Past and Present Researchers

The purpose of this page is to shed light on those individuals who have paved the way for plant-based diets and to recognize their contribution to prevention, reversal and/or improvement of chronic western diseases through dietary modifications. Their contributions to science have shined a light on nutrition as a primary focus of preventing, arresting, and reversing disease. Their methods have remained controversial within the medical community for years. This is, in large part, due to the miraculous health benefits a change in diet provides. While the evidence continues to mount for a whole foods plant-based diet centered on the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some within the medical community still feel nutrition does not play a significant role in disease progression.

As you read through what these researchers have been able to achieve by changing the types of foods individuals consume, you will begin to see that the foods we eat may be more effective at reducing the risk of disease than some medications. Changing dietary habits is a form of lifestyle medicine in which doctors and physicians treat the underlying cause of disease rather than symptoms of the disease. This is not to say that medication is unnecessary, but according to Hyman, Ornish and Roizen (2009), “lifestyle intervention is often more effective in reducing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and all-cause mortality than almost any other medical intervention” (p. 12).  Hyman et al. (2009), continues:

Typically doctors treat “risk factors” for disease such as giving a lifetime’s worth of medications to lower high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol. These, however, do not treat the underlying causes of those risk factors: what and how much we eat, whether we smoke, how often we exercise, how we manage stress, and the effects of environmental toxins. Disregarding the underlying causes and treating only risk factors is somewhat like mopping up the floor around an overflowing sink instead of turning off the faucet, which is why medications usually have to be taken for a lifetime. When the underlying lifestyle causes are addressed, patients often are able to stop taking medications (under their doctor’s supervision, of course). Likewise, they often can avoid surgery as well (p. 13).

Painting by Eric Layton
Painting by Eric Layton. Retrieved 10/24/2016

According to Kadoch (2012), under the right conditions the body has the ability to heal itself and “educating physicians and patients alike about the power of nutrition as medicine is the best investment we can make in the fight against heart disease” (p. 80). Most patients and physicians are unaware of the positive affects nutrition can have on overall health. According to Devries et al. (2014), the reason physicians generally do not provide nutrition information to their patients is due to having a limited amount or no exposure to nutrition education training during their medical training and residency (p. 804). Another reason individuals may not hear about the positive affects nutrition have on overall health is due to the time lag that exists between clinical research and clinical practice. Insel (2012), the director of the National Institute of Health, recognized in a blog post that there is approximately “a 17-year lag from research to practice” (para. 2). This means that knowledge gained through studies takes an average of almost 20 years before the patient benefits from the research conducted. Some of this research has been lost to history but research into nutrition continues to show how certain foods have the remarkable ability to heal the human body, while other foods have the potential to cause harm, especially in excess.

As more physicians become aware of good nutrition’s ability to prevent and reverse chronic illnesses related to dietary excesses, more individuals will experience the positive benefits of dietary change. The following are just a few pioneers in the field of nutrition and disease management, progression, and reversal. While their dietary recommendations are all slightly different from each other they all promote the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and legumes, with limited amounts of nuts and seeds, and relatively no oil and little to no meat, fish, eggs and dairy products to regain health.

Caldwell Esselstyn

Caldwell Esselstyn completed his residency of general surgery at the Cleveland clinic hospital from 1962 – 1966. He served in medical hospitals in Vietnam from 1967-1968. From 1968 – 2006 he was the former head of the section of thyroid and parathyroid surgery, former chairman breast cancer task force and is now a member of the American College of Cardiology (Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., 2016). In the late 1970’s-80’s when chairman of the breast cancer task force for the Cleveland clinic he felt he wasn’t doing enough to help women decrease their risk… [read more]

Dean Ornish

All of the doctors mentioned prior to Dean Ornish had learned that diet and lifestyle, were important in disease prevention and reversal. Dennis Burkitt put an emphasis on fiber consumption within the diet, John McDougall saw his patients become ill and listened and had recorded both Pritikin and Burkitt as they spoke… [read more]

