Nathan Pritikin was not a doctor, physician, surgeon, or even a dietitian, but an inventor (Monte and Pritikin, 2015). But just who was Nathan Pritikin and why was “he among the first to assert that diet and exercise, not drugs and surgery, should be the first line of defense against cardiovascular disease” (Monte & Pritkin, 2015).
From the age of 20 – 25 Pritkin was a photographer who attended approximately 200 medical conference in Chicago, IL which led him to have an interest in food and nutrition. Shortly after this time he began research and development for the air force developing optical systems for bombing sites during World War II. His general interest, however, was in the public health of the countries affected by the war. Based upon the science at the time, heredity and stress were the causes of heart disease and he expected heart disease would double in these countries due to the stress of the war, but to his amazement that was not the case. What he saw was that heart disease and diabetes deaths dropped during these stressful years and it coincided with the countries that limited their fat and cholesterol intake. The connection between diet and heart disease became more apparent when he saw that those countries that had no restriction of fat and cholesterol consumption had a rise in heart disease death rates (Nathan Pritikin: A casual conversation with Dr. John McDougall, 1982).
After World War II, Nathan Pritikin began conducting research on populations around the world that consumed a low fat, low cholesterol diet consisting of natural whole, unprocessed plant-based foods.
Below is an excerpt taken from Nathan Pritikin: A casual conversation with Dr. John McDougall, 1982. The video can be found here: https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/feb/pritikin.htm.
Nathan Pritikin: “I was amazed to find there were 25 populations I was able to study that heart disease practically didn’t exist.”
Dr. McDougall: “there were no heart attacks within the countries?”
Nathan Pritikin: “No unheard of, you couldn’t find a case to show a medical student”
Dr. McDougall: “that’s amazing”
Nathan Pritikin: “and not only heart disease, but diabetes, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, arthritis, glaucoma.”
Dr. McDougall: “That’s all I treat as a doctor”
Nathan Pritikin: “Where all these diseases, and these were under hundreds of millions of people and here I thought these were the natural inevitable consequences of aging that everybody has to die of one of these diseases and now I find that populations don’t die of those, they actually die of old age which is unheard of in this country.”
According to Monte & Pritikin (2015), Nathan Pritikin was visited by Dr. Morrison, a practicing cardiologist in California who was intrigued by the same data as he was in regards to a low fat and low cholesterol diet affect heart disease. While on the visit Nathan Pritikin had his cholesterol levels checked and was diagnosed with Heart disease at the age of 41, with cholesterol levels over 300. After extensive research into diet and heart disease, he realized if he could get his cholesterol below 160 he may not experience a heart attack, and at the age of 43 he took it upon himself to heal his own heart by following a meat and dairy free diet which was low in fat with no added oil and high in complex carbohydrates. Pritikin’s diet modeled that of the black Uganda population, which contained approximately 15% of total calories coming from fat (Martin, 1991 p.181). According to Martin (1991), Pritikin noticed such a drastic improvement in his own vascular health that he developed the Pritikin Longevity Center (p.181).
Nathan Pritikin’s autopsy results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, proving that our bodies have a natural ability to heal if we just stop injuring them and dietary modifications can stop, slow, or even reverse the progression of vascular disease. Upon Nathan Pritikin’s death, his heart was available for autopsy. Nathan Pritikin, who was diagnosed with heart disease in 1958, changed his diet to that of a plant-based diet consisting of high carbohydrate, high fiber, low fat and low cholesterol diet. Upon his death according to Hubbard, Inkeles, and Barnard (1985), “his epicardium was smooth and no scars were visible, the coronary arteries were soft and pliable, no infarcts of any size, or other findings referable to vascular disease, were present in any organs, in a man 69 years old, the near absence of atherosclerosis and the complete absence of its effects are remarkable” (p.52).
Keep in mind Nathan Pritikin was not a doctor, he was an engineer who was intrigued by the link between heart disease and public health. His interest in science led him to find a cure for his own heart disease and his passion for helping others was the reason he developed the Pritikin Longevity Center. With this new adventure, Pritikin and his team of doctors began publishing study after study documenting miraculous results of how diet can transform individual’s health, in particular heart disease. In fact, according to Horrigan (2010), the evidence for this data is so strong that in 2010, Medicare took notice of both the effectiveness of the Pritikin program as well as the Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and after carefully reviewing the published data, found both programs to be effective at slowing or reversing the progression of heart disease and announced they would pay for the intensive diet and exercise program which is now covered under Part B of Medicare (p. 346).
To learn more about Nathan Pritikin, click here. This link also contains the video: Nathan Pritikin: A casual conversation with Dr. John McDougall, 1982. This video is approximately 55 minutes. https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/feb/pritikin.htm.
NutritionFacts.org Founder Dr. Michael Greger explains how his grandmother reversed her heart disease because of Nathan Pritikin’s Pritikin Longevity Center https://nutritionfacts.org/about/
Engineering a Cure https://nutritionfacts.org/video/engineering-a-cure/
To learn more about the Pritikin Program website can be viewed here – https://www.pritikin.com/
The following link is for 6 (10 minute) audiotaped speeches by Nathan Pritikin (voice only) regarding diet and disease.
Read a paper written by Nathan Pritikin, about diabetes reversal, heart disease reversal, here: High Carbohydrate Diets; Maligned and Misunderstood https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/feb/pritikinpdf3.pdf
Nathan Pritikin Quotes:
“All I’m trying to do is wipe out heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.”
“Vegetarians always ask about getting enough protein. But I don’t know any nutrition expert (who) can plan a diet of natural foods resulting in a protein deficiency, so long as you’re not deficient in calories. You need only 5 or 6 percent of calories in protein… and it is practically impossible to get below 9 percent in ordinary diets.”
“The fad diets that many Americans are on are perfect if you want to be hungry all the time and miserable.”
Books by Nathan Pritikin:
- The Pritikin Permanent Weight-Loss Manual
- The Pritikin program for Diet & Exercise
- The Pritikin Promise: 28 days to a longer healthier life
- Nathan Pritikin Diet for Runners
- Live Longer now
Horrigan B.J. (2010). Ornish and Pritikin programs approved by CMS. Explore. 6(6), 346-348. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2010.08.007
Hubbard, J. D., Inkeles, S., & Barnard, R. J. (1985). Nathan Pritikin’s heart. The New England journal of medicine, 313(1), 52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3889648
Martin, W. (2001). Nathan Pritikin and atheroma. Medical Hypotheses. 36(3), 181-182. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0306-9877(91)90125-I
McDougall, J. (1982) Nathan Pritikin: A casual conversation with Dr. John McDougall, 1982. Retrieved from https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/feb/pritikin.htm
Monte, T., Pritikin, I. (2015). Nathan Pritikin, Founder [Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa]. Retrieved from https://www.pritikin.com/home-the-basics/about-pritikin/38-nathan-pritikin.html
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