Dr. Klaper Talk Transcript

Once my awakening happened while putting people to sleep, actually. I was working in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1981.
At the Vancouver General Hospital, I was a resident in anesthesiology [slide] — as you can see, I've not changed a bit — and I found myself on the cardiovascular anesthesia service.

Day after day, I'm putting people to sleep, and I'm watching surgeons operate on arteries in their neck, in their heart, all over their body. And from their arteries, their surgeons are pulling out this yellow greasy guck called atherosclerosis.
This is nasty stuff; this stuff will kill you. This stuff will set up formation of blood clots and stop blood flow to your brain, your heart — will kill you with a stroke or a heart attack.

And one day, I'm watching a surgeon pull out a particularly slithery, rubbery piece of yellow material out of an artery. And I think to myself, "Man, that stuff looks like chicken fat." And a little voice in my head says, "There's a good reason why it looks like chicken fat. It is chicken fat — and cow fat and pig fat and the fat of every other slow animal walking past this man's table when he had a fork in his hand." [laughter]

And this really resonated with me, because I was eating a lot of chicken, and my cholesterol was through the roof. And my dad was already showing signs of clogged arteries, and I knew I was going to be laying on that operating table, with that Stryker saw going up my sternum, and oo-oo, I didn't want that. I saw those people when they woke up.

So ... I began getting these flashing lights saying, "You should change what you are eating — you should stop putting all that animal flesh through your arteries."

And that duly registered. But the real clincher came several weeks later. I was having dinner with a friend in a restaurant in Vancouver, and — actually — the seeds of this incident had been planted years ago.

There were already literature reports in the medical journals [slide] that people could reverse clogged arteries with a plant-based diet. This one was published in 1977. Dr. Dean Ornish had already published studies showing that you could reverse this plaque out of your arteries with a plant based diet. And, as these were resonating with me, I remembered something that happened four years earlier.

When I was a fourth-year medical student, I would spend my Saturday nights in the trauma unit at bad old Cook County Hospital in Chicago. And every Saturday night, I would see the worst of what human beings inflicted upon each other.

I saw the shotgun blasts and the machete chops — and by Sunday morning, I would walk out of that trauma unit, shaking with what I had seen humans do to each other.

And I knew I couldn't get rid of all the violence in the world, but at least I could try and get the violence out of my own life.

So I started making a serious study of living a life of non-violence. I read the works of Gandhi and the Indian saints, about living a life of ahimsa — of non-violence.

So one evening in a restaurant in Vancouver, I am pontificating to a friend about living a life of non-violence, but I was doing so while polishing off a 14-ounce porterhouse steak. And he looked at me with great compassion and said, "That's all very nice Michael, but if you really want to get the violence out of your life, you might want to start with that piece of animal muscle on your plate, because in satisfying your desire for the taste of their meat in your mouth, you are paying for the death of the animal — and for the next one in line at the slaughterhouse."

Well, when he said that, all the old rationalizations jumped into my head: "Well that's what they raised them for." All of those came up. But before the words could pass my lips, that little voice in my head said, "Try it. Try it."

I had done a lot of my growing up on my uncle's dairy farm in Wisconsin. I saw the old dairy cows who weren't being milked shot in the head. I had chopped the heads off chickens. I had seen calves taken away from their mothers to keep that milk flowing, so my uncle could sell the milk.

I knew the cruelty and the violence that were inherent in all animal flesh products — all meat, all dairy products. And I could not deny my complicity in that act. And when I went up to pay for the steak dinner, I felt complicit in a violent act — a violent crime. And at that point, I knew that my days of eating meat and dairy products were over. If I was going to be a man of integrity, I could no longer deny the fact that in paying for this meat, I'm actually paying for unspeakable cruelty to be delivered upon these innocent animals. And I could not deny my complicity in that act.

So I adopted a plant-based diet. It wasn't a big sacrifice. I had oatmeal and fruit in the morning, with some rice milk on it. Lunches and dinners: big colorful salads, hearty vegetable soups, oriental stir fries, Indian curries, big plates of steamed green and yellow vegetables, lots of colorful fruit for dessert.

It was a joyous way of eating — still is. No calorie counting — no portion control — just eat 'till you get full.

And my body loved it.

Within ten weeks, a twenty-pound spare tire of fat melted around my waist. My high cholesterol sank to normal. My elevated blood pressure went to normal. And I felt great waking up in a nice lean, light body every day.

At that point, I realized I was six months away from finishing my residency. But as much as I loved anesthesia, I knew I didn't want to be an anesthesiologist — and spend all my time putting people to sleep, literally.