Denis Burkitt

Denis Burkitt was a surgeon who made two influential contributions to medicine in his medical career. His first, while working in Uganda, was the cause and eventual treatment/cure of sarcoma in the Jaws of African children which was later named Burkitt’s lymphoma. His next contribution to medicine was based upon observational research in Uganda which led him to be … [read more]

Joel Fuhrman

Joel Fuhrman is a board certified family physician and nutrition expert who teaches dietary modification as a means to treat disease. Many may know of him as the man who created the “Nutritarian” diet (Fuhrman, 2016a, para. 1). His diet emphasizes the consumption of nutrient dense foods. Nutrient dense foods are those foods which contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients while containing the fewest calories, in fact his nutrient… [read more]

John McDougall

John McDougall owes his current medical career to a life threatening stroke he experienced at 18 which left the entire left side of his body paralyzed for two weeks. Having a stroke so young made him a medical mystery therefore doctors from all over Detroit Michigan would visit him and upon asking the doctors what caused his stroke they would shake their heads and walk away. He left the hospital determined to be a doctor. He took up studies at the University of Michigan and later… [read more]

Michael Greger

Michael Greger “is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on a number of important public health issues” (Greger, 2016, para. 1). Dr. Greger is a general medical practitioner who focuses on plant-based nutrition as a means to treating disease, he “…is a founding member and fellow of the American college of lifestyle medicine” (Greger, 2016, para. 3). As a public health advocate he runs a nonprofit website called which is a “non-commercial, science based” website that provides, free, up to date scientific literature… [read more]

Nathan Pritikin

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 he 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… [read more]

Neal Barnard

Neal Barnard is the president of the physicians committee for responsible medicine (PCRM) based in Washington D.C., he is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine (Barnard Medical Center, n.d.). On January 6th, 2016, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and other medical doctors threaten legal action against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for the removal… [read more]

Roy Swank

Roy Swank treated patients with Multiple Sclerosis. According to Compton and Coles, (2008) “multiple sclerosis is primarily an inflammatory disorder of the brain and spinal cord in which focal lymphocytic infiltration leads to damage of myelin and axons” (p. 1502). Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include “weakness, numbness, a loss of muscle coordination, and problems with vision, speech and bladder control” according to PubMed Health (ND). A commonly thought incurable disease, by most physicians, Roy Swank’s research into dietary modification showed that a healthful diet could either slow, or stop the progression of the disease. According to Dr. Roy Swank (MS with Roy Swank, John McDougall, 2016), in a taped interview with… [read more]

t colin
T. Colin Campbell

T. Colin Campbell “…presently holds his Endowed Chair as the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry in the Division of Nutritional Sciences” department at Cornell University and the co-author of The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight loss and Long-term Health (Campbell, 2016a, para. 2 & 4). Dr. Campbell’s research career began in 1956 at Cornell University where he completed his “…graduate studies in nutritional biochemistry on the topic of food and health” (Campbell, 2016b, para. 1). His research focused on consuming high quality animal protein while simultaneously… [read more]

Walter Kempner

Walter Kempner was a research scientist when he left Germany in 1934 and made his way to Duke University where he continued his research on cell metabolism, in 1940 Walter Kempner began treating patients, with what was thought to be irreversible or malignant hypertension (Estes, and Kerivan, 2014, p. 600). Walter Kempner is most famously known for his rice diet which consisted of white rice, fruit, fruit juice, sugar, and little to no sodium. The diet… [read more]



Devries, S., Dalen, J. E., Eisenberg, D. M., Maizes, V., Ornish, D., Prasad, A., … & Willett, W. (2014). A deficiency of nutrition education in medical training. Am J Med, 127(9), 804-806.

Hyman, M. A., Ornish, D., & Roizen, M. (2009). Lifestyle medicine: treating the causes of disease. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 15(6), 12-14.

I Thomas (2012, November 15). Directors Blog: From Practice to Research Retrieved from

Kadoch, M. A. (2012). The power of nutrition as medicine. Preventive medicine, 55(1), 80. DOI:10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.04.013

Image painted by Erica Layton, retrieved from online 10/24/2016

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