Steven R. Gundry
Medical Director and Founder of The International Heart and Lung Institute, Palm Springs, CA
When you walk into the Palm Springs desert office of Dr. Steven R. Gundry, you will find yourself surrounded by hearts – crystal hearts, heart sculptures, heart vases, even a heart clock. While this is not surprising given that he is one of the top heart surgeons and heart researchers in the world, and the inventor of several life-saving heart devices that bear his name – including the “Gundry Retrograde Cardioplegia Cannula” – the decorative touches reveal another quality about the man. The “heart” of the matter is Dr. Gundry’s insatiable curiosity and compassion for his fellow man. They have led him down a path of discovery that has literally ushered him back to the dawn of civilization. His belief in a fundamental theory about the way our brain computes and perceives our eating habits has resulted in his outlining a foolproof system of eating that not only guarantees weight loss, it can reverse and or eradicate serious diseases such as high blood pressure and, in some cases, even cancer. He calls it Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution.
The crux of Dr. Gundry’s method stems from his research that started years ago at Yale University - that our mind and body are locked into an eons-old “computer program” that is very fundamental, logical and, ultimately, easy to control. “Humans are members of the great ape family,” he explains, “and great apes are distinguished by having a universal shoulder joint. This allowed us access to hanging fruit that other animals could not get. These fruits appeared in summer and when we found them, we feasted upon them. The sugars in those fruits were converted into fat in our bodies that allowed us to survive winters when food was scarce. Today when we eat fruit year-round, drink sugary beverages and/or consume “wholesome” grain products, - all high sugar foods - they send a long-ago programmed signal to our brain that it’s summer, we’ve hit the jackpot of a fruit tree and we would be crazy not to eat. The obesity epidemic today is a direct result of people eating the wrong foods as if they are in perpetual summer… accumulating fat for a winter that never comes.”
It is to Dr. Gundry’s credit that the very things he teaches his patients to eat and the supplements he recommends they take today are all things that he has done himself – literally experimenting on himself first. “I had very high bad cholesterol and very low good cholesterol,” he confesses, “the same profile as my dad. I was taught this was a matter of genetics and that there was nothing I could do about it. I was running 30 miles a week, going to the gym an hour a day, drinking 8 Diet Cokes and eating a ‘low fat diet’ of mostly grains and fruit. I had two wardrobes – size large and size extra large. I had it all wrong.”
It was when he was a Professor and Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Loma Linda University that Dr. Gundry began to see the light. He met a gentleman named “Big Ed” who had miraculously cleaned out most of the blockages in his coronary arteries by using supplements and adopting a unique diet. “As a researcher at heart,” Dr. Gundry continues, “I learned long ago that in order to ‘see’ you have to have your eyes open. What I saw were two angiograms taken 6 months apart – one with clogged arteries and one that was clean - and I could not explain them away. So I started experimenting on myself.” In the process, Dr. Gundry uncovered the hidden importance of triglycerides (the fat we make from sugars and starch) and how unprecedented improvement in cholesterol levels could be obtained by lowering these triglycerides through healthier “dark green-leaning” eating. The results were astounding. The good doctor lost 70 pounds without being hungry!
“I put myself on a diet designed to get genetic material from plants into my system,” Gundry explains. “The eye opener was that primitive hunter gatherers used to encounter over 250 plant species a year as part of their diet. All the animals that they ate consumed the same plants. As we have been told all our lives, ‘You are what you eat,’ but the corollary is that we are also what the animal we’re eating ate! There’s a huge difference in regard to what has transpired over the last 50 years.”
Gundry goes on to cite the introduction of refined flour in our diets, and the heavy reliance on corn and grain products in the processed foods we eat – all of which are out of proportion in calories to our daily needs. To the skeptic, he merely points to the fact that you cannot fatten a cow or chicken without force-feeding them “healthy whole grains.” In this country we produce over 950 additional grain calories for every human being above and beyond our needs every day. Yet billion dollar medical, pharmaceutical and food industries have been built around luring people into unhealthy eating habits. It has been proven in culture after culture around the globe that when these seemingly “healthy” food products are introduced to a population, within 20 years, diseases these cultures were never exposed to before spring up like the plague: heart disease, liver and kidney dysfunction, arthritis, asthma, hypertension, cancer, and on and on. Remarkably, the only time period that these diseases plummeted was the five years during World War II when America was rationing flour and sugar. So the case study has already been done…only too few know it.
“It’s all interrelated,” Dr. Gundry insists, “ and it can all be controlled by learning to work with and manipulate our internal computer program. The results are so interesting that my current focus is to see how this can be used to turn back Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The more I study this simple genetic computer program each of us possesses, the more fascinated I become with how utterly efficient it is.”
Steven Gundry was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska to a Valedictorian mother and a people-loving father who was, in turn, a sales industry champion. “He loves people more than anybody I know,” Gundry shares, “and never missed a chance to learn something about a human being.” Gundry’s path toward biological knowledge started at age 10 with a library book titled “All About You.” Soon after, his fourth grade science project was “how to do an appendectomy” – complete with illustrations. He gained Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts at13. By high school he was two-time state debate champion and Salutatorian, but the medical world was making a firmer tug.
