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Posts Tagged ‘the china study’

Forks Over Knives

Posted by tinako on May 27, 2010

Movie coming Summer 2010


Posted in Cancer, Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Disease, Menus, Nutrition, Osteoporosis | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The China Study 5 – Heart Disease

Posted by tinako on December 7, 2009

I’m continuing with my discussion of Dr. Campbell’s book, The China Study.  Remember, I’m a reader, not a doctor.  It occurred to me after I wrote last time saying he doesn’t seem to have a vegan agenda that perhaps I might be said to.  But when I read this book, a different part of my brain is working from when I think about the ethics of veganism.  When I read this book, I’m thinking about science and the suffering of people in homes, hospitals and nursing homes across the country.  I’m not taking the time here to describe the more important points of this book in order to save farm animals.  My compassion extends to people, too – I’m concerned about your health.

26% of Americans die of cardiovascular disease (CVD), our number-one killer.  Every day, 2,400 people die of CVD.   Women sometimes think CVD is not their problem.  Think again:  Since 1984, more women than men die of heart disease.  “In the United States in 2005, all cardiovascular diseases combined claimed the lives of 454,613 females while all forms of cancer combined to kill 268,890 females. Breast cancer claimed the lives of 41,116 females; lung cancer claimed 69,105” *.

CVD is also not just a problem that happens in middle age.  In 1953, military medical investigators examined the hearts of 300 male soldiers killed in action in Korea.  77.3% had large evidence of heart disease.  One in 20 had 90% blockage in an artery.  I find this amazing.  These soldiers would have been in peak physical fitness, and their average age was 22 years old.  Heart disease is not a disease of the elderly – we just don’t notice it until then.  If our kids are eating poorly now, not only are they developing bad habits, but also their heart disease has already begun.

In 1948, the most well-known heart study ever done was begun in Framingham, Mass., and it continues to this day, with over a thousand scientific papers having been published from it.  At the time, most doctors believed heart disease was an inevitable “wearing-down” of the body, but in 1961 the study showed a strong correlation between high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and heart disease.  Suddenly the idea of preventing heart disease took hold (pp.114-5).

Throughout this posting, remember the known factors that lead to high blood cholesterol I mentioned in my previous posting.   Here they are again from strongest correlation on down:

  • Consuming more animal protein
  • Consuming less plant protein
  • Consuming more cholesterol (only present in animal fat)
  • Consuming more saturated animal fat

The point, again, is that reducing your animal protein intake and increasing your plant protein intake is more important for reducing your blood cholesterol than the other two, the ones we always hear about.  Of course, unless you’re adding lard to your food, decreasing animal protein will automatically reduce dietary cholesterol and saturated animal fat.  In the end, this means that beyond reducing calories, low-fat animal products are not doing your body any favors when it comes to cancer and heart disease.

Many other studies were being done comparing U.S. CVD death rates with those of other countries.  It was found that the more plant-based the diet, the lower the CVD death rate, strikingly.  Japan was particularly compared to the U.S.; a chart showing death rates for men ages 55 to 59 shows the U.S. rate about seven times higher than Japan’s.  Researchers also looked at genetically Japanese men who lived in the U.S., and found that their rate was much higher than in Japan, even though Japanese men in Japan tended to smoke more than Japanese-Americans!

Dr. Lester Morrison began a study in 1946 in which he counseled 50 heart attack survivors to continue their current diet and another 50 to reduce their consumption of fat and cholesterol.  This was a modest diet, allowing 4 ounces of lean meat per day but prohibiting fatty meats, whole milk, cream, egg yolks, etc.  After 12 years, every single patient in the control group was dead.  In the special diet group, 19 were still alive.  Clearly even this modest diet had a big impact on their survival.

A group of doctors in Northern California about the same time put a larger group of patients on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and found that their death rate was four times lower than the control group.  This was all good news, but the focus was all on fat and cholesterol.  Dr. Campbell says, “The possibility that no one wanted to consider was that fat and cholesterol were merely indicators of animal food intake” [p.119].  Dr. Campbell talks here about how much resistance there was to the very notion that diet could have ANY impact on heart disease, despite all the evidence supporting this, and that for the most part the status-quo has continued to this day, with most doctors focusing on surgery, drugs, and electronic devices.  He makes the point that while our death rate from CVD has dropped, the incidence rate is about the same.  We have “gotten slightly better at postponing death from heart disease, but we have done nothing to stop the rate at which our hearts become diseased” [p.123].

As an aside, I asked my brother, a pulmonologist, about why doctors don’t counsel their patients on diet more, and he gave a very reasonable response.  He said that if you look at success rates with diet/exercise and with pills/surgery, lifestyle loses.  This is because these rates take into account failure of the patient to follow the regimen.  Diet and exercise may very well be the better option, but if the patient won’t follow it, it won’t work.  Pills and surgery require less initiative from the patient.  So if my brother has a certain amount of time to counsel his patient, he is going to spend the time recommending the option with the best success rate, rather than spend the time talking about diet and exercise.  My father and I pointed out that this was a doctor-oriented statistic, and that perhaps it did not serve individual patients, who might choose to change their lives if they knew their real chances with a diet change.  We thought patients should also be told what they could expect if they stuck to the diet, not only the rates including people who did not follow the diet.

