Top U.S. Cardiologist Spreads Vegan Message in India
By A.R. Hogan
Devi Shetty, M.D., a busy heart surgeon
working in India, just planned to drop in to hear a renowned American
physician speak about curing heart disease with diet. But what Dr.
Shetty heard so impressed him, he not only stayed for the hour-long
talk, but determined to help mend his patients' hearts this way as
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D.,
(right) greets one of the many Indian
physicians he met during his speaking tour.
Taking a vegetarian message to India might
strike some as akin to shipping orange juice to Central Florida, but
there's a real and urgent need, says that American physician, Caldwell
B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., a longtime Cleveland Clinic cardiologist and
PCRM advisory board member. Even though half of India's 1 billion
people are more or less vegetarian, urbanization and an increasing
middle-class appetite for Western fast-food has contributed to "a real
epidemic of heart disease and diabetes there," says Dr. Esselstyn,
whose November 2000 trip marked his first visit to India. In 1998,
India recorded 1.8 million heart attacks, a 50-percent increase from
1991. Without widespread dietary improvements, he told listeners,
India's heart disease death toll will double by 2015, cancer rates
could triple by 2025, and India may have a world-topping 57 million
diabetes patients by 2025.
"Indians have been vegetarians for years, but
sadly they drench their food in oils, and they have lots of dairy. And
now there's this Western influence where you have McDonald's and
Kentucky Fried Chicken creeping in," Dr. Esselstyn says. "It's going
to take lots of work to counter all that."
Even India's physicians, some of whom are
getting heart disease in their 30s, fail to receive or relay
high-quality nutritional advice, he says. "Indian heart disease
patients are usually just told to eat less oil, less cheese. But in
cholesterol reduction, moderation kills. That's not the answer. Think
of heart disease as a brush fire," he continues. "Any time you pour
dairy on the fire, oil on the fire, meat on the fire, you're literally
pouring on gasoline. And we shouldn't be throwing even one thimbleful
of gasoline on the fire."
During his three-week "Heart-Attack Proof
Tour" through Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Pondicherry, Bangalore,
Hyderabad, and Calcutta, Dr. Esselstyn made 27 presentations to
thousands of physicians and medical students. The press conducted
numerous interviews, with the tour garnering coverage in The Times
of India and other major newspapers. A special highlight was his
visit to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi,
often called the "Harvard of India."
"I showed them all these pictures of reversal
of artery blockages and explained that it worked because you get rid
of all the dairy, you get rid of every drop of oil, you get rid of all
the meat, anything with a face," he says.
Dr. Esselstyn, who ironically grew up on a
New York cattle ranch, started his heart-disease reversal study in
1985. Some of his early patients, who had more or less been told to go
home and die by their doctors after bypasses and angioplasties proved
insufficient, are still around. His India journey follows up a
similarly successful 1999 venture by PCRM president Neal D. Barnard,