A Heart Surgeon's Viral Confession

Behind the beloved idea that processed food is "slowly poisoning everyone"
Axel Heimken/AP

Around 237,000 people now have Dr. Dwight Lundell's confession on their Facebook walls. His essay, headlined "Heart Surgeon Declares On [sic] What Really Causes Heart Illness," was published on a website called Tuned Body in December. Over the past week it has taken off across social media with phenomenal force.

In the essay, Lundell describes his purportedly newfound understanding that a diet of natural, unprocessed food can prevent and reverse heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. He recalls two and a half misguided decades as a cardiac surgeon prescribing cholesterol-lowering medications and recommending a low-fat diet. He says that he recently realized the error of his ways, stopped practicing, and dedicated his career to heart disease prevention.

"We physicians with all our experience and authority" he writes, "often acquire a rather large selfishness that tends to make it hard to accept we are wrong. So, here it is. I openly admit to being mistaken. As a heart surgeon with 25 years experience, having done more than 5,000 open-heart surgeries, today is my day to right the wrong with medical and scientific proof."

The viral essay goes on to say that recommending cholesterol-lowering medications and low-fat diets is "no longer morally defensible." That's because the low-fat, high-simple-carb diet is actively destroying the walls of our blood vessels by causing chronic inflammation, he explains. That inflammation makes cholesterol stick to said walls, forming the plaques that eventually block them, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

"When you spike your blood sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels," he writes, with the cool hand of a surgeon who has "peered inside thousands upon thousands of arteries." His eye for imagery is also hardened. "Take a moment to visualize rubbing a stiff brush repeatedly over soft skin until it becomes quite red and nearly bleeding," he writes. "This is a good way to visualize the inflammatory process that could be going on in your body right now."

Lundell blames not only the refined carbohydrates, but the proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in Western diets. Excessive omega-6 acids create inflammation, and American diets that are high in corn and soybean oils often involve omega-6:omega-3 ratios around 15:1. Lundell is not alone in saying that the ratio should ideally be around 3:1. He gets into the popular hunter-gatherer reasoning there, that "the human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils."

"There is but one answer to quieting inflammation," Lundell writes, "and that is returning to foods closer to their natural state." Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. He recommends eating protein and complex carbohydrates like colorful fruits and vegetables. He recommends abandoning concern about saturated fat, choosing olive oil or grass-fed meat or dairy as a better source of fat than high-omega-6 processed foods.

"Since we now know that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, the concern about saturated fat is even more absurd today," he writes. "Mainstream medicine made a terrible mistake when it advised people to avoid saturated fat in favor of foods high in omega-6 fats."

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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