by Tim Russert, Former Host of Meet the Press
John McDougall, MD
Thank you for visiting me in my office in Santa Rosa,
California under these supernatural circumstances. I am
so sorry about your untimely death from a heart attack
on June 13, 2008. I read that your end was quick, and
I am honored that you requested this
interview. You are known for your hard-hitting
questions and for demanding truthful and plain-spoken
explanations from your guests.
The reason I am here is I have been gone for more than 2
weeks now, yet doctors, scientists, and the media, all
seem baffled about the cause of my death. I have
listened to the evening news and talk shows, read the
newspapers and weekly magazines, and searched the
Internet—but why my life was suddenly taken in my
professional prime, at age 58, remains unanswered. In
fact, my colleagues, who are the some of the best
investigative reporters in the world, aren’t even asking
the right questions – so here I am.
I picked you to talk to, Dr. McDougall,
because you are known as a “no nonsense doctor,” who
speaks the truth regardless of the economic
consequences. In fact in the media business you are
considered politically incorrect, and occasionally
referred to as abrupt, and difficult, but always honest.
Well, thank you, I guess, for those words. So how’s
“life” in Heaven?
Not bad except the food’s terrible. Nothing but rice,
potatoes, beans, corn, fruits and vegetables.
Everything’s bland, but they say I’ll get used to it.
When I was alive I loved to
eat. As a
child I ate hearty: the butcher, I recall, had a display
case that perfectly evoked Buffalo's (New York) version
of multiculturalism and good health, full of pork neck
bone, smoked pork neck bone, jellied tongue, Polish
bacon, slab bacon, double smoked hunter bacon,
German-style wieners, Italian sausage, pork roll
sausage, hot or mild beef sausage, barley sausage, beer
sausage, double smoked hunter bacon . . . chopped ham,
smoked hocks, turkey gizzards, smoked turkey parts,
chicken feet, chicken liver, chicken fat, fresh ox
tails, and ribs of every
type. Boy did I like to eat at those tailgates.
I used to fly in wings, Buffalo wings, from Frank and
Teresa’s in Buffalo because people in Boston couldn’t do
I miss my diet coke and licorice, “the
breakfast of champions.” It was my secret for staying up
all night and
And you say no one has figured out why you died of a
heart attack? One look in the mirror should have given
you a clue there was something wrong with your diet and
you were at risk. For centuries feasting like a king and
a queen has caused people to become rotund and sick—why
would you be any different?
My doctors did mention I should eat better, but they
never were specific about what to eat. Mostly, they
focused on overworking myself. Even if I ate better,
don’t you think all that stress I was under would have
Stress is largely used as a scapegoat. It is
non-tangible—so obscure that no one has the ability to
change it, so it can be easily dismissed. Besides, you
loved every minute of your challenging job. Take that
excitement away from you and your life would have not
been worth living. Stress, in itself, is not a toxin to
the body. It is a normal natural part of life. It is a
motivator to cause us to get things done and problems
resolved. The major way that stress hurt you was by
causing you to eat more fried chicken wings.
Consider that in times of unthinkable
mental and emotional strain; like during the occupation
of Western Europe by the Germans throughout World War
II, people became healthier—heart disease and overweight
(two of your most notable problems)—essentially
disappeared. People during these war years were being
incarcerated, killed, and displaced from their homes and
families, yet at the same time common diseases were
vanishing. The reason for all this improved health was
the forced change in their foods—the butter, cheese, and
meat were no longer readily available during the war
years in Western Europe. People had to eat vegetables.
I had no chest pains, no previous symptoms of heart
trouble. I thought I was healthy. How could such a
catastrophe happen so suddenly to me without any
A tiny plaque ruptured in an artery, your left anterior
That is the one that
supplied the front of your heart. Think of this plaque
as a “festering sore,” or as an inflamed “pimple” filled
with fat, cholesterol, and white blood cells. When a
plaque ruptures, “products of injury” are released. The
response to injury that follows causes the blood flowing
inside the artery to suddenly clot—just like when you
cut your finger, a clot forms around that injury. In
your case the blood clot completely plugged your artery
lumen, the blockage suffocating the heart muscle it had
once supplied. As the muscle died your heart became an
ineffective pump and you died. According to your
autopsy report, your entire blood vessel system was in
serious trouble—filled with atherosclerosis containing
probably thousands of tiny volatile plaques. You were a
walking time bomb.
