even more powerful was cancer of the prostate. In the entire nation of Japan in 1958, how many autopsy-proven deaths were there from cancer of the prostate? Eighteen. [Editor's Note: Two per 100,000 men died of prostate cancer in Japan in 1958]. This is perhaps the most mind-boggling public health figure that I've ever heard.It was around then that I began to see that cardiovascular (CV) disease was virtually nonexistent in all these other nations and recognized that it was the number one killer of women and men in Western civilization. It seemed to me that there may be so much more bang for the buck if we could get people to eat to save their heart. They would also be saving themselves from the common Western cancers of breast, prostate, colon, and perhaps pancreas. Then in 1985, when I was still actively involved with surgery and didn't have time for a large study, we did a small study with about 18 patients who were seriously ill with CV disease.