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The China Study 1 – Peanuts

Posted by tinako on November 20, 2009

OK, it’s not fair for me to pick on Jean Carper and the American Cancer Society like I did in my last post and not give a good reason.  I get most of my facts about animal products’ impact on health from T. Colin Campbell’s book The China Study, 2004.  I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while because it’s really important, and avoided it because it’s going to be a lot of work.  And a lot of reading for you.  So maybe I can just break it down and tackle a little every day.  And hopefully if I encourage everyone to run out and buy this book, Dr. Campbell will not sue me if I am infringing on his copyright.

“T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. has been at the forefront of nutrition research for more than 40 years. His legacy, the China Study, is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted. Dr. Campbell is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and Project Director of the China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project. The study was the culmination of a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.

“Dr. Campbell received his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Cornell, and served as a Research Associate at MIT. He spent 10 years on the faculty of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition before returning to the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell in 1975 where he presently holds his Endowed Chair (now Emeritus). He is the recipient of several awards, both in research and citizenship, and has conducted original research investigation both in experimental animal and human studies, and has actively participated in the development of national and international nutrition policy.” [*]

Dr. Campbell was brought up on a dairy farm, believing the same things we all do about how important protein is to good health, and that the best protein comes from animals.  All the way through college and graduate school, he held these same opinions.  And then as part of his job at Virginia Tech he went to the Phillipines to help tackle childhood malnutrition.  A big part of the problem was that peanuts are an important source of protein there, but they are often contaminated with a fungus-produced toxin called aflatoxin, which was being shown to cause liver cancer in rats.  “It was said to be the most potent chemical carcinogen ever discovered” [p.34].  In addition to the terrible malnutrition, many children under age ten were dying of liver cancer, and children as young as four had been operated on for this disease.  Then Dr. Campbell discovered something even more striking: “The children who got liver cancer were from the best-fed families” [p.36].  These richer children were getting more protein, and mostly animal protein.

At this same time, research from India was published*, involving an experiment about liver cancer and protein consumption in two groups of lab rats.  Both groups were given the same levels of aflatoxin, but group A was fed a diet of 20% calories from protein and group B got only 5% calories from protein.  Every single rat in group A got liver cancer or its precursor lesions.  Not a single rat in group B got liver cancer or its precursor lesions.  This was a 100% correlation.

No one believed it.  Scientists said they must have gotten the cages mixed up.  Protein is the good guy, it doesn’t cause cancer!  Dr. Campbell wondered whether it could be true.  Because people he loved had died of cancer, and it had been a childhood wish to cure it, he decided to risk his reputation and his career to follow the evidence into this unpopular territory.

Dr. Campbell went on to repeat and refine this experiment, but I’ll talk about that next time.  Or you could get the book.

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