Pharmaceutical companies, like the makers
of the blood-thinning drug Plavix, have produced
for the consumer that show this plaque rupture and clot
formation. Youtube also has a shocking animation
of this event.
Knowing about volatile plaque rupture and
clot formation is essential to understanding how your
diet caused your death, why the drugs did not save you,
and why more aggressive treatment with heart surgery
would have been unwise and unhelpful. So take some time
to look at these animations.
The reason you had no warning was because
there are no pain-sensing nerves in the arteries—thus,
there was no feeling from the festering sores invading
these tissues. This is a completely silent disease.
However, the heart muscle has nerves and when it is
injured the pain is often described as an elephant
sitting on your chest. I hope you didn’t feel that kind
of pain in your final minutes.
I ate a well-balanced diet. I ate no worse than a lot of
people. I don’t understand. Why me?
You ate the American diet, and these days most Americans
over the age of thirty have outward signs of
illness—they are overweight, on medication, and/or have
elevated risk factors for future illness.
Why you? You were not singled out—1.2
million other Americans also have heart attacks
annually, and half of them, like you, never realized
they had a problem beforehand. Furthermore, half of
heart attack victims die within a few hours—this is not
a forgiving disease. Based on what you told me, it
appears you ate meat, and other rich foods, with
Your sick arteries were caused by
malnutrition. A deficiency of proper nutrients from
plants weakened your arteries. Your diet was almost
devoid of vegetables and fruits. At the same time, toxic
substances, like oxidized cholesterol and saturated fat,
from all the animal foods you ate damaged your
arteries. Think of pouring corrosive acid on your inner
artery surfaces at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The
result: thousands of volatile plaques, as small as the
size of a pinhead; yet the explosion of just one of them
took down a giant of a man like you, Mr. Russert.
But my doctors said I was a medical success: my blood
pressure and cholesterol were well controlled for more
than 20 years with medication. My last blood pressure
was normal at 120/80 mmHg. My total and “bad” LDL
cholesterol and C-reactive protein were all normal. I
was near perfect—on paper!
People (even doctors) falsely believe that the elevated
blood pressure and cholesterol are damaging the arteries
and the total solution is to knock these numbers down
with drugs. In plain-spoken truth, these elevated
numbers are not the problem. No one dies of high blood
pressure or cholesterol. These were “signs” pointing to
the real problem—your rotten arteries filled with
festering sores. But no one was paying enough attention
to your underlying disease, as was so clearly
demonstrated by your fatal outcome, Mr. Russert.
Millions of “well-treated” Americans suffer a fate
similar to yours, and we accept this as “the best
medicine can offer.”
Doctors and drug companies treat signs of
disease, the blood pressure and cholesterol numbers,
also known as risk factors, with highly profitable
medications, because they can – they do sell
expensive pills that reduce these signs. They do not
treat the underlying sickness, because they can’t
– the only way to fix those rotten arteries is by
correcting the malnutrition with a diet based on whole
starches, vegetables, and fruits.
Many doctors now say, after I’m dead, that I should have
been treated more aggressively, like with heart surgery?
But I had a negative stress test April 29, one and a
half months before I died.
treatment” seems to be the answer given for every
medical problem; even when those very same treatments
kill the patient. The families feel: “The doctors did
everything possible – my loved one got every surgery and
pill they could possibly prescribe.” The doctors talk of
“sound medical care.”
Medical experts who have suggested that
you should have had an angiogram followed by
angioplasty, and/or bypass surgery before you died are
ignoring the dismal scientific records for these
treatments. Angioplasty has never been shown to save
lives and the benefits from bypass surgery are only
slightly better, maybe. The reason for this failure is
obvious to you now that you understand the underlying
cause of your heart attack – the tiny volatile plaques –
the festering pustules – the pimples on the verge of
popping. These killers are so small you cannot even see
them with an angiogram, much less eliminate their threat
with a localized surgery.
