Notes from HLE 10-15

The Healthy Lifestyle Expo is one of the longest running conferences promoting plant based nutrition, starting in 2001. The organizers, Jeff and Sabrina Nelson, were able to attract many of the best speakers in the field for this 2-1/2 day event in Valencia, CA, including Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. John McDougall.

Surgeon Irminne Van Dyken shared how to avoid surgery – eat a whole plant-based diet. One of the common surgeries is for gallstones which consist of cholesterol and are caused by eating animal products. Plants contain no cholesterol. She also mentioned that more and more of her patients are obese and that being obese adds to the length and risk of surgery. And while many people get cardiac artery bypass grafts, they may not be aware that cardiac bypass grafts have a 15-30% rate of graft closure within the first year. With a plant based diet, the blood vessels get better over time, not worse.

Dr. Van Dyken showed a quote from the American Heart Association “The leading risk factor for death and disability in the United States is suboptimal diet quality, which in 2010 led to 678,000 deaths.”

Dr. Van Dyken then presented a long list of plant-based compounds that have beneficial actions against many diseases. Some of these work directly and others work through the gut microbiome, the bacteria that reside in your stomach and intestines and are essential to life and health. However, many things can negatively affect the microbiome including diet and drugs. Dietary items that have been shown to harm your healthy gut bacteria include artificial sweeteners, alcohol, dairy, meat, too much sugar and fat, and not enough fiber. Drugs that have been shown to harm the microbiome include antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen), contraceptive pills, PPI/antacids (Prevacid , Prilosec OTC, Nexium) and chemotherapy. It is important not to harm gut bacteria, as they help us avoid many diseases including many that are not digestion related.

James Bennie MD talked about how real world medicine can create lasting healing through plant based nutrition. At 18 years old, James Bennie fell through a plate glass window, severing the tendon in his knee and was told by doctors that he would never walk again. As he studied how to heal himself he found the benefits of a plant-based diet. Not only did he walk again, but became a competitive bicyclist. Dr. Bennie found that plant-based healing had been studied for some time. Walter Kempner, a researcher at Duke University found during the 1940s and 1950s that he could reverse diabetes, heart disease, and retinopathy with a diet of rice and fruit. To reduce kidney damage, he had to reduce the protein content of this diet and did so by adding sugar.

In his own practice, Dr. Bennie reverses disease in patients of all ages by switching them to a plant-based diet. He reversed crippling Crohn’s diseases in a nine year old and reversed rheumatoid arthritis in a 93 year old. Dr. Bennie says, “You were born with a Ferrari body and if you give it Ferrari fuel, it will continue to perform like a Ferrari. If you give it jalopy fuel it will perform like a jalopy. The great thing is that if you have a jalopy body, you can turn it back into a Ferrari by feeding it Ferrari fuel.”

Dr. Bennie says that not all doctors are working for your best interest. He says if your doctor is more interested in making money than keeping you healthy, fire them. Find a plant based doctor. (Editor’s note: you can find a directory of plant based doctors here:

Blood pressure responds quickly to a plant-based diet because meat dairy and oils prevent your arteries from dilating.

Ron Weiss MD was motivated to explore alternatives to traditional medicine when his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was in a lot of pain and was given 3 months to live as the cancer had spread throughout his body. Dr. Weiss researched alternatives and switched his dad to a plant based diet. His father’s pain abated and he lived for 18 months, 6 times longer than predicted, with good quality of life.

Dr. Weiss sold his Manhattan medical practice to move to a farm and become a "country doctor" who uses a plant-based diet as medicine. And to have healthy plants, you need to understand more about them. Dr. Weiss described how plants produce sugar and carbohydrate and transfers them to the soil to sustain the soil bacteria which then bring other nutrients to the roots. Thus the plants are acting as farmers of the soil.

Plants can block cancer growth. 40% of women by age 40 have breast cancer. 100% of people at age 70 have thyroid cancer. But the tumors can't grow bigger than the tip of a pen without angiogenesis – the growing of blood vessels. Vegetables and fruits contain powerful anti-angiogenesis compounds.

