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The China Study 3 – The Net Widens

Posted by tinako on November 22, 2009

Yesterday I talked about Dr. Campbell’s experiments with aflatoxin-induced liver cancer in rats, as described in his book, The China Study.  The conclusion was that cow’s milk protein is a potent cancer promoter in rats dosed with aflatoxin.

I want to take a moment here to talk about Dr. Campbell, who is sometimes dismissed as a vegan with an agenda.  I have mentioned that he was brought up in a dairy-farming family.  He went to college with the expectation of contributing to animal agricultural science.  When he began these experiments, he was as surprised as anyone.   He may have an agenda, but it’s not vegan; I can’t say whether he’s changed since 2004, but in the book Dr. Campbell is not even vegetarian.  He does not insist on eliminating animal products from our diets, and he does not appear to care about animals or the environment all that much.  He gives half a page to talk about lab animals, and is unapologetic.  As I recall he devoted about 1 page (out of 417) to animal suffering, but I was unable to find it just now.  This book is about human health.  Dr. Campbell is also not working for agribusiness, not selling supplements or a diet plan.  He’s selling this book for $16.95, and you can find it in most libraries.  I have been unable to find anyone reasonably calling his work biased or profit-driven.  Moving on.

Now Dr. Campbell wanted to gradually broaden the scope of his research.  He found that another cause of liver cancer, the hepatitis B virus (HBV), was being researched in mice, so he decided to experiment to find the effect of casein on liver cancer in mice with HBV.  This experiment would look at a different carcinogen and a different species.  Despite his earlier findings, he had a great deal of difficulty getting the support to do these experiments.  Nevertheless, he eventually succeeded and found essentially the same results in mice with HBV as he had gotten with rats with aflatoxin.

At about the  same time researchers at the U of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago were working on breast cancer in rats [endnote 1, * & *], and their findings were that increasing intakes of casein promoted the development of breast cancer seeded with either of two carcinogens: DBMA or NMU.  They also found that this promotion operated “through the same female hormone system that operates in humans” [p.65].

So the score so far is that cow’s milk protein dramatically promotes:

  • liver cancer in rats with aflatoxin
  • liver cancer in mice with HBV
  • breast cancer in rats with DBMA
  • breast cancer in rats with NMU

And don’t forget, I’ve been leaving off the “how it works” details.  Dr. Campbell summarizes: “For two different organs, four different carcinogens, and two different species, casein promotes cancer growth while using a highly integrated system of mechanisms…. For example, casein affects the way cells interact with carcinogens, the way DNA reacts with carcinogens, and the way cancerous cells grow” [p.65].

Dr. Campbell began to look to see if other nutrients would have effects on cancer.  They measured the ability of nutrients including fish protein, dietary fats, and carotenoids (antioxidents) to affect liver and pancreatic cancer.  These findings confirmed and broadened his results showing that nutrition is more important than the dose of the carcinogen.  They also found a pattern, that “nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based foods decreased tumor development” [p.66].

These results were broadening and impressive, but it was time to find out whether they were significant in human populations.  Dr. Campbell got his opportunity when he began to work with a Chinese scientist, Dr. Chen.  Next time.


1. Hawrylewicz EJ, Huang HH, Kissane JQ, et al. “Enhancement of the 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA) mammary tumorigenesis by high dietary protein in rats.” Nutr. Reps. Int. 26 (1982): 793-806.

This book has 35 pages of tiny-type endnotes.  If you want details and sources, check it out.


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