Dr. Esselstyn, of the Cleveland Clinic, also believing that medical science was treating symptoms of disease instead of preventing it, decided to test the effects of a whole-foods, plant-based diet on people who had heart disease.  In 1985, he instructed his 23 heart patients to follow a diet free of all added fat and almost all animal products except skim milk and lowfat yogurt.   After five years he recommend to his patients to eliminate the milk and yogurt as well.  Patients used minimal cholesterol-lowering medication.  He met with these patients every two weeks for counseling and blood tests.  He called home that night to report the blood tests and discuss the diet more if needed.  Patients met together a few times a year to talk about the program.  In other words, Dr. Esselstyn was involved and supportive of this lifestyle change.

Five patients dropped out within two years, leaving 18.   Within the 8 years leading up to the study, these 18 people had had 49 coronary events, including angina, bypass surgery, heart attacks, strokes, and angioplasty.  Their starting cholesterol was 246 mg/dl.  During the study, their average dropped to 132 mg/dl.  “Bad” cholesterol dropped just as much.  In the following eleven years, these eighteen people had a total of one coronary event, and that was in a person who dropped the diet for two years.  The patient developed angina and returned to the diet, at which time the angina went away.  70% of them had their clogged arteries open up.  Blockages were reduced by 7% over the first 5 years, increasing blood flow by 30%.  As of 2003, all but one patient was still alive, heading into their 70’s and 80’s.  The five patients who dropped out of the program had ten new coronary events by 1995.

One doctor, 44 and having just had his first heart attack, heard about these results and came to Dr. Esselstyn.  He began the program with no other medication and reversed his heart disease within 32 months, lowering his cholesterol to 89 mg/dl.  There is a dramatic before-after image of one of his blood vessels, shriveled up and then nice and broad.

One point I don’t think Dr. Campbell makes in his book is to compare the results of this study with the Morrison study, above.  Better results are achieved with a move from four ounces of meat to none, though I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t some other part of Dr. Esselstyn’s program.

Dr. Dean Ornish began a study, the Lifestyle Heart Trial, in which he put 28 heart disease patients in a hotel for a week to begin their year-long low-fat (10% of calories) plant-based diet.  They could eat all they wanted from the approved list of fruits, vegetables, and grains.  The only animal products allowed were egg white and 1 cup per day non-fat milk or yogurt.  There was also one hour per day of stress management, and three hours per week of exercise.  The group met twice a week for four hours for support.  No drugs, surgery, or other technology was used.  There was a control of 20 other patients put on standard treatment.  Those on the experimental treatment dropped their cholesterol from 227 to 172, their “bad” cholesterol dropping from 152 to 95.  Their chest pain dropped 91%, and it was clear that those patients who adhered most closely to the program saw the best results, 4% reduction in blockages in one year.  82% of the patients saw regression of their heart disease in the year.

The control group, receiving standard care, had their chest pain worsen 165%, cholesterol was worse than the experimental group, and blockages increased 8%.

Dr. Ornish has now expanded this study.  Patients eligible for surgery can instead elect to enroll in a one-year lifestyle program.  As of 1998, 200 people had participated, with 65% eliminating their chest pain, with 60% reporting no chest pain even after three years.  This program costs $7,000, instead of $46,000 for bypass surgery or $31,000 for angioplasty.  By 1998, 40 insurance companies were covering Dr. Ornish’s program.

For some reason I find I hesitate to assert that this diet is a “cure” for heart disease.  I’ve been programmed to believe that cures come in a bottle of pills or at the end of a scalpel.  A good diet is a cure for heart disease like stopping banging your head against the wall is a cure for headaches.

Next – Osteoporosis.

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The China Study 4 – The Chinese

Posted by tinako on November 23, 2009

This is a continuation of my series discussing the book The China Study by Dr. Campbell.  I’m doing this because I often want to refer to the results in this important book, but there’s nowhere to point on the internet.  I am hoping that this “quick” rundown of what the book tells us will shake people up enough to get them to read it and find out more.  Or at the very least, think twice about “Milk – it does a body good!”  I originally checked The China Study out of the library, but then bought my own copy because I wanted to refer to it so often.

Last time Dr. Campbell had found that cancer in rats and mice seems to be promoted by a variety of animal-based nutrients and stalled by plant-based nutrients.  But he wanted to see if this was true in people.  It is considered unethical to experiment on people and try to give them cancer, so instead he assembled a team to begin an epidemiological study, which studies people “in their natural habitat,” eating what they eat, and getting whatever diseases that ensue.

