Caldwell Esselstyn

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

Caldwell Esselstyn
Esselstyn in May 2019
Born (1933-12-12) December 12, 1933
Alma materYale University (AB, 1956)
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (MD, 1961)[1]
Known forForks Over Knives
ChildrenRip, Jane, Zeb, and Ted[2][3]
AwardsGold Medal, 1956 Olympic Games – Men's eight
Scientific career
Plant-based diet
InstitutionsCleveland Clinic
Caldwell Esselstyn
Medal record
Men's rowing
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
1956 MelbourneMen's eight

Esselstyn is director of the Heart Disease Reversal Program at the Cleveland Clinic.[4] He is also 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 and oils, as well as reducing or avoiding soybeans, nuts, and avocados. The diet has been advocated by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.


Esselstyn was born in New York City in 1933 to Dr. Caldwell Blakeman Esselstyn Sr. and Lilian Meyer.[1] Dr. Esselstyn's father was a prominent physician who was consulted by John F Kennedy for setting up Medicare and was the personal physician for Lou Gherig. His wife's father and grandfather, George Washington Crile and George "Barney" Crile, were notable surgeons who pioneered many medical innovations.

Esselstyn graduated from Yale University in 1956[5] where he was a member of Skull and Bones.[6] He also competed in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, winning a gold medal in the "eights" as a member of the American team.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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

Esselstyn promotes a whole foods, plant-based diet, arguing it can prevent coronary disease and cardiovascular disease. The diet excludes all animal products and oils and recommends foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and especially cruciferous vegetables.[11]

His work received media attention when former U.S. President Bill Clinton cited it, along with work by Dean Ornish and The China Study as the basis for his change of diet in 2010[12] and yet more in late 2011 when Clinton discussed his diet with CNN and other media outlets.[13]

Esselstyn was also one of the doctors featured in the documentary films Forks Over Knives (2011) and The Game Changers (2018).[14]

Esselstyn advised Eric Adams, the incoming mayor of New York City, to switch to a plant-based diet after Adams was diagnosed with diabetes.[15] Within six months Adams had lost 30 pounds, reversed his diabetes, and reduced his blood pressure and cholesterol levels to a healthy enough range to lower his risk of heart disease or stroke.[16]

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. Other key factors include physical activity, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight."[17]

Harriet A. Hall has written that the claims made by Esselstyn are misleading and that the evidence on which they are based is "pretty skimpy".[11] Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic said that his claims are unproven because there isn't data from rigorous clinical trials to support them.[9]


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.[8]

Selected publications

  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. Penguin, 2007 ISBN 978-1-101-21583-8
  • The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook: Over 125 Delicious, Life-Changing, Plant-Based Recipes. Penguin, 2014 ISBN 9780698186507

See also


  1. Curriculum Vitae
  2. "Meet the Esselstyns". Enrich. Retrieved July 3, 2021.
  3. "Esselstyn, A. The Daily Beet: An Answers Some Questions. 04 November 2016". Retrieved July 3, 2021.
  4. "Heart Disease Reversal Program".
  5. "Official Website: Biography". Archived from the original on August 23, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  6. "C. B. Esselstyn Jr. Fiance of Ann Crile". The New York Times. May 1, 1961. p. 33.
  7. "1956 Summer Olympics – Melbourne, Australia – Rowing" Archived December 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved on May 15, 2008)
  8. "About Dr. Esselstyn". Archived from the original on May 11, 2012.
  9. Harlan Spector for the Cleveland Plain DealerJune 09, 2008 Ex-surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. espouses a noninvasive cure for heart disease Archived May 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  10. "Scientific Advisory Board" (PDF). Nutrition Action. Center for Science in the Public Interest. January 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 19, 2010. Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  11. Hall HA (November 23, 2010). "Bill Clinton's Diet". Science-Based Medicine.
  12. Philip Sherwell for The Telegraph. October 3, 2010 Bill Clinton's new diet: nothing but beans, vegetables and fruit to combat heart disease
  13. David S. Martin, CNN August 18, 2011 From omnivore to vegan: The dietary education of Bill Clinton
  14. Angela Hickman (May 16, 2011). "The food revolution of Forks Over Knives will not be processed". National Post. Archived from the original on June 29, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  15. "Eating better, getting better and finding a new community along the way". The Washington Post. July 30, 2019. Retrieved July 3, 2021.
  16. Brody, Jane (January 2, 2017). "An Inspiring Story of Weight Loss and Its Aftermath". The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  17. David S. Martin, "The 'heart attack proof' diet?", CNN, November 25, 2011.
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