Molecules found only in cruciferous vegetables activate intestinal lymphocytes to attack invaders so broccoli and its cousins are required for gut health.

Multiple studies show benefit to survival of eating soy for women with breast cancer. Genistein, a molecule found in soy empowers the BRCA gene to suppress breast cancer.

Jane Esselstyn, daughter of Caldwell Esselstyn, and nurse gave us the talk she gives to middle school kids on the effects of diet on artery function and her sex-ed talk on diet’s effect on sexual function, cleverly using props to get her points across. According to Ms. Esselstyn, “Plant strong leads to pant strong.” That is, a plant-based diet leads to better sexual function for both men and women.

She presented a study that showed that overweight kids who switched to a plant based diet improved nine measures of cardiac risk in just one month.

John McDougall MD presented pages from his Color Picture Book, which he has made available to everyone here: This book is simple enough to be understood by children, but portrays nutritional concepts that all adults should understand.

In discussing obesity, Dr. McDougall says that your stomach is the right size, you have the right genes, and your appetite is appropriate. The problem is your food choices. He has found a very successful method of weight loss: The Starch challenge - add 600 to 900 calories of starches per day to your diet and lose weight. We are often told that starches are high in calories, but that is only true if we add oils and animal products to them. In their whole food form, starches are low in calorie density, low in fat, and highly satisfying.

Authors of the books Grain Brain and Wheat Belly try to convince you that the way to weight loss is to eat more animal products and fewer carbohydrates. Dr. McDougall suggests that one hint you can get as to the effectiveness of these low-carb diets is to compare the body shape of these authors to the authors of plant-based books. The plant-based proponents are trim and lean. The low-carb proponents are anything but.

Dr. McDougall has found that a diet of primarily starches leads overweight people to lose weight. For maximum weight loss, to these starches add leafy greens and yellow vegetables, avoid sugar, minimize fruit and juices, and dried fruits.

Dr. McDougall has found that people eating a plant-based diet have healthier skin and look better and younger. Weight loss can be achieved by chemo therapy, Atkins diet, or bariatric surgery, but you don't get healthy or look young or healthy.

Ann & Jane Esselstyn, wife and daughter of Caldwell Esselstyn, demonstrated the cooking of recipes from their new book
The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook. Favorites include “Hot sweet potato,” “Chick pea omelet,” and “Kale cake with blueberry frosting.”

Caldwell Esselstyn MD opened with this quote from Lewis Kuller, MD from the Univ. of Pittsburgh, “All males 65 years and older and all females 70 years and older, who have been exposed to the traditional western diet have cardiovascular disease and should be treated as such.”

Research shows a single meal of animal products or oils compromises for hours the function of the endothelial cells which line our arteries. Also a plant based meal enhances the creation of endothelial progenitor cells to better heal a damaged endothelium. Until recently, HDL had been considered good cholesterol, with a larger number being better. However, a recent study found that an animal diet compromises the function of HDL, effectively converting HDL from good to bad. So in the presence of an animal diet we can no longer consider a high HDL reading to confer low risk.

Many people die while undergoing heart surgeries. These surgeries directly kill hundreds of thousands of people in the course of many years. But a plant-based diet prevents and reverses heart disease with a 99.4% success rate. One contributor is that green leafy vegetables are great anti-inflammatories. Adding vinegar helps as the acetic acid is a vasodilator, expanding our arteries for increased blood flow.

Doctors sometimes withhold telling patients about potentially life-saving nutrition, because they believe that patients won’t take their advice. Yet Dr. Esselstyn finds that with his program, 90% of his patients adhere to his plant based diet.

While exercise cannot overcome a bad diet, there are significant benefits. Moderate exercise helps prevent brain atrophy as well as contributes to muscle and bone strength.

Dr. Esselstyn offers free access to his training program to health practitioners.

Dr. Michael Klaper answered questions via Skype.

Dr. John McDougall returned with a second talk on the extremes in human nutrition.