“My father had a good high school friend that became a surgeon,” Gundry says. “He would go into outlying areas of Omaha for emergencies. Sometimes he would take me out with him as a high school student, tell people I was a Medical Student, and let me operate with him. My big break came when my family moved to Atlanta at the start of my college years. I had a summer job all set up as an orderly in an X-ray department, but when I showed up, they told me the person that hired me wasn’t there any longer so I didn’t have a job. So I went down to Grady Hospital in the inner city and told them I was a pre med student looking for work. The kind lady told me it was my lucky day. They had a program where med students could be scrub techs during the summer. One student had just dropped out. Though they never had a non medical student do the program, me being pre-med was close enough, I guess.”
For his four years of college and three years as a medical student, Gundry was a surgical tech at this major trauma hospital in downtown Atlanta, primarily working the night shift. “Residents and interns worked 36 hours,” Dr. Gundry explains, “then were off for 12. The surgical techs got so good we knew we could potentially do the surgeries. By the time I got to medical school, I was better trained than most surgeons. My professors would ask for me to come in to help them in the OR because I was better at assisting them than the residents!”
Other passions of Gundry’s began to influence his direction in medicine. “I had a great interest in art, design and architecture,” he continues. “At the some time, I was fascinated by congenital heart disease within children because you get to rebuild things. You start with something malformed then put it back together in a way that makes it work. I was befriended by the chairman of Pediatric Cardiology and started following him around. Eventually I asked him, ‘Aren’t you frustrated that you can find all this stuff wrong but you can’t fix it?’ He said ‘No, for me the excitement is figuring out what’s wrong.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s where we’re going to part ways. I want to fix things.’”
Gundry’s inclination for restoration was called upon early in his medical career. While studying in a prestigious training program at the University of Michigan, Gundry slipped and broke his right wrist while running to help a woman having an asthma attack. He was told he would never operate again! Unfazed, Gundry simply trained himself to operate with his left hand. “There was a program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) run by Dr. Andrew G Morrow,” Gundry says. “He took men and women out of General Surgery residency for two years, and trained them to be heart surgeons and to do heart surgery research. By my second year of residency, I had written more papers than any previous resident at Michigan. I’d done so much research at NIH that I convinced them to give me a research lab at the University of Michigan while I was still a resident. Every rotation I did, I would investigate something about that subject, whether or not it was what I eventually wanted to do. I just wanted to try everything.”
“Also while at NIH, I designed a catheter to keep the heart alive during surgery. My mentor at Michigan, Dr. Marvin Kirsh, said I’d wasted two years of research, but that if I used it to pump preservative fluids into the heart, he would give me a lab to study that. If he hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have invented all the things I did or become a thought leader on the subject.”
Dr. Gundry has gone on to be internationally recognized as an inventor, researcher and one of “America’s Top Doctors.” Dr. Gundry's accomplishments in areas like robotic assisted heart surgery, congenital heart surgery, heart transplantation, cardioplegia catheters, minimally invasive valve surgery, mechanical support devices for the failing heart and reanimation of "dead" hearts have contributed greatly to advancements in cardiac care. He’s been the Head of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Medical Director of Adult and Pediatric Cardiac Surgical ICU's, and Program Director of the Cardiothoracic Residency Program at Loma Linda University School of Medicine while continuing his numerous research projects. He is also a founding board member of the Society of Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery. Dr. Gundry has written more than 200 articles and books about cardiac surgery, and the nutritional reversal of heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension.
Today Dr. Gundry is the Director of The International Heart and Lung Institute in Palm Springs, California, and the Founder/Director of The Center for Restorative Medicine. But he is destined to be known by everyday people outside his field as the author of the life-changing book Dr. Gundry’s Diet Revolution: Turn Off the Genes That Are Killing You – and Your Waistline – and Drop the Weight for Good. Quite a mouthful, it is fast becoming the new Bible for smart eating…and its secrets extend far beyond what people believe is the obvious. Gundry queries, “Did you know that the three foods with the highest levels of inflammatory hormones are skinless chicken breast, turkey and farm raised salmon – all things we are told are good for us to eat. This is the kind of information I am combating with my smarter system of eating. Up to now, I haven’t advertised. My practice is strictly word of mouth. I’m a heart surgeon tinkering in broader areas so I have to keep myself intellectually honest.”
However, evidence of his excellence lies all around him. “A Palm Springs Pilates instructor told me he was able to take 4 inches off of his already impressive waist using my system. This is a guy who was already in outstanding physical shape who didn’t believe his body could get any tighter! Now all his trainers and participants use my book – they bake my cookies and pass them around class. There are 70 recipes in my book, by the way,” Gundry adds with pride. “My mother taught me how to cook.”
Reflecting on the specialty that brought him all this way, Dr. Gundry concludes, “Heart surgeons are like the fighter pilots of medicine – they pull in, make their strikes and get out. They don’t tend to feel much... If they thought about what they were doing - life and death every day – it could be very hard to deal with. Most of them take on a persona of cool. I was always told I would never be a good heart surgeon because I was too kind.”
“My feeling is that too many of us have forgotten what it really means to feel good. Now, my excitement comes from seeing the light bulb go off in someone’s eyes when they learn that they can control their own destiny by what they eat; that they can reverse and eliminate diseases! As I tell my patients, ‘It’s not the hand you’re dealt. It’s how you play your hand.’”
“If you are sick and tired of being ‘sick and tired,’” Dr. Gundry concludes, “Let me show you a better way.”