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What Bill Clinton's cardiologist didn't know

What Bill Clinton's cardiologist didn't know (and why you need to know it)

High cholesterol runs in my family. My doctor says I can't lower it with diet; I have to take drugs.
I have high blood pressure because of my age.
I have 4 blocked coronary arteries so I have to have a bypass or I'll die.

If only I had a dollar for every time I've heard one of these statements from a client! Maybe you've heard them from a family member or friend, or even said them yourself. But every one of these statements is absolutely wrong. And not knowing the truth could cost you your life: cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in this country, killing over 46 000 Australians each year (1). 

Yet, despite the lip service paid to healthy diet and exercise as part of an overall strategy for preventing heart disease, the overwhelming majority of doctors - including cardiologists - are frighteningly ignorant of the published medical literature on what causes cardiovascular disease, and how it can be safely prevented and reversed... without drugs or surgery.

Disease

The case of former US president Bill Clinton is a perfect illustration of this ignorance, its devastating consequences, and the stunning results of effective dietary change. It is also, sadly, a perfect illustration of how the mainstream media in this country prevent the dissemination of potentially life-saving information to the public, through their highly selective reporting.

Back in September 2004, Clinton underwent coronary artery bypass grafting - a 'heart bypass' - after experiencing an attack of chest pain and shortness of breath. His cholesterol level was 6 mmol/L, and his pre-operative angiogram showed he had multiple blockages in his coronary arteries. He had been overweight for much of his adult life, famously enjoyed Arkansas-style greasy food, and had been following the South Beach Diet, which allows unlimited bacon, eggs, chicken and steak, in a (foolhardy) attempt to lose weight (2).

Less than six years later, in February 2010, Clinton was back under the surgeon's knife. One of his bypassed arteries had completely restenosed (blocked up with plaque again), and he had two metal stents inserted to hold it open. His cardiologist, Dr Allan Schwartz, stated in an interview on CNN (3): "This was not a result of either his lifestyle or his diet which have been excellent... he has really toed the line in terms of both diet and exercise. He's followed an excellent program... His cholesterol numbers have, and other risk factors that we follow, have all been excellent. This is part of the natural history, just as illnesses have natural history, treatments have natural histories. And this particular type of bypass graft has about a 10 to 20 percent failure rate at five to six years... I think this is like high blood pressure... this is a chronic condition. We don't have a cure for this condition [my emphasis], however we have excellent treatments that involve lifestyle modification, medications, and occasionally when necessary, procedures."

Then, in September 2010, a noticeably slimmer, younger- and healthier-looking Bill Clinton was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about his amazing physical transformation. "How did you lose so much weight? What kind of diet did you go on?" Blitzer asked the former president. Clinton replied: "The short answer is I went on essentially a plant-based diet. I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits.” (4). It turned out that Clinton had adopted the heart disease reversal program developed by Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, in May 2010. Clinton continued by explaining that his personal research had revealed the startling fact that 82% of people who adopt the plant-based diet developed by Dr Esselstyn (and other doctors including Dean Ornish) reversed their heart disease, effectively melting away the blockages in their arteries.

Bill_ClintonRemember that at the time the two stents were placed in Clinton's heart, his cardiologist had declared that he was following "an excellent diet" - by orthodox medical standards. Yet by dropping animal products from his diet, Clinton effortlessly shed 11 kg, returning to his high school weight and transforming his metabolism, as he states in the interview.

You can watch an excerpt from the original interview, along with commentary from Drs Esselstyn and Ornish, at left. Note the stark contrast between Dr Schwartz's insistence that "We don't have a cure for this condition," with Dr Esselstyn's take on it: "coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist, and if it does exist, it need never, ever progress." And this remarkable doctor has the published data to back up his assertion (5, 6).

I find Bill Clinton's story fascinating for several reasons. Firstly, while the Australian media gave his original bypass surgery and subsequent stent insertion full coverage, as far as I am aware, not a single TV news story or newspaper article was devoted to his dietary conversion. Why not? Why is it newsworthy when the erstwhile most powerful man in the world undergoes medical procedures, but not when he exercises his famously powerful intellect and chooses to adopt a plant-based diet?

Secondly, the complete inability of the media to effectively question the opinions stated as fact by the medical establishment, is a reprehensible dereliction of their journalistic duty. It would take just a few minutes of searching the internet to reveal the incontrovertible fact that bypass surgery is completely ineffective at saving lives (except in a small subset of patients: those whose heart muscle is so damaged that they eject less than 50% of the blood in the left ventricle with each beat) (7, 8, 9). The simple reason for this failure is that the large, hard blockages that are bypassed almost never cause heart attacks, because they have been growing for many years - even decades - and are very stable. The real villains in coronary artery disease are small, immature, volatile plaques. These plaques, which are too small to be detected by angiography, are extremely prone to rupturing - and when they rupture, they cause a clot (called a thrombus) to form in the artery (10). This coronary artery thrombosis blocks the artery and causes all the heart muscle that it formerly supplied with blood to die (11). Surgery does not and cannot address these vulnerable plaques (12).
 
A couple more minutes searching would unearth one of the most serious adverse consequences of bypass surgery: brain damage. 100% of patients experience brain damage immediately after surgery, as revealed by the measurement of chemical products in cerebrospinal fluid; while 42% of patients are still suffering a 20% decrease in brain function 5 years after surgery (13). This ongoing brain damage most often shows up as mood swings,depression, personality disorders, and memory lapses (14). Bill Clinton's emotional instability, angry outbursts and volatility during his wife Hillary's campaign for the Democratic presidential candidature contrasted dramatically with the ability to stay cool under pressure that he had previously demonstrated for his entire public life. Although those close to the former president denied he had suffered cognitive decline, the stark difference in his behaviour was obvious to all who observed him (15).

Yet not a single reporter questioned the necessity (Clinton did not exhibit either of the two genuine indicators for bypass surgery - incapacitating chest pain or diminished left ventricular function) or the wisdom of subjecting the former president to this dangerous and ineffective procedure. The take-home message for health-conscious people is that you must take responsibility for your own health, and never place any reliance on the media or the medical establishment to provide you with accurate information on maintaining or restoring your health.

One of my clients, whom I'll call Tim, took this message to heart - literally. At the age of 48, he discovered he had a 90% blockage in one of his coronary arteries. Tim decided against bypass surgery and angioplasty, and instead committed himself to a major diet and lifestyle overhaul. Six months after his first visit, he had lost nearly 20 kg, went down 6 notches on his belt, was fitting into clothes he hadn't been able to wear in years, and was enjoying regular, vigorous exercise. Sadly, his younger brother could not bring himself to make the changes that were so obviously transforming Tim, and he passed away from coronary artery disease at the age of 45, just before my last consultation with Tim.

This article was previously published on the Empower Total Health website

RobynRobyn Chuter is a university-qualified naturopath, with a Bachelor of Health Science (and the Dean's Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement) from the University of New England, and a Diploma of Naturopathy from the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Robyn runs the website Empower Total Health; and she has a naturopathic practice in Sydney, Australia where she specialises in chronic, medically 'incurable' health problems such as IBS, CFS, migraine, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

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