Low carb advocates want us to eat more meat and they try to tell us meat is healthy for us by using the Eskimos as an example. It is claimed that while eating almost all animal foods, Eskimos don't have heart attacks. A study shows that they have as many heart attacks as other people and have twice the mortality rate due to stroke. Examination of a 500 year old frozen corpse showed severe heart artery disease and osteoporosis, presumably due to their high animal diet.

Tests have found that the chemical toxins PCBs are 5 to 10 times higher in breast milk of Eskimos compared to that in southern Canada. Eskimo breast milk and tissues are so high in toxins that they would be considered toxic waste according to industrial standards. So analysis of Eskimos does not support the idea that a high-meat diet is healthy. Just the reverse, it supports that a high-meat diet is toxic and promotes disease and death.

In contrast, the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico are strong long distance runners while eating an 80% starch diet. They play a kick ball game that last days. They have low cholesterol. A study was conducted to see if diet was the reason for their very low cholesterol. They convinced some Tarahumara Indians to eat a western diet and found that their cholesterol levels quickly shot up. This study is one more confirmation that cholesterol levels, and the diseases associated with them are not controlled by genetics. As Dr. McDougall says, “It’s the food!” Dr. McDougall also noted the recent wins of marathon races by Kenyan runners who eat a diet of corn, rice and potatoes.

Dr. McDougall’s foundation funded a study of the effects of diet on multiple sclerosis (MS). The results will be published soon. (Editor’s note: I will share with you as soon as I hear.)

McDougall has never had a case or rheumatoid arthritis that didn't respond dramatically to a plant based diet.

Alan Goldhamer DC, described how he conducts medically supervised water fasting. While a plant-based diet can reverse many illnesses, water fasting can reverse these diseases faster, quickly rebooting the body’s metabolism, eliminating the need for many medications, and resetting the palate to appreciate plant-based foods.

Dr. Goldhamer reported that in this country on average we suffer 15 to 18 years of unhealthiness and 9.4 years of debility. The causes of disability are different from the causes of death. The greatest cause of disability is rheumatoid arthritis, which can be relieved by both water fasting and a plant-based diet. 90% of the toxins in our bodies come from eating animal products, so eating only plants avoids a high toxic load.

Dr. Goldhamer is cautious to only recommend water fasting for diseases that are known to respond to it. He reported dramatic results of water fasting for follicular lymphoma, so people with this disease may now want to consider medically supervised water fasting.

Dietitian Julieanna Hever MS RD explained the history of the Mediterranean diet, its strengths and limitations.

Ancel Keys studied and defined the Mediterranean diet. The Seven Country study of 1957 found that countries with highest animal products, Finland and USA, had the highest rate of heart disease compared to Japan and Greece. The big myths that grew out of this study are about oil, wine, and fish. The benefits come from mostly whole plants and little animal products. Thus the Mediterranean diet is healthy in spite of olive oil not because of it. A Mediterranean diet contains about 35% of the calories from fat which is not sufficient to eliminate heart disease. A diet of 10% fat has shown heart disease reversal.

The Mediterranean diet is good. A whole food plant based diet is optimal.

National Geographic identified areas of the world where people lived the longest and dubbed these the Blue Zones. One of these was Okinawa. The Okinawans have a saying that could be useful to all of us which is “Hara hachi bu” which translates to eat until you are 80% full.

Finally, the panel of our experts responded to questions from the audience.

Dr. Esselstyn: A study showed that the measurement of HDL has no relation to its ability to transport away bad cholesterol. Thus the notion that HDL is good cholesterol is no longer to be considered valid.

Dr. Goldhamer: Getting off antidepressants can take a long time because these drugs make changes to brain chemistry.

Dr. Weiss: Exercise is beneficial in countering depression.

Dr. Goldhamer: He recommends 1000 mcg/day of methylcobalamin, a particular form of vitamin B12.

Each panel member was asked about their favorite example of curing people through dietary change. Each had many dramatic cures and shared some of them with us.


Doctors discuss Clinton's new diet.

Clinton Now Eats Healthy  


Renee Thumbnail

Renee Cures Herself   


Eric Thumbnail

Eric Reverses His Heart Disease