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Why Bill Clinton Went Vegan (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post    
First Posted: 08/22/11 09:11 AM ET Updated: 10/22/11 06:12 AM ET

After years of struggling with heart disease, former President Bill Clinton has recently begun to follow an almost exclusively vegan diet.

People began buzzing about Clinton's mostly plant-based diet shortly after his daughter Chelsea's wedding in July last year. This week, after further revelations about his diet in an interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- he has only eaten one bite of meat, a piece of turkey during Thanksgiving, in the last year -- news outlets have been in overdrive about the benefits of veganism.

Veganism, a plant-based diet that cuts out all dairy products, meat and fish, was no more than a fringe trend a few years ago. However, as more and more people have begun to see its benefits and with an ever-increasing number of celebrities endorsing it, veganism is now being seen as a mainstream lifestyle choice that could drastically alter one's health.

Studies have shown that vegans maintain a healthy weight more easily than those on more traditional low-fat diets. Diabetics have better glucose control and lower cholesterol on a vegan diet.

There's reason to believe a plant-based diet can prevent serious diseases like cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Leading the research on the benefits of a plant-based diet is Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He also oversees The Huffington Post's Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Ornish met Clinton after his angioplasty last year and convinced him that radical lifestyle changes could profoundly alter the course of his health. "Moderate changes weren't enough for him to reverse or prevent heart disease," Dr. Ornish told ABC News. "In our studies we show that [a plant-based diet] could actually reverse the progression of heart disease. Within a month we found that the blood flow to your heart can improve."

Research has shown that despite an inheritance of genes with a predisposition to cardiovascular disease or cancer, lifestyle changes can alter the appearance of those genes.

A 2008 study found that such changes can increase telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres. Telomeres are the ends of our chromosomes that determine how long we live. In other words, following a vegan diet can actually alter our genes.

The former President's interest in a healthy lifestyle doesn't stop at his personal choices. The Clinton Foundation has teamed up with the American Heart Association to offer 12,000 schools better lunches and promote exercise.

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