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The China Study 6 – Osteoporosis

Posted by tinako on December 12, 2009

I’m continuing my discussion of T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study.

Americans consume more cow’s milk products per person than most other countries, and we’ve all heard that milk builds strong bones, so we must have the strongest bones, right?  Actually not.  A study published in 2000 showed American women age 50 and over have one of the highest hip fracture rates in the world.  The only two countries with higher hip fracture rates have higher consumption of cow’s milk.

Hip fractures, events which take you to the hospital, are a reliable, recordable indicator of osteoporosis, an often hidden condition which does not take you to the hospital.  Osteoporosis is a bone disease that especially affects post-menopausal women, and is often said to be a result of insufficient calcium intake.  We are urged to consume more calcium, which dairy products are rich in, but something is not working – the more dairy we consume, the weaker our bones get.

A 1992 study suggests that the problem may again be animal protein.  The mechanism is this: animal protein acidifies your body’s tissues.  Plant protein acidifies it much less.  The body corrects the pH using calcium, a very effective base.  This calcium is pulled from your bones and then excreted in urine.  Here’s another study: 1.  Dr Campbell says this was first suggested in the 1880’s and documented in 1920.   Check out his sources in the book, p. 205.  These studies show that the amounts of animal protein consumed regularly in the U.S.  can cause substantial increases in calcium excretion.  Doubling animal protein intake from 35-78g/day will increase excretion of calcium by 50%.  A study funded by the Atkins Center found that after six months, people on the Atkins Diet excreted 50% more calcium than before [the abstract of the study he references does not indicate this, but I found references to that study that indicate it did conclude that.  Here is the USDA itself concurring based on another study – search for calcium loss].

Another study followed 1,000 women 65 and older for seven years.  Women with the highest ratio of animal to plant protein had 3.7 times more bone fractures and lost bone almost 4 times as fast as the women with the lowest ratios.  Dr. Campbell points out that the women with lowest ratios still consumed about half their total protein from animal sources.  Rural China’s ratio is about 10% animal to plant protein, and their fracture rate is one fifth the U.S. rate.

We are told that calcium-rich dairy products are a great source of calcium and good for our bones and teeth, but no one mentions that the high animal protein level of dairy products, even “healthier” fat-free ones, are robbing our bones of exactly that calcium, and it seems clear from the studies, making us much worse off.  Here is a study of ten countries which shows that as calcium levels increase, hip fractures increase.  Surprised?  Check out the chart on page two of the study.  Osteoporosis probably increases not so much because calcium does, but because it is consumed with animal protein, as dairy.

That last study is now over 20 years old, and animal protein as a direct cause of calcium loss has been well established for a very long time (Dr. Campbell says the 1880’s), but had you ever heard of it?  Dr. Campbell spends almost 100 pages discussing why you have not.  I don’t plan to cover that,  so check it out.

Dr. Campbell ends this section with three recommendations to avoid osteoporosis:

  1. Stay physically active
  2. “Eat a variety of whole plant foods and avoid animal foods, including dairy.  Plenty of calcium is available in a wide range of plant foods, including beans and leafy vegetables.  As long as you stay away from refined carbohydrates, like sugary cereals, candies, plain pastas and white breads, you should have no problem with calcium deficiency” [p.211].
  3. Keep salt to a minimum.

Next – Diabetes.

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4 Responses to “The China Study 6 – Osteoporosis”

  1. A said

    Hi there. I’m a vegan (for animal rights reasons). I just had a quick question for you: have you read any critiques of the China Study before? Here’s one I found: http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/denise-minger-refutes-the-china-study-once-and-for-all.html
    I’d like to believe it’s milk protein that’s the problem (because that would be very convenient, since I’m already vegan), but from what I’ve read, it seems like the research in the China Study is a bit biased.
    I’d like to know what you think.

    • tinako said

      Thank you for your comment.

      I looked up the Weston A. Price Foundation on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weston_A._Price_Foundation) and found that they promote meat and dairy and receive financial support from those industries, though wiki does not imply that they are industry puppets. But the President and founder is an English major, not a scientist or nutritionist.

