In the 1970s, Nathan Pritikin, an inventor with a passion for nutrition and fitness, began testing his then-revolutionary theory that heart disease could be treated with lifestyle changes. In leading media, including 60 Minutes, he was among the first worldwide to assert that diet and exercise, not drugs and surgery, should be the first line of defense against cardiovascular disease.
On a sunny day in April 1984, a thin, wiry man, no more than five feet, eight inches tall, with wavy black hair and a tight, serious face, hurried to the podium at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical School and prepared to speak. His audience, composed of nearly 400 doctors, scientists, and other health professionals from all over the nation,
Nathan Pritikin – Decades Ahead Of His Time
shifted about, many of them still amazed that the prestigious Mount Sinai would deign to co-sponsor a medical conference with the man they were about to hear. He was, after all, a layman. More importantly, he was the creator of a health program that treated serious and life-threatening illnesses, not with conventional methods, but with a diet and exercise regimen that had been credited with literally thousands of “miracle” cures. It was the same program he had used to successfully treat his own heart disease.
For much of the past decade, he had carried on a very public battle with the leading government and private health agencies, as well as with the American Medical Association, in an effort to change the way serious diseases were treated. Between 1976 and 1984, he had developed a large and influential following that included a growing number of medical doctors and scientists. As his influence grew he became as controversial as the message he tried to spread: that diet was both the cause and the cure for many of the most widespread diseases of modern times. The vast majority of physicians and scientists were still not ready to accept that premise, despite the ever-increasing scientific evidence that supported it. Indeed, many of the doctors and scientists present in this room had long regarded him as an enemy of establishment medicine.
And yet, here he was in the Stern Auditorium at Mount Sinai, looking at his audience with that familiar expression of impassive, unshakable confidence, focused only on his message, which had carried him through a gauntlet of criticisms and personal attacks to his current status as the leader of the diet and health revolution.
For Nathan Pritikin, it had been a long and remarkable journey.
Pritikin: The Man Who Healed America’s Heart
By Tom Monte, Ilene Pritikin