Tim Russert Revisited

A Heart Scan Blog reader brought this piece by Dr. MacDougall to my attention.

Dr. MacDougall created a fictitious posthumous conversation between himself and the late Tim Russert. MacDougall paints a picture of a hardworking, hard-living man who adhered to an overindulgent lifestyle of excessive eating. He concludes that a vegetarian, low-fat diet would have saved his life.

Beyond being disrespectful, I would differ with Dr. MacDougall’s assessment. In fact, I’ve heard an interview with Mr. Russert’s primary care physician in which the doctor claimed that Mr. Russert had been counseled on the need for a low-fat diet and, in fact, adhered to it quite seriously. Far from being an overindulgent, overeating gourmand, he followed the dictates of conventional dietary wisdom according to the American Heart Association. The low-fat diet articulated by Dr. MacDougall is simply a little more strict than that followed by Mr. Russert.

What exactly could Mr. Russert have done to prolong his life? Several basic strategies:

--Added fish oil. This simple strategy alone would have reduced the likelihood of dying suddenly by almost half.

--Eliminated wheat and cornstarch—Mr. Russert developed diabetes in the last few years of his life. By definition, diabetes is an inability to handle sugars and sugar-equivalents. Wheat and cornstarch yield immediate and substantial surges in blood sugar greater than table sugar; elimination causes weight to plummet, blood sugar to drop, and diabetes (at least in its early phases) can be eliminated in many people, particularly those beginning with substantial excess weight.

Just those two strategies alone would more than likely have avoided the tragic death that brought Mr. Russert’s wonderful life and career to an abrupt end.

Of course, he could have even taken his heart health program even further, as we do in the Track Your Plaque program. While the conversation has focused on how to avoid tragic events like sudden cardiac death, why not take it a step farther and ask, "How can coronary plaque be measured, tracked, and reversed?"

In that vein, Mr. Rusert could have restored vitamin D to normal levels; identified all hidden sources of heart disease using lipoprotein testing (though he had small LDL without a doubt, given his generous waist size, HDL of 36 mg/dl and high triglycerides); considered niacin. Simple, yet literally lifesaving efforts, that make reversal much more likely.

Those simple steps, in fact, would have tipped the scales heavily in Mr. Russert’s favor, making a heart attack and/or sudden death from heart disease exceptionally unlikely.

Comments (7) -

  • Anna

    11/16/2008 3:32:00 PM |

    Yes, I saw the McDougall post, too, and I also thought his fictitious  conversation was in very poor taste, not to mention very misleading and unhelpful in terms of what people could learn about avoiding a similar fate.

    It's not that we can't review and learn from what happened (and didn't happen) in Mr. Russert's case, but it's important to be factual and make sure it will actually teach something useful, not to mention not cross the line of good taste.

    Dr. Davis, I think there is a mile of difference in the way you refer to Mr Russert's untimely passing, with thoughtful commentary on what we can learn from this prominent example.  

    But Dr. McDougall's "posthumous interview" post, on the other hand, is nothing more than tacky self-promotion and yet more misleading vegetarian propaganda.

  • Jim

    11/17/2008 5:36:00 PM |

    I found a great book about Tim Russert at Walgreens.  It has stories from the people that knew him.  It sounds like he liked his beer.  I wonder if beer helped or hurt his condition.  Anyway, there is sample chapter of the book at:

  • Jim

    11/17/2008 5:43:00 PM |

    I found a great book that very few people probably know about.  The book is called "Tim Russert: We Heartily Knew Ye" and it contains stories from people that knew Tim. The book is only sold in Walgreens and they even have a sample chapter on the web at:
    Tim seemed to like beer a lot.  I wonder if it helped or hurt his condition?

  • Anonymous

    11/18/2008 3:58:00 AM |

    McDougall did something similar with Bill Clinton regarding his bypass surgery. Link:


    I was a McDougall follower for years.  Now I have virtually no respect for the guy.  I was probably the fatest vegan you've ever met.  Could not get below 190 pounds, was hungry all the time, skin was dry and cracked,  hair was like a Brillo pad, and blood sugar was rising.

    He has nothing to offer a diabetic or anyone with metabolic syndrome.   I think initially people see change on his diet, but long term I didn't seem to benefit.

  • Anonymous

    11/18/2008 5:24:00 AM |

    Russert also had the bulging eyes and thinning eyebrows of the untreated low-thyroid sufferer.

    But the McDougall post on Russert was beyond the pale.

