Dr. McDougall's Comments
Rich Richardson is a testament to the strength of the human
body. He tested and retested its ability to survive abuse. He
is undeniable proof that people can put away 2 packages of
cigarettes, half a bottle of whiskey and grease daily—and the
body lives on. But this burden does take its toll. Mr.
Richardson also offers proof of the body’s ability to regain
lost health and appearance given half a chance with some good
food, cleaner habits, and exercise. I have known him for almost
30 years and his story provides many valuable lessons.
why did he have to learn about the importance of a healthy diet
and exercise over and over again? There are several answers to
1) Most of us believe we are invincible.
We suppose health messages only apply to the other guy. Even
faced with an expanding waistline, increasing fatigue, shortness
of breath, and incapacitating chest pains, we delay recognizing
the obvious fact that we are killing ourselves with our fork and
2) The importance of diet is underestimated.
We think, “How could what we eat make such a
difference?” This error is compounded by the fact that doctors
and dietitians almost unanimously discount the importance of a
healthy diet in recovery from chronic diseases. My experience
and the scientific research say the opposite—I am constantly
amazed by the capacity of the human body to heal given clean
air, water, and food.
3) When the pain stops we forget.
After delivery many women say, “My family is large enough—never
again will I go through that.” But the memory of the pain of
childbirth quickly fades. I see the same phenomena with my
patients. After the chest pains stop, the bowels start moving,
the blood pressure and cholesterol fall, people quickly forget
why they took all that trouble to take good care of
themselves—and they backslide.
4) Garbage is easy to get. The whole
world is against our efforts. Candy, donuts, hotdogs and chips
are effortlessly dispensed even at gas stations. Every one of
our friends eats the rich diet—and following what we know is
right to eat is so hard when we visit them and worse yet, when
we all go out to restaurants. Preparing beans, rice, and
potatoes in delicious dishes takes effort.
5) Many people don’t like themselves.
After watching patients for almost 40 years, I
have to believe that many people are trying to commit slow
suicide. They continue ruining their lives, even after becoming
fully informed. Look around, aren’t there some things worth
living for? (Spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, vocation,
hobbies, travel, etc.?)
Mr. Richardson (and most others) all of these “failures” he has
experienced for the past three decades have really been powerful
learning experiences. From the first time in 1978 when Mr.
Richardson changed his diet and experienced a radical recovery,
he knew the truth: He was not incurably ill and lifestyle
medicine was a powerful answer—and this knowledge kept him
moving in the right direction—although the journey was slow and
almost fatal more than once.
Without a doubt, if this simple, cost-free medicine could be
packaged in a pill I would be, money-wise, the richest person on
this planet. Unfortunately, the cure comes in the form of one
to five pounds of food daily—known as breakfast, lunch and
dinner—and a pair of walking shoes. In a true sense I am the
richest person, because my riches come from the fact that I am
the luckiest doctor in the world—my patients do regain their
lost health and robust appearance. What more professional
satisfaction could a doctor ask for?
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40 I was fat and greasy. I suffered with constipation, sinus
congestion, and much more. Of course, I smoked, drank, and did
no exercise. From time to time I would see my doctor, and he
would prescribe a number of pills. One day he took me aside and
said, “It would be a good idea if you would improve your
lifestyle.” I was indignant! I did not wish to change, just
give me some pills; after all it was his job to make me better!
This was in 1973, my business was buying and selling precious
metals and I was living in Honolulu, Hawaii.
At 43 I
had my first heart attack, and I deserved it. My breakfast was a
dozen donuts, a quart of milk, and black coffee with a little
whisky in it—plus, one cigarette after another. But, at this
time in my youth, I was convinced that diet had nothing to do
Sunday morning while working in my shop, a crushing pain in my
chest suddenly hit me. This was followed by sharp pains down my
left arm, and then cold sweat broke out all over my body. I was
afraid to move—I believed that if I exerted myself in any way my
life would be over. After a long while I managed to get to my
car and drove myself to the VA hospital.
at the hospital, I was weak and disoriented—I found myself
sitting on the elevator floor; asking for directions to the
emergency room. In time, I was admitted to the hospital for a
heart attack. The next day I called a friend and ask her to
bring me two pounds of chocolate covered peanuts. This candy,
supplemented by ice cream, was my post-heart attack diet. My
hospital stay lasted 2 weeks. After discharge my health
continued to deteriorate; soon I could walk only about 50 feet
without excruciating chest pains.
encounter with doctors was also at the local VA hospital where
they performed an angiogram. I remember lying naked and cold on
the operating room table. I started shaking as the doctor cut
into my right arm in order to stick the catheter into my artery.