The angiograms show shadows of large
bulges inside the arteries. These are the old, large,
fibrous, calcified plaques—disease that is as stable as
a rock. These bulges do not rupture, they do not cause a
blood clot to suddenly form inside the artery, and they
do not cause a heart attack. They are non-lethal. But
because of their visible prominence they do lend
themselves to surgery. So why do cardiologists and
surgeons operate on this stable disease? Because they
can. Why do they not fix the pinhead-size killing
pustules? Because they can’t. At least they
can’t with drugs and surgery. But they could, if
they seriously considered their patients’ diets.
A stress test will only detect very large
blockages—maybe after a hard, fibrous plaque narrows 70%
of the artery. Based on your recent negative results,
you had none of these big ones. Now you understand—this
test is too insensitive to identify the tiny potentially
lethal pustules lining your arteries. The stress test
provided you and your family with false reassurance. I
hope you didn’t have a celebration feast after hearing
I exercised 40 minutes a day on my stationary bike. Why
didn’t that save me?
Exercise does not heal the inner-artery festering sores
caused by your meat-centered diet. Exercise can aid in
developing a trim muscular appearance and has some
health benefits, but it has been over-rated when it
comes to warding off premature death. People have said
exercise is such a powerful preventative that if you ran
a marathon race you would be immune from heart disease.
Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of
the person credited with helping start America's fitness
revolution died at age 52 from a heart attack after his
daily run. Cemeteries are filled with young men and
women who put too much faith in exercise—ignoring the
prevailing role of food.
Could I have been saved?
I believe so. Even as late as a week before you died,
you could have avoided this tragedy if you had made a
serious change in your diet. Within hours your volatile
plaques would have begun to quiet down, reducing their
tendency to rupture. As soon as you had eliminated the
animal (saturated) fat from your diet your blood would
have “thinned.” Then, even if a plaque had ruptured, the
risk of forming an occluding clot would have greatly
diminished. Saturated fat makes the blood platelets
sticky and the blood-clotting proteins very active—all
leading to the easy production of a deadly blood clot.
Over the following weeks and months of healthful eating
your diseased arteries would have healed, with some
measurable reversal of the gross plaque. With the same
diet you would have lost weight, and lowered your risk
factors. Likely, I would have recommended you stop your
blood pressure medication immediately; and overtime,
reduce and eliminate your cholesterol-lowering statin.
With this simple change you would have
regained your lost health and appearance. But the
determining factor was not whether a healthy diet would
have saved your life over the short and long run. The
question is: even if you had known better, would you
I would have eaten cardboard to be alive and with my
wife and son. I looked forward to every Sunday to my show
“Meet the Press,” and the upcoming presidential
election. I loved life!
That’s what everybody says—after an event.
But change is difficult and we have a
natural tendency to feel invincible. Sometimes a
life-threatening event will wake people up.
Unfortunately, you were not given a second chance. If
instead, you had suffered a non-fatal heart attack on
Friday, June 13, I believe, as one of the world’s top
investigative journalists, you would have tracked down
What amazes me is that over the past two
weeks none of your colleagues have asked the tough
questions and demanded truthful and plain-spoken
explanations from doctors and scientists. The published
scientific research is clear about the cause of your
death. Your best friend, Tom Brokaw, could solve this
crime in an afternoon by reading this research at the
local medical library.
But then the hard part would be writing
an unpopular story about how the food everybody loves to
eat is killing them, and how the quick-fix medications
and surgeries don’t really work that well. I’m certain
the food and pharmaceutical sponsors of newspapers,
magazines, and evening news programs would not be
pleased with these truths either.
still have any influence on current events on earth,
please get the media to do their job and seriously
investigate the diet that killed you, and how modern
medicine failed you, so that others can have a chance to
avoid a similar fate. If any good could come of your
untimely death, it would be that people learn the
truth—after all, isn’t that the duty of responsible
journalists, like yourself?