Dr. Esselstyn (and the Reversal of Heart Disease) — A Case For Plant Based

A Case For Plant Based
7 min readSep 29, 2020

Many studies have shown that a plant based diet can prevent heart disease. Then, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s groundbreaking research discovered that a plant based diet actually has the ability to reverse heart disease.

About Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

An accomplished and successful physician, Dr. Esselstyn boasts an impressive resume.

  • B.A. from Yale University (1956)
  • M.D. from Western Reserve University (1961)
  • Olympic gold medalist in rowing (1956)
  • Surgical training from Cleveland Clinic and St. George’s Hospital in London
  • Army surgeon in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star (1968)
  • President of Medical Staff, Board member, and Chairman at Cleveland Clinic
  • President of American Association of Endocrine Surgeons (1991)
  • Director of the Cardiovascular Prevention and Reversal program at The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute
  • American College of Cardiology fellow
  • Over 150 scientific publications in peer review journals
  • and a multitude of other awards and accomplishments

Dr. Esselstyn (or “Essy” as he is often affectionately called) has followed a strict plant based diet since 1984. He has said, “It means a lot to patients to know their doctor is making the same changes they are.”

Based on his research, Dr. Esselstyn’s wife, Ann, creates whole food plant based recipes. Additionally, Ann helps counsel patients to implement these practices into everyday life. Their two adult children, Rip (a firefighter) and Jane (a teacher), also help promote healthy plant based eating and education.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Heart disease is a broad, general term for a wide variety of heart conditions. These include arrhythmias, congenital heart defects, and blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), which is the most common.

In the United States, CAD is the leading cause of death of both men and women. When cholesterol and plaque build up in arteries, they become hardened and narrowed. This hardening makes it increasingly more difficult for blood to flow, which results in decreased blood and oxygen supply to the heart.

Symptoms of heart disease may be angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, light-headedness, nausea, or pain in the arms or shoulder. Eventually, decreased blood flow can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and/or heart failure.

Risk factors for developing heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet, age, family history, stress, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.

Reversal of Heart Disease

In 1985, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., initiated a study of 24 patients (ranging in age from 43–67 years old) with advanced CAD. In fact, 5 of these patients were given one year to live by their cardiologists. Previously, these patients had experienced 49 cardiovascular events*, including:

  • 15 cases of increased angina
  • 13 cases of measurable disease progression
  • 7 bypass surgeries
  • 4 heart attacks
  • 3 strokes
  • 2 angioplasty procedures
  • 2 worsening stress test results

At the start of the study, all patients were put on a plant based diet, which was low in fat, contained no oil, and little to no caffeine. Initially, small quantities of low fat dairy were included in their diets, but dairy was eventually removed all-together.

After one year, 6 patients had dropped out of Dr. Esselstyn’s study. At the end of 5 years, 18 patients still remained. And of those 18 patients*:

  • no coronary events from start of study
  • 11 had no progression of CAD
  • 8 had reversal of CAD

On the contrary, of those 6 patients who dropped out early on*:

  • 4 cardiac bypass operations
  • 4 cases of increased angina
  • 2 new episodes of ventricular tachycardia
  • 1 angioplasty
  • a new case of congestive heart failure
  • 1 death

12 years from the start of the study, and those 18 participants’ impressive results continued*:

  • no additional coronary events
  • average cholesterol decreased from 246 to 137
  • every participant had cholesterol levels less than 150
  • 9 patients entered the study with angina
  • 7 experienced much improved angina
  • 2 completely eliminated it
  • exercise capacity improved
  • reported enhanced sexual activity and cured impotence

In 2007, over 20 years since the start of his initial study, 15 of the 18 participants were still alive and well.

Subsequent Study

After the incredible results from Dr. Esselstyn’s original small heart disease study, a second larger study was conducted in 2014. This study consisted of 198 patients:

  • 119 had undergone previous coronary intervention (stents or bypass surgery)
  • 44 had previous heart attacks

Participants were asked to follow a strict whole food plant based diet, and results were monitored over 4 years. 177 of the 198 participants adhered to the WFPB diet.

Outcomes for the 177 adherent participants:

  • 99.4% avoided any major cardiac event (including heart attack and stroke)
  • 144 improved
  • 39 experienced reversal of CAD
  • 4 worsened
  • 5 deaths, but none of them were cardiac-related
  • 93% improved angina
  • average 18.7 pound weight loss

Outcomes for 21 non-adherent participants:

  • 0 improved
  • 11 with CAD progression
  • 13 worsened
  • 2 deaths, both of which were cardiac-related

Dr. Esselstyn’s research had again proven that a WFPB diet can not only prevent heart disease, but has the ability to reverse it as well.


Dr. Esselstyn’s scientific research results have been criticized due to the small number of patients in his studies and for having no randomization or control group. Additionally, the 24 original patients all took cholesterol lowering medications and none were smokers.

I think any reasonable person can look at Dr. Esselstyn’s study results and conclude that there must be a strong link between diet and heart disease. No other diet or intervention has exhibited the ability to reverse heart disease.

Does more research need to be done? And, with larger study sizes and control groups? Absolutely! But I’m here to tell you: the funding isn’t there. Why? Because there isn’t a whole lot of money to be made in medicine by putting patients on a WFPB diet.

Where is the actual controversy?

Doctors, hospitals, and drug companies don’t make money by educating patients about diet and ways to avoid medical intervention. No, they make money by conducting procedures, performing surgeries, and prescribing medications.

And keep in mind, most physicians have very little to no nutrition education throughout their medical school training. (We’re talking hours, at most). They know all about medical intervention and every medication on the market, but very little about nutrition. This is nothing against doctors by any means. I work with them, and I respect them greatly. But the fact is, medical school curriculum focuses on-essentially-money, money, money.

Oh, and did you know that pharmaceutical companies give funding to some medical schools? Many students have also reported receiving free meals, textbooks, gifts, and drug samples throughout their medical school training. As if that weren’t concerning enough, the meat and dairy industries have been known to sponsor various nutrition education.

Criticize Dr. Esselstyn all you want; the actual corruption is pretty clear.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

In his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Dr. Esselstyn discusses in great detail these experimental results that led to his groundbreaking discovery about heart disease. Everything in this book is explained well and is easy to understand without any sort of medical background.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease has had a huge impact on my life, and I believe it can change yours as well.

Dr. Esselstyn’s legacy

Dr. Esselstyn has a profound impact on the plant based diet community.

A highly reputable advocate, his accomplishments speak volumes. Essy is well respected by his peers, and he has inspired many other doctors and scientists to conduct additional studies on plant based diets.

Dr. Esselstyn himself, a spry 86 year old man, is a living testament to the positive effects of a WFPB diet.

Dr. Esselstyn’s research has certainly changed my life. I highly recommend going to your local library and checking out Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. It is an absolute game-changer.

You can also find Dr. Esselstyn featured in the documentaries:

Have you read Dr. Esselstyn’s book? Or, do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive content, including plant based diet information and vegan products! 💚

* Denotes information retrieved from the book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.

Originally published at https://acaseforplantbased.com on September 29, 2020.