Doctor to speak in Walla Walla on nation’s ‘horrible’ diet

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyne Jr. will give a community lecture at Cordiner Hall on Sunday.

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Dr. Caldwell Esselstyne Jr. is coming to tell Walla Walla how to be heart attack proof and be happy about it.

Esselstyne, physician-Olympic champion-author-veteran-documentary star, will be here on Sept. 15 at Cordiner Hall on the Whitman College campus, beginning at 4:30 p.m. He will present information from his New York Times best-selling book, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”

There is not much to be said about Esselstyne that hasn’t been said. His path from Yale University — where he won a 1956 Olympic gold medal as part of the rowing team — to the Cleveland Clinic to Vietnam to becoming known as the doctor who led former president Bill Clinton into heart health is well documented.

According to Esselstyne’s website, his scientific publications number more than 150, his expertise in endocrine and breast disease cited and awarded. In 1995, the surgeon published his 20-year nutritional research on arresting and reversing coronary artery disease in severely ill patients. That same study was updated and reviewed for his book, making it one of the longest longitudinal studies of its type.

More than 20 years post-study, compliant patients continue to thrive, the physician says.

Esselstyne directs the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. He spreads the message elsewhere, too, such as in a starring role in “Forks Over Knives,” a 2011 documentary that advocates for a low-fat whole-food and plant-based diet.

As a guest of the Seventh-day Adventist community here, Esselstyne will explain to his audience the wisdom he has gained from a lifetime devotion to changing America’s health status.

To that end, the Union-Bulletin asked the expert some questions:

Q — With all the trends that you have seen come and go in nutrition, what has remained constant?

A — The constant would be an inquiry to try to understand how lifestyle relates to illness ... Medical schools teach everybody how to identify illness, but at this time there is a departure. It’s been (before) about treating the illness, and not about how to modify the lifestyle ... And yet if you were to go to some cultures, let’s say rural Chinese or Central Africa — if you had gone there as a cardiac surgeon and hung a shingle, forget it. You better plan to sell pencils. They subsist on plant foods by tradition. Those of us in medicine here haven’t really learned that lesson.

In this country, we build cardiac cathedrals, throw pills at it, do procedures like stents and operations.

Q — With the message to be healthy bombarding us from all sides, why don’t we listen?

A — Education is what is lacking here, and I don’t mean a 5-minute sound bite or a commercial. Right now food manufactures have an enormous amount of wealth and will destroy the message that is going to adversely effect their market. But the degree of receptiveness from 30 years ago is marked — the practitioners have increasingly picked up their ears.

This is an area of medical specialty, getting people to have lifestyle change and it’s not taught in medical school. And the nutritional impact is barely scratched in medical school. It is a little uphill, but it is coming ... people are excited to get it right.

Q — You are coming to speak to a partly Adventist audience, who already largely follow this. What will they hear?

A — Most Adventists need fine tuning. There are still plenty who are going to develop chronic illness.

Q — How do most people come to new ideas about their nutrition?

A — Many people have put their toe in the water by watching ‘Forks Over Knives.’ It has opened the eyes and ears of many of the public who thought food was for energy to get through the day. Increasingly we are aware of certain foods that, every time they pass your lips, you injure certain cellular systems.

Those accumulated hits don’t cause illness right away, but as multiple repetitive injuries occur, we as physicians label it disease. Take Type 2 diabetes. At age 45, you weigh 242 pounds when you used to weigh 160. Those people didn’t suddenly develop that on their 45th birthday; they’ve been working hard to get there, to lay that foundation. If you can get people to change behavior, they can get rid of all those medications.

Q — Have you been to Walla Walla before? Do you know about our culture of obesity?

A — Never. I know nothing about Walla Walla. But if you live in America, your community is eating a horrible diet.

After Esselstyne’s presentation, audience members are welcome to ask the doctor questions.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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