Heart disease is Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. has no qualms about stepping inside the nation’s No. 1 heart hospital and dishing on angioplasty.

Invasive treatment is a mainstay of cardiac care, and it pays the bills. It’s also what’s wrong with medicine, says the retired Cleveland Clinic surgeon who has been affiliated with the hospital for 40 years.

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Esselstyn has turned his life’s work to demonstrating that heart disease doesn’t need to exist in the first place. And if it does, it can be reversed. The remedy is a plant-based diet, he says.

Learn to live with no meat, no fish, no dairy or oils of any kind, and make yourself “heart-attack proof.”Most doctors would agree a strict vegetarian diet is good for the heart. But, the idea that a diet free of animal products and fat can cure the No. 1 killer in America is a point of debate among doctors. Drug companies are in fierce competition to find a cholesterol drug that does what Esselstyn argues can be done better through diet. The call to attack artery-clogging plaque naturally is a challenge to the medical profession and an unspoken threat to the bottom line of the medical industry.

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Every forkful of fat, he says, causes an immediate biochemical assault on the endothelium, the lining of the arteries. White blood cells collect there, gobbling up bad cholesterol and creating fatty deposits over time. For many people, especially those who smoke or have other risk factors, accumulation of plaque is a time bomb for a coronary event. It might take something like that to convince an average meat-eater to adopt the Esselstyn diet. Even then, you wonder how many people at a heart attack survivors’ convention would line up at his table.

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