Nathan Pritikin – Mentor of Dr. med. John McDougall

Nathan Pritikin:

Dr. Greger and Nathan Pritikin – The Story of

Dr. Greger – How Not To Die – Lecture on Pritikin

Nathan Pritikin Speech 1978 — part one to six




8 Lecture Tapes on Nutrition from Nathan Prikin, American Inventor and Longevity Researcher

Nathan Pritikin: A Casual Conversation with Dr. McDougall

Nathan Pritikin believed that to battle heart disease or cancer, the first thing one had to do was take charge: start exercising and eating right. ……


He took the same attitude when he had an acute angina attack in 1957. Pritikin, who had previously researched the relationship between nutrition and heart disorders, went on a low-fat diet and aerobic exercise regimen. That cleared up his cardiac condition and convinced him that “the degenerative diseases are not diseases…they are environmental poisoning from the food we eat. Specifically, I refer to the toxic amounts of fat and cholesterol.” Pritikin advocated a menu limited mainly to fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Since 1976, when he opened his first center in Santa Barbara, 18,000 people have huffed and puffed through his puritanical program, while millions of others have absorbed his advice through such bestsellers as 1979’s The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise and 1983’s The Pritikin Promise, which has been made into a video.

The medical establishment was slow to credit Pritikin, who had no medical training or degree, and some doctors criticized his diet as being unnecessarily severe. But, says Dr. William Castelli, the director of the Framingham Study, which recently linked heart disease to high-cholesterol diets, “He was essentially barking up the right tree.” Many in medicine criticized Pritikin’s claim that his program could actually reverse heart ailments. Yet shortly before his death, Pritikin had developed a new machine that, in conjunction with his diet, would help clean the bloodstream of serum cholesterol. Doctors at Northwestern University will soon begin a yearlong series of tests with the device. “If he had completed his test with the machine, proving that heart disease is reversible with his diet, I think he probably would have been on his way to Stockholm,” says Dr. Monroe Rosenthal, a Pritikin endocrinologist. “It’s unheard of for a layman to receive a Nobel Prize in medicine, but I think he could have done it.”

The son of a Chicago sign salesman, Pritikin was already a millionaire before he tackled nutrition. Forced during the Depression to drop out of the University of Chicago, he became a free-lance inventor, developing a host of patents in physics, chemistry and electrical engineering for such giants as Bendix and Honeywell. “Nathan was a great researcher, a genius who was able to see clearly through mazes of information and come to conclusions that others overlooked,” says Rosenthal. Indeed, after the autopsy, Dr. Steven Inkeles of the Pritikin Center said the medical examiner was astounded at the superb condition of Pritikin’s heart. “He had the arteries,” says Inkeles, “of a preadolescent boy.” Even in death, Pritikin showed there is a better way to live.

Nathan Pritikin (August 29, 1915 – February 21, 1985) was an American inventor, nutritionist and longevity researcher.

Pritikin was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He attended the University of Chicago from 1933 to 1935, dropping out because of the Depression.[1] He became an inventor and a millionaire developing patents for companies such as Honeywell and Bendix[1] while living in Chicago and Santa Barbara, California.

After being diagnosed with heart disease in 1957, he began searching for a treatment. Based on studies indicating that people in primitive cultures with primarily vegetarian lifestyles had little history of heart disease,[2] he created a low-fat diet that was high in unrefined carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, along with a moderate aerobic exercise regime.[3][4] His dietary and exercise regime, the Pritikin Diet, was published in a book co-authored by Patrick M. McGrady. It has been called one of the „gold standards of American dieting success.“ [5]

He established the Pritikin Longevity Center in 1976 and served as its director. Now called the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa, it offers controlled diet, counseling in lifestyle change, and exercise in a resort/spa-type setting. Pritikin also served as chairman of the Pritikin Research Foundation.


  • The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise. Bantam. ISBN 978-0553271928 co-authored with Patrick M. McGrady (1979).
  • The Pritikin Permanent Weight Loss Manual. Bantam. ISBN 0553204947 (1981).
  • The Pritikin Promise: 28 Days to a Longer, Healthier Life. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671494476 (1983).
  • Diet for Runners: The High-Performance Diet that Gives You Supercharged Energy and Endurance ISBN 978-0671556235 (1985).