What I really wanted to do was to go back to general practice and help them to wake up.
Because I left general practice as a retreat. Because I couldn't handle — couldn't face my patients like Ken [slide]. Lovely man — funny guy — really love Ken. But his body was a slow-motion train wreck:
Sixty pounds past obese — [slide] on two medications for blood pressure — on insulin and metformin for his diabetes. His lipids were over the moon. He hadn't had an erection for years, because his arteries were so clogged up. And his wife Karen is the mirror image of him.

On this morning doctors all over North America, Australia, New Zealand, UK, where everybody's got a waiting room full of Kens, because this is who we've become in recent decades. And I would feel like a fraud every time I interacted with Ken.

I didn't know what to tell him: "You've got to lose some weight Ken. Eat a little less... uh ... you ought to walk a little bit more." And I'd fiddle with his insulin dosage, and as he was leaving the office, I would mumble under my breath, "And please don't have your stroke when I'm on call".

And this was the kind of medicine I was practicing, and like so many doctors are practicing, and it's so disheartening, because we know we're really not helping. We're just presiding over the slow-motion demise of these patients.

Well ... , after my nutritional revelation, I knew what to tell these patients.
Because all the diseases Ken and they bring to us: the obesity, and the diabetes, and the high blood pressure, and all the inflammatory diseases [slide] ...

We were told that these are chronic diseases ... you can't get rid of them ... you manage them.
And doctors have become disease managers. We manage high blood pressure. We manage diabetes.

I don't know of any doctor, who filled out his medical school application and said, "My burning desire in life is to write prescriptions and manage chronic disease."

We went into medicine to relieve suffering ... and to cure these diseases [points to slide] ... and every one of these diseases is curable — every single one of them.

Every doctor who practices lifestyle medicine has stable full of patients who used to have diabetes ... who used to be obese ... who used to have asthma. All these diseases go away.

But, if you talk to the learned professors, or you open up the medical textbooks, to find the cause of these diseases, you're going to run into two words that stop all further thought:

[slide: Etiology Unknown]

"There's some molecular mismatch on some genetic issue here."
"We're working on it."
"As soon as the smart docs in the labs figure out how to make 'Amazocillin' we'll get it to you, and you can give it to your patients for $1,000 a pill. Until then, you just keep prescribing your statins and your stents. And don't get too depressed."
And more and more doctors are getting depressed and leaving medicine.

Etiology Unknown. Nonsense.

It's the food.

... what people are eating these days ... people are eating anywhere near the standard Western diet. They have eggs in the morning, and lunches and dinners have burgers and fried chicken and buffalo wings and pizzas. That is the cause of the clogged arteries, the obesity, diabetes, etc.

Every meal sends a tide of heavy saturated fats, free-radical containing oils, problematic proteins, concentrated sugars. This injures us on every level.

And if you decide — if you choose to put a piece of meat in the middle of every meal - and that's how most Westerners eat: "Hey? Where's my protein? Got to have meat with every meal" - if you choose to eat in that manner, you are choosing to add a particularly toxic brew of molecules into your bloodstream, hour after hour.

I'll just go over the first four of these. [slide]

The very act of cooking meat creates trillions of free-radical ions, and these rip electrons off of your DNA and your cell membranes - very destructive molecules.

Neu5Gc — This is a sialic acid that only animals make, and it sets off inflammatory reactions throughout the body, and the meat eaters are eating this stuff two or three times a day.

Endotoxin — This is from the bacteria in the slaughterhouse that coat all the meat. They break apart their cell walls, form an endotoxin molecule that makes your blood clot, slows your heart, sets off allergic reactions.

TMAO, trimethylamine oxide — This stuff forces cholesterol into your artery walls, and it's made from the bacteria in your gut that are spawned by eating meats and eggs.

We are not Homo Carnivorous. We are not the meat-eating ape. But when we try and eat like that, we spawn microbes that turn on us, and I'm afraid our friends and patients eating in the Paleo style are going to learn this one the hard way.

Even if you are taking the skin off the chicken and eating wild-caught salmon, you are still putting these molecules through your bloodstream — hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year — and it has effects!

We now know that food brings in a lot more than fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Our food is chemically alive. Within minutes of eating anything, molecules of that food are washing through every cell in your body, where your DNA lies unfolded. Food molecules wash through your cells, and they play your DNA like a piano.

They turn genes on; they turn genes off. They induce enzymes; they shut enzymes down. Every meal changes us on a genetic molecular level. In this digital age, we can't be shocked to realize that food brings in not only nutrients, it brings in information.

The science is called nutrigenomics. It's how your food turns your genes on and off, and we can't pretend this is not happening. This is where inflammation starts. This is where cancer starts. This is where immunity resides. This is where healing begins, if we turn the right genes on with our food.

People blame their genetics: "Oh, my dad had a heart attack at age 56. I'm going to get one too." Yeah, if you run the same food through your tissues, you'll create the same diseases. But in one sentence, to free you from the idea that you are genetically predetermined to get these diseases: Your genes may load the gun, but your diet and your lifestyle pull the trigger. Whether that disease actually manifests in your body depends upon the molecules you're flowing through your tissues day after day.

