FORT MYERS, Fla: One grew up on a cattle farm. The other on a dairy farm.
They evolved into two of the country’s strongest proponents of whole-food, plant-based nutrition. Their journeys range from changing childhood beliefs to criticizing those in the medical field, butting heads with colleagues and challenging politicians and businessmen.
The two men – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a physician, and T. Colin Campbell, who has studied nutrition for 60 years – are both 82. They are friends and have made regular visits to Southwest Florida to promote their views of healthy eating.
Their research has made it hard on foes who want to poke holes in their theories.
“The science is there,” Esselstyn said. “That’s why nobody tries to tear me down. When they say, `You’re not even a cardiologist,’ I say, `Thank God I’m not.”’
Campbell and son Nelson are collaborating with Lee Memorial Health System. They’ve signed an agreement to validate food-as-medicine models. Nelson Campbell, executive producer, director and co-writer of `PlantPure Nation’ said Fort Myers will serve as the model program for other parts of the country. More than 1,000 people attended their presentation on April 14.
There is no financial obligation between Lee Memorial Health System and PlantPure Nation. The only cost is for the meals, which is paid for by the individuals who choose to participate in the Jump Start program.
At a conference in Punta Gorda in January, Esselstyn told the story of a man who had a serious case of Peripheral Artery Disease. Plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, and other substances in the blood, had hardened, narrowing the arteries. That limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to one’s organs and other parts of the body.
In Esselstyn’s patient’s case, the calf muscle wasn’t getting the oxygen it needed.
When the man asked him how long it would take before he’d see positive effects of immersing himself in a plant-based lifestyle, Esselstyn told him 11 months. It took three.
“How can Brussel sprouts and broccoli be worse than taking drugs where your hair falls out?,” Dr. Esselstyn said. “They also cause nausea and renal problems. There’s also one you can’t take by mouth. It’s an injection costing $14,000. Doing whole-food, plant-based nutrition doesn’t cost anything because you have to eat.”
Science and history
For Esselstyn and Campbell, their journeys have covered decades.
A big revelation for Esselstyn was reading what happened in Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium after Germans took their livestock to feed to their troops.
Cancer and heart disease went down. Esselstyn then looked at populations in Okinawa, Japan, New Guinea, Central Africa and northern Mexico.
“They thrived with whole-food, plant-based nutrition,” he said.
Campbell came out with his book, `China Study’ in 1983, which looked at 130 villages in that country as it tried to figure out why some areas were high in cancer and others were less. Campbell said it’s the first research project China and the United States collaborated on.
“We could turn cancer on and off by nutritional means,” Campbell said. “What turned it on was protein, animal protein. What’s worse is cow’s milk. And I was raised on a dairy farm.”
Esselstyn and Campbell concluded to keep the cancer turned off, less than 10 percent of total calories should come from protein.
Despite being rejected by a number of publishing companies, Campbell said more than 1.5 million of copies of `China Study’ have been sold.
Esselstyn followed with `Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease’ in 2007. In 2011, they were featured with other doctors and scientists in the 2011 documentary, `Forks over Knives.’ The film advocates a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based lifestyle as a way to avoid or reverse several chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
Campbell, who hates the term vegan, said he doesn’t use the word once in his book because he’s seen research where 30 percent of vegan diets have fat and are high in carbohydrates.
While this plant-based nutrition research has been out for years, many people either haven’t followed it or don’t know about it. However, more information is getting out because there is more of a sense of urgency. News reports indicate that the biggest cause of Americans declaring bankruptcy is medical bills while other reports have stated health-care costs could bankrupt the nation.
However, as Campbell has pointed out, “People worship protein.”
Esselstyn said Campbell’s research showed if people get adequate calories, they won’t be protein deficient.
The Campbells received a first-hand look of the challenges of social change when they worked with Kentucky State Representative Tom Riner to propose a pilot program documenting the health benefits of a plant-based diet. With one of the highest levels of childhood obesity in the nation, Kentucky also suffers from high rates of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
Once the bill went into committee, industry lobbyists launched intense lobby efforts. As Riner put it, the bill was watered down to “a shadow of its former self,” and turned “from steel to Reynolds Wrap.”
That’s why the Campbells are hopeful their work with Lee Memorial will turn the tide and create momentum that will lead to a healthy revolution in the country.
“I knew it would be long range,” Esselstyn said of educating people on healthy eating. He has said most of the medical community should be embarrassed with how bad the healthcare system is.
“We started this in 1985, so 31 years later, we’re still hammering away. But the atmosphere is so different now. You also have to remember I’m an enormous threat to the medical community with pharmaceuticals and stents and bypasses.
“But I think what makes those of us involved in this who are so passionate and excited. There’s absolute, rock-solid science in the fact that you can take the leading killer of women and men in Western Civilization and you can halt it, reverse it, even prevent it.” -AP