Nathan Pritikin, Founder

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,

Natural foods instead of artificial ones loaded up with fat, sugar, and salt. Free-range, grass-fed beef rather than feedlot beef, and served as a condiment, not the main course. Much of what Nathan Pritikin espoused in this 1982 PBS interview with Dr. John McDougall is what public health authorities now recommend today.

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

Today, no other diet-and-exercise program has been more highly praised by the scientific community. More than 100 studies in top medical journals have found that people who adopt the Pritikin Program achieve dramatic results in just a few weeks, with more benefits long-term. The World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have determined that the healthiest, most effective diet for fighting the obesity epidemic and building long-term health is a diet that closely mirrors the Pritikin Program.

“All I’m trying to do is wipe out heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.”

Starting in the 1970s, the statement above was Nathan Pritikin’s mission. He wasn’t always involved in medicine, however. As a young man in the 1940s and 1950s, his occupation was that of an inventor. He held over two dozen U.S. patents in fields as diverse as engineering, photography, and aeronautics. But since World War II, he had probed into the origins of heart disease. He had seen classified documents showing that European deaths from heart disease and diabetes had dropped dramatically during the war. How peculiar, he thought. He had always been taught that atherosclerosis-related conditions like heart disease were caused by stress. What could produce more stress than war, with its food rationing, fire bombings, and anarchy?

Intrigued, Nathan Pritikin started following the work of Dr. Lester Morrison in California, a cardiologist who in the early 1950s had placed 50 of his seriously ill heart attack patients on a diet mimicking the low-cholesterol, low-fat wartime food rationing diet that many Europeans survived on. Another 50 cardiac patients, also very ill, continued eating the typical American high-fat diet. The latter was the study’s control group.

By 1955, the cholesterol levels of the experimental low-fat, low-cholesterol group had dropped from an average of 312 to 220. The control group’s cholesterol levels had remained the same. Nearly 60% of the men in the experimental group were still alive compared to 24% of the control group. By 1960, all of the patients in the control group had died; 38% of the low-fat, low-cholesterol group were still alive.

Out of curiosity, Nathan Pritikin visited Dr. Morrison in 1956 and had his own cholesterol checked. It was over 300. But Nathan did not want to give up his three eggs every morning, his pint of ice cream after dinner, his butter, and his bowls of whipped cream. Not until, that is, Dr. Morrison gave him a stress electrocardiogram, which showed coronary insufficiency. A second cardiologist and second testing confirmed that Nathan’s arteries were indeed clogging up. He was diagnosed with substantial coronary heart disease. He was 42 years old.

A prestigious team of cardiologists gave him the standard prescription of the day: Stop all exercise, stop climbing stairs, take it easy, and take naps in the afternoon. Once again, Nathan asked questions. His readings of population studies had convinced him that dangerous arterial plaque would form at any cholesterol level over 160. If he could just get his cholesterol level down with dietary measures, he figured, he might have a chance of surviving.

Once again, he met resistance. UCLA Medical School cardiologists admonished him, saying, “You CAN’T control your cholesterol. Ridiculous!” So Nathan decided to make dietary changes on his own. He was frightened, but obstinate. By April 1958, he had become a vegetarian. He had also started running three to four miles daily. By May, his cholesterol had fallen to 162. By January 1960, his cholesterol had plummeted to 120, and a new electrocardiogram showed that his coronary insufficiency had disappeared. His test results: normal.

Emboldened by his new life – and the results of his diet and exercise program – Nathan Pritikin launched several research projects over the next 25 years that, study after study, validated the efficacy of his program. These studies on heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and nutrition, now numbering more than 100, have been published in key medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Archives of Internal Medicine, Diabetes Care, and Circulation.

Nathan Pritikin also wrote several books for the general public on nutrition, exercise, and health that were international bestsellers, including Live Longer Now, The Pritikin Program For Diet and Exercise, The Pritikin Weight Loss Manual, and Diet For Runners. To date, 10 books have been published on the Pritikin Program. The most recent are The Pritikin Edge: 10 Essential Ingredients For a Long and Delicious Life (paperback version released in 2010) and Understanding Common Diseases and the Value of the Pritikin Eating and Exercise Program (published in 2013).

