Bill Clinton – a role model for the world

This column is written by Stig Bengmark – Professor Emeritus, scientist, lecturer and writer. Read more of Stig Bengmark’s columns here.

I don’t know if you knew that the ex-president of the United States, Bill Clinton, was gravely ill? Previously, President Clinton loved to eat all kinds of junk food and was a regular at McDonalds. Sometimes he would stop his ten-car procession of security guards in front of a McDonald’s to get his burgers and french fries for the day. The negative effects didn’t go away, he began having serious cardiac problems early on, with severely damaged coronary arteries and he had to undergo extensive heart surgery. Shortly afterwards, he received an email from the world-famous cardiologist Dean Ornish, who explained that President Clinton had no choice but to join his health program wholeheartedly. Bill Clinton did this, at first half-heartedly, but since 2011 he has been completely onboard. And today he lives the life of a true fundamentalist.

Radical lifestyle changes can inhibit cardiovascular disease

The cardiologist, Dean Ornish, shocked the world in 1990 when, at the age of 37, he published a study in the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, that clearly showed that atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease can be reversed. For centuries, myocardial infarction had been considered an immediate or eventual death sentence, so this was very controversial research at the time. We now know, however, that most chronic diseases, sometimes even cancers or neurological diseases such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, can be reversed through radical lifestyle changes.


Dr. Ornish studied patients with moderate to severe cardiovascular disease and divided them into two groups: one group that was allowed to eat as usual, and another group that was recommended a daily routine with, among other things, moderate exercise and a vegetarian diet with low fat content. At the time of a coronary angiography five years later, atherosclerosis had increased by an additional 28% in the first group, while it had decreased by an average of 8% in the treated group. The number of heart incidents requiring hospitalisation during these years was also far fewer in the treated group. Unfortunately, it turned out that many in the treated group were not sufficiently dedicated and actually cheated. Among those who followed the rules the least, the coronary arteries had increased their width by an average of only a few millimetres, while the increase among the most dedicated was upwards of one centimetre. So, if you want to get the full effect of an organic treatment, you have to be more or less a fundamentalist.

Dr Ornish’s health program has four parts:

  • Diet: Low, ideally zero, proportion of food from animals (meat and dairy products), low intake of industrially processed carbohydrates (sugar and ‘sugar-like’ ingredients such as cooked root vegetables, grains, bread, cooked rice, pizza and pasta). Large intake of (preferably raw) vegetables, peas, nuts, avocados, and fish and chicken in moderate amounts.
  • Stress control: Meditation, yoga, relaxation, breathing practices, and stretching.
  • Exercise: At least 20 minutes of strenuous physical activity such as aerobics, exercise, intensive cycling and power-walking. It’s mainly the heart and lungs that are getting exercise – your pulse rate needs to go up properly and you need to get a bit short of breath and sweaty.
  • A rich social life and a support group: Practice empathy and communicative skills. Also practice understanding, forgiving, reconciliation, altruism, and love for everyone. Spend a lot of time with your family and friends, and with groups, clubs, church groups, etc. A social community is so important!

In addition to Dean Ornish, the breast cancer surgeon Caldwell Blakeman Esselstyn Jr. is also included, as well as surgeon Mehmet Oz (known from the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Oz Show) in Clinton’s team, and it’s no coincidence that two of the three are originally surgeons, just like me. We surgeons know that surgery is much worse for people who haven’t been careful about their lifestyle or getting adequate nutrition in connection with a surgery. ‘Smoking with the stomach’ is at least as dangerous as smoking cigarettes and alcohol abuse combined.

Vitamin K2 can inhibit atherosclerosis

Regarding atherosclerosis, it’s known that for every percentage by which you can reduce the bad cholesterol in the body, the chances of a long and healthy life increase threefold. It would be good to know which ingredient is the most important of all and one likely candidate is vitamin K2.

The EU supports foods that make us sick

Bill Clinton has become the weapon the world needs in the fight against morbid obesity and chronic diseases. He’s become a role model for the whole world – whichever country he comes to, the hosts and the guests eat the same vegan food. In an interview with CNN, Clinton explained that he loves his new role as a role model as much as his vegan lifestyle, and that ha had no worries about giving up meat, eggs, or dairy products and sharply reducing his oil and fat intake. Clinton, who has now lost upwards of 20 kg in weight, explains that he really enjoys the vegetables, fruits, beans and other things he eats every day, and adds: ‘I feel good and have way more energy’.

But we still have a long way to go. Medicines are still the fastest growing expense in most healthcare budgets, and in many countries today they account for a fifth of the country’s total healthcare expenses. In addition, the use of medicines in the United States, for example, is the third most common cause of death – only cardiovascular disease and cancer are higher. Unfortunately, neither politicians nor the industry show any great interest in prioritising preventive care over traditional medicine-based care. Rather, they ‘support’ increased morbidity by using EU and national subsidies to support the production of foods that we eat far too much of – something that costs countries many times more than what they paid in subsidies to fix the problem.

Another problem is that the majority of US residents no longer want to pay for the care of people who abuse their health, end up overweight, and contract one chronic disease after another. They simply think it’s the individual’s duty to take care of their own health or to face the consequences of abusing their health. Today, 20% of the entire country’s income goes to health care, and by 2020, it’s estimated that half of an average family’s income after tax (just over 46,000 dollars before tax) will go towards healthcare and nursing.

‘You won’t win any elections by rooting around in what people have in their refrigerators’

Even in Sweden, we have huge inequality in health. The figures are startling – life expectancy is almost ten years shorter and morbidity is about 60% higher for low-income earners and the low-educated (this also applies to their children). This is ‘old news’ – studies on identical twins, for example, have long shown that differences exist between twins if one has little education and the other is highly educated, and that lifestyle and, above all, eating habits are more important than genetic preconditions. I’ve reminded a lot of ministers about this in the last twenty years, but the response has been lukewarm. One answered: ‘You won’t win any elections by rooting around in what people have in their refrigerators’. Another minister said: ‘Health isn’t a political issue’.

More from Prof. Bengmark