You don't have to be a geneticist to understand that the genes that are going to be turned on by this fuel mixture [slide], are going to be fundamentally, qualitatively different than the genes turned on by this fuel mixture [slide]. And this salad is symbolic of all the world of plant-based foods: all the green and yellow vegetables, the fruit, etc.

When you eat food like this, then hour after hour tides of these wonderful phytonutrient molecules wash through your cells, and they are stabilizing, they are antioxidant, they quench free radicals, they promote tissue regeneration, they give the chemical message to your tissues: "Shh, calm down. everything's OK".

Because for doctors to practice medicine without appreciating what the patient's diet is really doing to them, puts the doctor in the position like the blind man and the elephant, where blind men grab different parts of the elephant. Each has a different part of the same elephant, but nobody has an idea what the whole elephant really is.

Well that's the problem with modern medicine. All these specialists are in their cubicle, looking at the body from all their given viewpoints, and they're trying to figure out the molecular mechanisms, when the reality is that it's what our patients are eating.

The Western diet has become so toxic that these molecules bubble up through all the organ systems. And the internist sees the high blood pressure, and he endocrinologist sees the type 2 diabetes, and he physiatrist sees the sore joints, and the rheumatologist sees the autoimmune diseases, and the dermatologist sees the psoriasis, and the gastroenterologist sees the colitis and the Crohn's disease.

They're all looking at the same disease! It's what our patients are eating! It's the food! It's the food! It's the food! And we can't pretend it's not.

But when's the last time you went to the doctor, and your doctor said, "Take me through your eating day. What do you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner? I'm really interested in your diet."

Anybody have a doctor ask you that? Why not? That's the real issue. Because if a patient goes on a whole-food, plant-based diet, (and we at least owe them the information) 30 days, 60 days, 90 days of that fuel mix — the changes are spectacular.

The obesity starts to melt away. The arteries open up. The high blood pressure goes down, The joints stop hurting. The skin clears up. The lungs stop wheezing. The bowels start working. And people turn into normal, healthy people — that don't have diabetes, that don't have aches and pains, and they don't need medications and pills and procedures.

You just see them at the health-food store and the bike path — which is where I want to see them. And medicine gets fun again. These fearsome diseases that you're told never go away, and that food has nothing to do with them - you find that absolutely, food has everything to do with these conditions. And they get better, as the diet gets better — including the artery disease.

The plaques that are in this artery [slide showing Esselstyn's evidently famous before-and-after pictures at 17:08 to 17:20] a whole-food, plant-based diet melts away.

How much longer can doctors pretend that food has nothing to do with these diseases? It is unfair and unethical to withhold this information from our patients. In fact we are instructed by the Medical Association to give our patients this relevant knowledge.

Medicine becomes fun again when that happens. It certainly happened to my patient Ken. [slide of Ken] The body thrives on the whole-food, plant-based diet [slide of plant-based body builders at 17:34 minutes] — and so does the earth. Because the reality is that our flesh-based diet, the industrial production of animal flesh, is the driving force behind every one of the major environmental destructive forces we face today.

This is why the forests are being cut down to make grazing land and crop land for beef. This is where the water is going. This is what is polluting the water. And seventy billion animals raised for slaughter every year are all breathing out carbon dioxide and belching out methane. Our hunger for flesh is really driving so much of the destruction we're seeing.

I urge people to go to the website Comfortably Unaware and educate yourself about how our meat consumption is driving this poor bear onto this melting iceberg [slide], and strip mining the ocean is not a help.

But if we change our diet, we will need so much less land to feed everyone (with a plant-based diet), that the forests will come back, the soils will stabilize, the water will get purer, this earth will heal, and the chances for a livable future for our kids will increase. [slides]

I urge each of you to go to pcrm.org, educate yourself — and especially the physicians. There's lots of good CME information out there. Check out videos like Forks over Knives, Eating You Alive, and What the Health.

Doctors all over the world are waking up. Checkout the Plantrician project, you'll find there are thousands of plant-based doctors now all talking to each other, as a new era of plant-based medicine is dawning.

I'm doing what I can. I'm going around to medical schools, and talking to first, second, and third-year medical students and giving them the lecture I wish someone had given me, when I was a first-year medical student.

It's what your patients are eating! Ask them about their diet. You can cure these people.

If we evolve our diet as individuals, we will get healthier as a species, we will heal this planet, and the future will get better for all of us.

So I want the public to wake up to the power that they have available to them in a plant-based diet. I want my medical colleagues to wake up and see that the foods that our patients are eating are key in the causation and the cure of these diseases. And for all of us to be aware of the bright future that a plant-based diet offers all of us.

I'm Dr. Michael Klaper. What's on your plate?