In 1975, Nathan Pritikin opened the Pritikin Longevity Center® in California, a health resort and residential program of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle-change education. In 1977, the television news program 60 Minutes followed three men, all with severe heart disease, as they attended the one-month program at the Center. All three patients improved dramatically. Their angina (chest pain) disappeared. They eliminated virtually all their medications. Their cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressures fell into normal, risk-free ranges. And, much to their joy, they regained the energy, the vitality, that allowed them to resume the lives and occupations they loved.

One year later, in 1978, 60 Minutes revisited the three men and found that all three had continued to enjoy active, vigorous lives free of the symptoms of heart disease.

Nathan Pritikin Summary Talk – 1978

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

In 1984, just months before Nathan Pritikin died, the National Institutes of Health published the “Lipid Research Clinical Trial,” the definitive study confirming that lowering cholesterol reduces heart disease risk. Its publication was a great source of comfort to Nathan Pritikin. Now, he knew, his work would continue, and many more lives would be saved from cardiovascular-related diseases.

When Nathan died, the results of his autopsy were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and showed that Nathan Pritikin’s arteries were free of any signs of heart disease, and were as “soft and pliable” as a teenager’s. “In a man 69 years old,” wrote pathologist Jeffrey Hubbard, M.D., “the near absence of atherosclerosis and the complete absence of its effects are remarkable.”

Today, the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami, Florida, continues to operate as both a lifestyle-change education program and a research center – an internationally-acclaimed laboratory for investigative work into the relationship between lifestyle and disease prevention.

So strong is the science affirming the Pritikin Program that it is now covered by Medicare for people with heart disease. Called Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation, this Medicare-covered Pritikin Program is conducted at the Pritikin Longevity Center and is currently being established in hospital and cardiac rehab settings nationwide.

Nathan Pritikin – McDougall’s Most Important Mentor

There are only two people in my lifetime whose words of wisdom I always eagerly awaited* and one of them was Nathan Pritikin (1915 – 1985). During my final year of Internal Medicine Residency at the University of Hawaii in 1978 I was given a set of audiotape lectures. I felt a sense of relief as I listened and realized someone else had come to similar conclusions to those that I had reached during my time as a sugar plantation doctor on the Big Island of Hawaii between 1973 and 1976. As a young physician practicing general medicine, I witnessed first-generation Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans thriving on diets of rice and vegetables. I also saw their children and grandchildren abandon the traditional ways for meat and dairy products, and become fat and sick.

Mr. Pritikin and I first met in May of 1979. During his visit to the island of Oahu, Hawaii, I invited him to my humble tract home in Kailua for dinner. Mary served him and his wife Ilene a simple meal of whole-grain bread, pasta, red sauce, and confetti rice salad. Peach pie was our dessert. He said he liked the meal a lot. He autographed a copy of his new book, The Pritikin Program for Diet & Exercise for me.

On his next visit to Hawaii in October of 1982, we spent two days together. I was able to have him substitute for a scheduled speaker at the regular noontime doctor’s conference at Straub Clinic & Hospital. He was well received except for one rude physician. I thought this doctor might have felt threatened by a non-medically trained person trying to teach him about curing patients with food. The next morning I arranged for a special breakfast meeting in his honor with the medical staff and medical students at The Queens Medical Center. Only two doctors attended. One shoveled greasy bacon and eggs into his mouth. Neither seemed interested in this physically small man whose big idea was to wipe out heart disease.

That afternoon, I brought Mr. Pritikin to the Hawaii PBS TV station in Honolulu and made this remarkable recording. He has never been seen more relaxed and revealing.