As the operation proceeded they discovered that my heart
arteries were severely clogged. Unfortunately, I also had an
allergic reaction to the dye they were using, went into shock,
and spent the next few days recovering in the intensive care
In 1977 bypass surgery was a fairly new treatment, and that was
my doctor’s recommendation. In the operating room I was
surrounded by masked men, total strangers to me—I was scared to
death. I woke up during the operation, and felt my leg hurting,
as they sewed the incision back together. I moaned and they put
me back to sleep.
year of “recovery,” I was on my deathbed waiting for the end.
The pills were not working, the chest pains were constant, and
it seemed that my life would soon be over. Fortunately, one of
my friends met Dr. McDougall and told him about me. He gave them
a book for me by Nathan Pritikin about diet, heart disease, and
health. I read it. The message seemed contrary to my long held
views that diet had nothing to do with disease!
I met Dr. McDougall when he was giving lectures to the public at
St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu. I started on my new
diet—giving up eating animal foods, and all the other things I
had once thought were good. I walked a little each day, quit
smoking, and soon I got off my medications. Within 3 months I
had lost about 50 pounds and was running five miles a day. My
renewed health lasted a few years.
I moved to Reno, Nevada where I became progressively careless
about my diet. After a huge meal of high sodium pasta sauce, the
next morning I woke up with chest pains. I thought it was
indigestion, but antacids did not help. I went to the hospital,
where they did an angiogram and determined that I needed an
angioplasty. Looking back, I suspect that this pain was not from
my heart, but from my overstuffed gut.
doctor was working away on the angiogram when I heard him say,
“Damn it! I can’t get through the obstruction, the hole is too
small. You must have bypass surgery right now!” I felt the chest
pains increasing, but I refused surgery, and told him to give me
some more morphine and get back to work. Over the next few
months, I had three more angioplasties, but they eventually gave
up and sent me home to die! Instead of following their dire
predictions, I went on a strict diet of potatoes, rice and
bananas, and took up roller skating. In a few months I had lost
40 pounds and felt like a new man.
I moved to Camp Verde, Arizona and again got careless, adding
pastries to my diet—I regained the weight and the chest pains
returned. My second bypass surgery followed all too soon. The
operation was a success, but the patient almost died from an
infection in his leg incision. You guessed it—after the
operation I got pure with my diet again, lived on steamed
vegetables and potatoes, and took up tennis and walking—with
I moved to Eugene, Oregon and my diet became pretzel- and
cookie-centered. In 2003, I had another angiogram—this time I
was told there was nothing left to bypass. My heart was a
mess. I was barely alive—full of morphine and pills to make me
as comfortable as possible—I was just barely conscious. I was
told I had congestive heart failure with little hope of
surviving even a year. My ejection fraction was 17% (normal is
65%). So you guessed it—I changed back to a healthy diet and
years later, I am now 73 years old, fully functional, chest
pains are a rare event, and I am happy to be alive. Last week I
did a 14 mile bike ride. My ejection fraction is now up to 36%
and my heart is of a normal size. Amazing! My total cholesterol
is 125. I am of the opinion that my heart is healing itself. My
secret? I reduced the amount of sodium to 300 mg a day, and
live on potatoes, oatmeal, corn tortillas, cabbage, lettuce,
broccoli, onions, yams, beans, fruit, and one ounce of walnuts
daily. Routinely, I do 20 minutes a day on my exercise bike,
frequently ride my recumbent trike 15 or 20 miles. I take a
small amount of medication which I hope to soon stop.
At one time I thought that my body was like a car, just a piece
of machinery that could be repaired from the outside—with pills
and surgery. I no longer believe that. My body is in fact a
wonderful device that will repair itself if given the right
fuel, a chance to breathe, and a little exercise.
We encourage you to pass
this Star McDougaller along to friends.