Caldwell Esselstyn

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Caldwell Esselstyn
Born (1933-12-12) December 12, 1933 (age 82)
New York City
Nationality American
Fields Cardiology
Plant-based diet
Institutions Cleveland Clinic
Alma mater Yale University (AB, 1956)
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (MD, 1961)[1]
Known for Forks Over Knives
Notable awards Gold Medal, 1956 Olympic Games – 8-oared rowing event
Spouse Ann
Children Rip, Jane, Zeb, and Ted
Caldwell Esselstyn
Medal record
Men's rowing
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1956 Melbourne Men's eights

Caldwell Blakeman Esselstyn Jr. (born December 12, 1933)[1] is an American physician, author and former Olympic rowing champion.

Esselstyn is the author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (2007), in which he argued for a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet that avoids all animal products, as well as reducing or avoiding soybeans, nuts, avocados and oils. The diet has been advocated by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Some advocates of evidence-based medicine have criticized the promotion of these diets as claiming health benefits beyond what the evidence supports, and that attention to exercise and other lifestyle factors must be considered along with diet.


Esselstyn was born in New York City in 1933.[1] He graduated from Yale University in 1956[2] where he was a member of Skull and Bones.[3] He also competed in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, winning a gold medal in the "eights" as a member of the American team.[4]

Esselstyn received his M.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1961. During this time he met and married Ann Crile, the granddaughter of George Washington Crile, founder of the Cleveland Clinic.[5] Esselstyn was an intern (1961–62) and resident (1962–66) at that clinic.[1] In 1968 he completed a tour as an Army surgeon in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star.[1] Upon his return he rejoined the clinic and has served as the President of the Staff and as a member of its Board of Governors. He served as the President of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons in 1991. In 2000 he gave up his post at the Cleveland Clinic.[6]

Esselstyn has served as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Nutrition Action magazine, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.[7] Esselstyn is also on the advisory board of Naked Food Magazine, for which he is also a regular contributor of articles espousing a plant-based diet.

Diet work[edit]

In 1985 Esselstyn began to consider ways to better help the patients in his surgical practice, many of whom were already so sick that their early deaths were inevitable; he was also concerned with his own health, as his family had a history of early deaths.[8]:x-xi[9] He turned to the literature and found a growing body of literature At that time there was a growing body of literature by Dean Ornish and others that very low serum cholesterol levels were associated with cardiovascular health, and that very low-fat diets also appeared to improve cardiovascular health.[9] He convinced some of the patients in his practice to go on a diet as follows: "Participants were asked to adhere to a diet that derived less than 10% of its calories from fat. They were to avoid oils, meat, fish, fowl, and dairy products, except for skim milk and nonfat yogurt. Grains, legumes, lentils, vegetables, and fruit comprised the major portion of the diet, which contained adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, and iron."[9] The Esselstyn family and their four children also went on a plant-based diet at that time.[5]

He tracked the patients he put on that diet and published that work in 1995.[9] That work and subsequent followup studies eventually led to his 2007 book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.[8]:x-xi[10] The book advises people to eat the following plant-based diet:[8]:5–6

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • dairy products
  • oil of any kind ("not a drop")
  • nuts or avocados
  • all vegetables
  • all legumes
  • all whole grains and products (but fat must be avoided)
  • all fruits (except avocado)

In the book, Esselstyn writes: "My message is clear and absolute: coronary artery disease need not exist, and if it does, it need not progress. It is my dream that one day we may entirely abolish heart disease, the scourge of the affluent, modern West, along with an impressive roster of other chronic illnesses." (emphasis in the original).[8]:3 He also writes: "The dietary changes that have helped my patients over the past twenty years can help you. They can actually make you immune to heart attacks." and goes on to say that there is "considerable evidence" that the diet can prevent "strokes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, adult-onset diabetes, and possibly senile mental impairment, as well."[8]:7–8

His work received media attention when former U.S. President Bill Clinton cited it, along with work by Ornish and The China Study as the basis for his change of diet in 2010[11] and yet more in late 2011 when Clinton discussed his diet with CNN and other media outlets.[12]

Esselstyn was also one of the doctors featured in the 2011 documentary, Forks Over Knives.[13]


Mainstream authorities in nutrition agree that a plant-based diet that avoids processed food is a healthy diet.[14][15][16][17][18]

With regard to Esselstyn's claims, Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said: "Diet alone is not going to be the reason that heart attacks are eliminated."[10]

Harriet A. Hall has written that the claims made by Esselstyn are misleading and that the evidence on which it is based is "pretty skimpy".[19] Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic said that his claims are unproven because there isn't data from rigorous clinical trials to support them.[6]


In 2005 Esselstyn received the Benjamin Spock Award for Compassion in Medicine (he was the award's first recipient), and in 2009 the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association. In 2010 he received the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame Award.[5]


  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. Penguin, 2007 ISBN 978-1-101-21583-8


  1. ^ a b c d e Curriculum Vitae
  2. ^ Official Website: Biography
  3. ^ "C. B. Esselstyn Jr. Fiance of Ann Crile". New York Times. 1 May 1961. p. 33. 
  4. ^ "1956 Summer Olympics – Melbourne, Australia – Rowing" (Retrieved on May 15, 2008)
  5. ^ a b c "About Dr. Esselstyn". 
  6. ^ a b Harlan Spector for the Cleveland Plain DealerJune 09, 2008 Ex-surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. espouses a noninvasive cure for heart disease
  7. ^ "Scientific Advisory Board" (PDF). Nutrition Action. Center for Science in the Public Interest. January 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Esselstyn CB Jr,. Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. Penguin, 2007 ISBN 978-1-101-21583-8
  9. ^ a b c d Esselstyn Jr, C. B.; Ellis, S. G.; Medendorp, S. V.; Crowe, T. D. (1995). "A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: A 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician's practice". The Journal of family practice. 41 (6): 560–8. PMID 7500065. 
  10. ^ a b David S. Martin, "The 'heart attack proof' diet?", CNN, November 25, 2011.
  11. ^ Philip Sherwell for The Telegraph. October 3, 2010 Bill Clinton's new diet: nothing but beans, vegetables and fruit to combat heart disease
  12. ^ David S. Martin, CNN August 18, 2011 From omnivore to vegan: The dietary education of Bill Clinton
  13. ^ Angela Hickman (2011-05-16). "The food revolution of Forks Over Knives will not be processed". National Post. Retrieved 2014-09-04. 
  14. ^ Tuso, P. J.; Ismail, M. H.; Ha, B. P.; Bartolotto, C (2013). "Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets". The Permanente Journal. 17 (2): 61–66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085. PMC 3662288free to read. PMID 23704846. 
  15. ^ "WHO | Diet". WHO. 
  16. ^ Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. "Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee." Washington (DC): USDA and US Department of Health and Human Services (2015).
  17. ^ "App. E-3.7: Developing Vegetarian and Mediterranean-style Food Patterns – 2015 Advisory Report –". Retrieved 2015-09-30. 
  18. ^ Katz DL, Meller S (2014). "Can we say what diet is best for health?". Annu Rev Public Health. 35: 83–103. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182351. PMID 24641555. 
  19. ^ Hall HA (November 23, 2010). "Bill Clinton's Diet". Science-Based Medicine. 

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