Nathan Pritikin: A Casual Conversation with Dr. John McDougall, 1982

That evening we held a potluck dinner for Mr. Pritikin at the Kaneohe Yacht Club in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Over 225 people, many who were my patients, made McDougall-style meals for him to taste. He said he loved the food. After dinner we walked together to his car to say goodbye. Mary gave him approximately 100 of her recipes. At that time the food served at the Pritikin Center in Santa Monica, California had a reputation for being unimaginative and rather tasteless. He went on to use some of Mary’s recipes in his book, The Pritikin Promise (1983). An acknowledgement in this book was to Dr. and Mrs. John A. McDougall. To be honest it should have been to Mary only, for her recipe contribution. I believe that it was no coincidence that the food served at the Pritikin Center improved greatly afterwards. The last time I saw this giant in human nutrition was at his center in Santa Monica, California in 1983. My work stands solidly on his shoulders and I offer this account of our brief relationship, with my gratitude for the profound difference he made in my life.

I greatly regret his untimely death in 1985 at age 69. The world would have been a better place if he had survived another decade or two. For one, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution would have never become as big as it did in the 2000s. The world would have never heard of the most popular diets these days, the low-carb, Paleo Diets. His wisdom and strength would have stopped this “nutritional nonsense” before it ever got started. We would not be suffering the current US financial fiasco caused in large part by the worst healthcare crisis ever known. People in the United States would not be known, as they are today, for being less healthy, having more chronic disease and disability, and dying at a younger age than people living in other wealthy nations.” Maybe this remarkable man could even have delayed the earth’s inhabitants predicted demise due to climate change.

But, there is no time for remorse; the world is in dire need of a return to our traditional starch-based diets.

A Brief History of the Life of Nathan Pritikin

Born in Chicago in 1915, Nathan Pritikin was diagnosed with near-fatal coronary artery disease in his early forties. His highest cholesterol was reported to be 280 mg/dL. Research to save his own life led him to develop a low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-carbohydrate diet to treat epidemic Western illnesses. He was able to lower his own cholesterol to below 150 mg/dL and relieve all signs and symptoms of heart disease. His diet was very similar to the McDougall Diet except for the use of small amounts of skim milk products, lean beef, chicken, and fish (very small amounts). It was also lower in salt and his program emphasized strenuous exercise.

He spent his early life as an engineer and inventor, patenting chemical and electrical products for corporations like Bendix and Honeywell. He never had formal medical training. In 1958 he was diagnosed with a lymphoma (a blood cancer). His last few months of suffering, from this disease and the treatments, caused him to take his own life at age 69 in 1985.

During his career he published several national best-selling books and his team published over 100 scientific papers in some of the world’s most respected peer reviewed medical journals. He founded his longevity center in Santa Barbara in 1974, then moved it to the old Del Mar Hotel on the beach in Santa Monica in 1978. Thousands of people attending his live-in programs saw their heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity reverse, almost overnight. A variant of the original Pritikin Program is still operating in Florida.

After his death a thorough autopsy was performed and the results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. His heart was remarkably free of disease and the coronary arteries were completely open, proving one last time that he was right.

One of my favorite writings of Nathan Pritikin was the article High Carbohydrate Diets: Maligned and Misunderstood, published in the Winter 1976 issue of The Journal of Applied Nutrition.

See also: The Lost Lectures of Nathan Pritikin.

*The other person whose every word I hung onto was Henry Heimlich, MD, founder of the Heimlich maneuver. One of my greatest honors was that when he became ill, Dr. Heimlich came to my clinic for help.

The Lost Lectures from Nathan Pritikin

Listen to this series of audio lectures by Nathan Pritikin, Dr. McDougall’s most important mentor from the 1970s.

Download and play in your car. Share with friends. The information is more timely than ever.

These lectures changed my (Dr. McDougall’s) life. During my final year of Internal Medicine Residency at the University of Hawaii in 1978 I was given this set of audiotape lectures. I felt a sense of relief as I listened and realized someone else had come to similar conclusions to those that I had reached during my time as a sugar plantation doctor on the Big Island of Hawaii between 1973 and 1976. Unfortunately, this world-changing information has been lost until now.

Also see the February 2013 McDougall Newsletter for more on Mr. Pritikin and a landmark video interview by Dr. McDougall, and Nathan Pritikin: A Review of Medical Literature on Relationships of Various Degenerative Diseases to Diet and Activity

Eight-part audio series