This month we feature a book that shows the relationship between animal protein and diseases of nutritional extravagance.
The China Study:
the Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition
Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications
For Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health
By T. Colin Campbell with Thomas M. Campbell II
Benbella Books, 2005
If T. Colin Campbell were living 500 years ago, he might have been burned at the stake. He would have been denounced as a heretic who dared challenge the prevailing information. Although this is the 21st Century, there are still individuals and groups who relish the thought of burning him at the stake for his views on proper human nutrition.
In the book The China Study Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, and his son Thomas M. Campbell II present information that is a definite challenge to the dairy and beef industries by revealing how dangerous their products are to human health.
What credentials does Campbell possess that give him the credibility to attack these industries that are so prominent in our society? First, he is a professor who has spent 40 years in nutrition research. Second, he was the leader of the China Study, labeled by the New York Times as "the Grand Prix of Human Epidemiology." The study was a combined effort of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.
The study involved 65 counties in 24 different provinces of China. Most of the counties were in rural areas where people lived in the same area all their lives and ate food produced locally. Those living in rural communities and consuming mostly plant protein had fewer chronic diseases that those who lived in communities where more animal protein is available.
In rural China 9 to 10% of total calories comes from protein, yet only 10% of that amount is derived from animal foods. In contrast the American diet features 15 to 16% of calories from protein with 80% of that from animal foods. The rural Chinese were less likely to die from the diseases of affluence (cancer, diabetes, and heart disease) than diseases of poverty (pneumonia, parasitic disease, tuberculosis, diseases associated with pregnancy, and others). Campbell says that diseases of affluence might be more appropriately named "diseases of nutritional extravagance" because they are tied into eating habits.
The dairy industry would definitely like to silence Campbell who has announced results from an earlier study he conducted in the Philippines that showed children consuming high protein diets were most likely to get liver cancer. Included in this high protein diet were milk products.
In previous experiments with rats Campbell was able to show that with a diet of 20% casein (a milk protein) rats developed carcinogenic tumors. Switching the rats to a plant-based diet resulted in a decrease in tumor growth. Switching back to the casein diet brought renewed tumor growth. He was able to conclude that animal-based foods increased tumors while plant-based foods decreased the development of tumors.
Campbell further indicts dairy products showing they are linked to Type 1 diabetes, and breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. Countries with the lowest consumption of dairy products have lower incidences of these diseases.
The data gleaned from these studies led him to conclude that many of the chronic diseases found in society result from human consumption of animal protein. "There is enough evidence now that doctors should be discussing the option of pursuing dietary change as a potential path to cancer prevention and treatment," he writes. "There is enough evidence now that local breast cancer alliances, and prostate cancer institutions, should be discussing the possibility of providing information to Americans everywhere on how a whole foods, plant-based diet may be an incredibly effective anti-cancer medicine."
The book is divided into four major sections: The China Study, Diseases of Affluence, The Good Nutrition Guide, and Why Haven't You Heard This Before.
The Good Nutrition Guide emphasizes his Eight Principles of Food and Health:
The Good Nutrition Guide concludes with a chapter called How to Eat that offers advice on how to transition to a healthy plant-based diet. Featured here is a chart labeled "Eat All You Want (While Getting Lots of Variety) of Any Whole, Unrefined Plant-Based Food." The chart lists specific fruits, vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, and whole grains. It advises minimizing refined carbohydrates, added vegetable oil, and fish and avoiding meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs.
The last section of the book, "Why Haven't You Heard This Before?" shows how government, science, medicine, corporations, and the media have concentrated on profits instead of health. Together they have created confusing information about nutrition and have stifled and attempted to destroy viewpoints that challenge the status quo.
Campbell relates how he personally was almost expelled from a committee of scientists because he dared to suggest a link between diet and cancer. In discussing the personal consequences for him he writes "In the world of nutrition and health, scientists are not free to pursue their research wherever it leads. Coming to the 'wrong conclusions,' even through first-rate science, can damage your career."
The authors show how the food industry claims nutritional benefits for their products and works diligently to protect their products from being labeled unhealthy or causing disease. By hiring research scientists as experts, the industry uses science to increase the demand for its products. These same scientists may organize workshops, become leaders of scientific groups, choose committee members and thus be in a prominent position to develop public policy and publicity. Campbell refers to this "conflict of interest" that allows industries "to exercise their influence through the side door of academia."
Like Marion Nestle in her book Food Politics, Campbell shows how government has failed to promote health by avoiding statements that certain foods are damaging to health. "But instead of doing this the government is saying that animal products, dairy and meat, refined sugar and fat in your diet are good for you!" Not only is the government failing the people in its reports and pronouncements, it is also failing to promote research in nutrition.
"Big Medicine" is another target for criticism. The medical industry is aware of the research that suggests that chronic diseases of affluence are the result of poor nutrition and yet pays little or no attention to nutrition in the treatment. Campbell cites the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. John McDougall who both have had successful results in treating patients through nutrition. Yet both men have experienced rejection from the medical establishment that is focused on surgery and drugs instead of nutrition as standard treatment for chronic diseases.
Instead of burning Campbell at the stake Americans should place T. Colin Campbell on a pedestal and honor him for his 40 years of research and discovery. It's time for the nation to begin to heed his warnings about animal protein and work to change a system that has led to the current health crisis. Campbell, a man of great integrity and scholarship, presents a message that is supported by sound research. The book cites over 750 references, many from primary sources.
Some have already attempted and will continue to try to prevent the message of this book from reaching a wide audience. And yet our society needs people like Campbell who step forward to say we need to change the system in order to safeguard the health of this nation.
The China Study is a book that should be in every home. Instead of buying one copy, purchase another to give to a friend you care about. Better yet, buy a few more to make certain the message reaches a wider audience.
Reviewed April 2005