      But to the blog entry itself. As I was reading a few red flags popped up. First I noticed that the author, Masterjohn, says several times that Campbell states that a vegan diet is the only healthy diet. I am pretty sure it does not say that anywhere in the book, because Campbell was not vegan when he wrote it; on the contrary, he says in the book that he occasionally eats meat. On page 242 he says that while it seems logical that health benefits would improve as animal based foods reach 0%, that has not been proved. This is not a huge point, because Campbell certainly recommends a mostly vegan diet. But Masterjohn’s inaccuracy and exaggeration touches on his credibility – what else is exaggerated?

      I skip over criticism of the actual China study because frankly, it’s over my head. There seem to be questions about his sample size and the suggestion that he discarded conclusions that doesn’t support his point. I don’t know if these are true. I’m not a statistician, but I understand that a person with an agenda can probably make any point they want with the same data. This study is the one that most critics focus on, but the rat study is what fascinates me more. This blog entry attacks that as well, so let’s take a look.

      He gives a quote from p. 59 regarding casein vs. wheat and soy and then in the following paragraph criticizes Campbell for jumping to a broad statement “when he only studied powdered casein.” Masterjohn quotes Campbell: “a pattern was beginning to emerge: nutrients from animal foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based foods decreased tumor development.” But that statement was not based on those quoted studies alone, nor on casein alone as Masterjohn says; the second quote comes on p. 66, after seven pages of studies, mostly on casein, but specifically including fish, dietary fats, and carotenoids among others. Since we don’t know what the all the studies included, it’s hard to tell whether he “jumped the gun,” but Masterjohn is clearly misstating again.

      Then there is what Masterjohn calls “The Fatal Blow.” It is interesting to see Campbell’s study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2569044) in which he does say that adding lysine to wheat eliminated the cancer response difference to animal protein and says “These results suggest that one can inhibit the development of foci either by decreasing the quantity of protein intake and holding the quality of the protein constant or by decreasing the quality and holding the quantity constant.” But I don’t understand because the book says on p. 60 that they also tested soy and found it non-cancer promoting at 20%. Soy is a complete protein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soybean) and has as much lysine as milk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysine#Dietary_sources).

      On page 351 Cambell answers some questions about what the animal protein was replaced with. He is pretty clear that animal protein is not the only cancer promoter and that the carbohydrate/glucose that replaced the animal protein promoted cancer in other tests, making it even more surprising that there was such a drastic effect when they replaced animal protein. Also see the article he references in the book (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3863991) showing that increasing corn oil from 5 to 20% of calories increased cancer response.

      Masterjohn goes on to state without sources, “that we now know that “the natural variety of plant proteins that we encounter every day” can, in fact, promote cancer just as powerfully as animal protein.” That is a very broad and strong statement which I think he needs to directly support.

      Someone smarter than me needs to sort this out. I’m not attached to the idea of The China Study being true. If it’s wrong, out with it. While I haven’t read them carefully, in theory I admire blogger Minger’s efforts and feel an unbiased, logical and fact-based discourse can only add value. As a matter of fact, I think I link to her China Study blog entries from mine somewhere. My advice, do read the criticism, know who is criticizing (wiki is a good source for finding who is a parent organization or who funds them), and make up your own mind.

      As an aside, I don’t use The China Study to try to convince people to go vegan. I prefer not to get sucked into arguments about statistics, which I don’t know much about. I find that unnecessary, since the suffering and animal rights angle is so compelling and easy to understand. So, as you indicate, The China Study‘s being wrong will not make a lot of difference to us.

      Thanks again! Peace.

  2. A said

    Thank you for such an extensive answer! I love your site and look forward to reading more of your entries.

    • dapingguo said

      The website http://www.healthyplanetdiet.com/osteoporosis.html supports “plant’s food is better than animal food” with facts and figures.
      To me I give up meat more than 2 decades. As a result I have less sickness. That is to say I consumed less drugs and so less side effect of drugs to worry about. To stay healthty however, is an art of balancing the body energy. So, stay vegan. I have proven with my own body. Cheers.

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