  • Dr. S

    11/18/2008 4:09:00 PM |

    Same old!  Russert, I am sure, did NOT eat a low fat/high carb diet.  Low fat means for sure, less than 15% and more like 10% calories from fat and near 80% from carbs.  Most research and studies etc call 25% or even 35% low fat!  That is HIGH fat AND high carb which is definitely a deadly combo, just a more toxic version of SAD because undoubtedly, in trying (and failing) to go low fat, he was eating lots of manufactured, fake, food like substances that were loaded w/ transfats and chemical preservatives, dyes (note the inadvertent homonym pun), etc.  He died of misplaced, good intentions that were aborted by faulty education and industry PR, but definitely not a low fat diet!

  • Sue

    11/21/2008 3:53:00 AM |

    The bulging eyes are a sign in hyperthyroidism - over-active thyroid.

The nutrition counterculture

The nutrition counterculture

When we look back over our American nutritional history over the last 50 years, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that much of the innovation in nutrition did not come from official agencies like the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the FDA, the USDA, or the AMA.

Instead, it came from the popular culture. It came from bold, extravagant claims made by maverick figures like Ancel Keys, Nathan Pritikin, Dean Ornish, and Robert Atkins. Of course, some ideas have now fallen by the wayside, dismissed in a broad American "experiment" as ineffective, impractical, or kooky. But it permitted experimentation on an extraordinary scale with millions of people following a particular strategy at a time.

The advice of the official agencies tended to be reactionary. When nutritional deficiencies (remember those?) of the early 1900s were prevalent, they issued advice on food choices to help alleviate deficiencies. When deficiency transformed into excess after World War II, "smart" food choices from food groups and "sensible eating" became the theme.

Unfortunately, the advice was always adulterated by the enormous influence of various special interests, anxious to protect their national franchise. Powerful groups like the meat industry, wheat producers, and the dairy industry all made sure they had a big hand in crafting and influencing what was told to the American people.

The result: the advice offered by official groups has always represented the compromise of what some agency wished to convey to the people and the very powerful input of industry. What if the government decided to advise us what automobile to buy? Imagine the uproar in the auto industry when Washington tells us to buy Toyota for fuel economy and reliability. How long would that advice last?

That's why almost no knowledgeable adult follows the advice of the USDA, the National Academy of Sciences, or the Food Pyramid. I believe that we all intuitively recognize that the advice is watered-down, sometimes silly, sometimes downright unhealthy.

Nonetheless, the national experiment in diet that has taken place since 1950 has led to a collective wisdom of what is good and what is bad. The most productive conversations on nutrition therefore take place outside of the USDA and Washington. It occurs, instead, in places like bookstores, websites, and the media. Of course, there's lots of misinformation and profiteering in these sectors, as well. But like the enormous force unleashed by the collective wisdom of those contributing to the Wikipedia phemonenon, we've zig-zagged to something closer to the truth than ever uttered by an official agency.

Comments (2) -

  • JT

    6/25/2007 2:18:00 AM |

    Nice post.  The New York Times writer Thomas Friedman said it well I thought when he titled his last book, The World is Flat.  With easier access to information - in particular due to the internet - knowledge is no longer held by just a few.  New ideas to solving problems can be distributed like never before - and I am thankful for that as it has allowed me to discover your book and ideas.      

    While this post isn't so much about nutrition maverick figures, thought to mention one figure that was left out, Dr. Barry Sears and his many best selling books titled The Zone.    
    Dr Davis, since you are an author too, thought you might enjoy this somewhat fortunate and humorous story on how Dr. Sears became an author.  

    My family and I knew Dr. Sears several years before he became a best seller author.  Originally Barry and his brother Doug were small businessmen selling health food products.  In particular Barry was known for helping begin the borage and primrose oil business.  Later I remember the two Sears brothers sold nutrition bars that were low in sugar and high in chromium for weight loss.  He would send my parents big boxes of the bars and they just loved them.    

    Barry though never was much of a businessman.  His heart seemed to be into science and research and not running a company.  

    One day the poor business practices caught up with the Sears.  They were not paying their bills and so companies stopped selling them product.  With out options left Barry wrote the book he always wanted to write, The Zone.  He did not believe his book would sell though - and if it did only a few thousand would be sold locally.  When he found a group to promote the book he asked that his 1-800 # be added to the book so that if a reader had questions he/she could call him personally.      

    Well, the rest is history.  The Zone went on to become a New York Times best seller.  And as Doug Sears told us  - when the book came out they were flat broke, were not able to pay the phone bill  - and the 1-800 phone line would not stop ringing from customers who had read the book. It took awhile before royalties came in.  For awhile the two thought they would have to declare bankruptcy even though they had the best selling book in America and were on the brink of becoming international nutrition celebrities.

  • Dr. Davis

    6/25/2007 12:35:00 PM |

    Wow! Great personal insights.

    I agree. Barry Sears has made a significant contribution to the national conversation on healthy eating. Even though a few years old now, many of the things he said still hold true and remain relevant.