I won’t go into why they went to China in particular – it had to do with an enormous cancer study that had occurred there just before this.  But I do need to point out why China made such a good study.  Most studies of this sort were looking at Westerners, and so researchers were comparing the effect of meaty diets to very meaty diets.  In China, people’s diets on average were much more plant-centered.  For example, the average animal protein consumed in China was 0.8% of calories, vs. 10-11% of calories in the U.S – a twelvefold difference!  And yet there was still enough variation in China, both in diet and diseases, to make correlations, but this time between people eating a plant-based diet and a very plant-based diet.

I believe this was one of the largest studies ever conducted.  The original cancer study, which they built on, included 880 million people in 2,400 counties.  Dr. Campbell’s team gathered data from 6,500 individuals in 65 counties on 367 variables.  Every person submitted a questionnaire, blood, and urine, researchers measured what they ate for 3 days, and food samples were taken in the towns.  When they were done they had “8,000 statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet and disease variables” [p.73].

One of the first things they did was to see what diseases tended to go together.  They found certain diseases were found in more affluent areas: cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.  The diseases found in poorer areas were: pneumonia, intestinal obstruction, peptic ulcer, digestive disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, and many others.  If a county had a high rate of breast cancer, for example, it would also have a high rate of coronary heart disease, but not a high rate of pneumonia.  This wasn’t a new idea, but the China Study for the first time correlated these diseases with diet.

The vast majority of people in Western countries die of diseases of affluence, so they are often called Western diseases.  The China Study revealed that one of the strongest predictors of Western diseases was blood cholesterol.  Dr. Campbell explains that dietary cholesterol is what is in the animal-based food we eat – that’s what’s on the nutritional labels.  When you get a blood test, they are not measuring dietary cholesterol (any more than they could measure calories consumed) – they are measuring blood cholesterol that your liver has produced.  Even though they’re chemically identical, they don’t measure the same thing.  Dietary fats and cholesterol that you eat don’t necessarily turn into your body fat and cholesterol.  The synthesis of blood cholesterol “is extremely complex, involving hundreds of different chemical reactions and dozens of nutrients” [p.78].

As blood cholesterol levels in rural China rose (from person to person), the incidence of Western diseases also increased.  This occurred even though Chinese blood cholesterol levels (127 mg/dl) were much lower than in the U.S. (215 mg/DL).  As blood cholesterol decreased from 170 to 90, twelve different kinds of cancer decreased, with either 95+% or 99+% statistical significances (that means there is a <5% or <1% chance the results were chance).   Most Americans know that high blood cholesterol impacts your heart, but it also clearly impacts chances of cancer.

Most Americans are confused about how to lower their blood cholesterol.  I mean, we think we know, but we are missing something.  Ask your doctor how to lower your cholesterol through diet.  You already know what he/she will say, don’t you?  Cut your dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.  Those are important, but did you know that there are two other things you can do which are actually more important?  In both human [*] and animal studies [endnote 1 & *], these two secret tips are more closely correlated with lowering blood cholesterol than the two everybody knows.  They are, in order of importance: eat less animal-based protein, and eat more plant-based foods.   This is so surprising that I want to restate it:  Eating less animal protein and eating more plants are both more important in lowering your blood cholesterol than eating less dietary cholesterol or saturated fat.  You may argue that people eating fewer animal products are necessarily eating less fat and cholesterol, but you would be forgetting about low-fat animal products, exactly the items being pushed on us as a healthy alternative.

So where are we?  We have direct lab animal evidence that animal protein strongly promotes cancer, via several different mechanisms.  We have epidemiological evidence that high blood cholesterol is strongly associated with cancer.  We have human and animal studies showing that animal protein is strongly associated with high blood cholesterol.  And I am not anywhere near done yet.  But already, what do you think of someone like Jean Carper or the American Cancer Society telling you to cut the fat and cholesterol out of your beef, chicken, clams, cheese, eggs, milk, and sour cream?  I want to mention that I looked over some of the recipes at Jean Carper’s site, and many of them are vegan, but at least half feature heavy doses of animal protein.  Out of 34 recipes I found at the ACS site (including here), five had no animal products, and none of those were entrees.

One of the main points Dr. Campbell makes is that most nutritional research centers on particular micro-nutrients, for example the effect of selenium on breast cancer rates.  He says he prefers to study a broad array of nutrients in the same study, because nutrients work together in our bodies to create health or disease.  He studies dietary patterns.  He readily concedes that the China Study results do not constitute absolute scientific proof, but it certainly gives enough information to make some practical decisions.  As a result of this study, Dr. Campbell went from scoffing at vegetarians to giving up most meat and dairy products.  He lost 45 pounds, his cholesterol dropped, and he is more physically fit.

Next, Dr. Campbell looks at more studies done by other scientists, one disease at a time.

Endnote 1: Carroll, K.K. 1983. Dietary proteins and amino acids—their effects on cholesterol metabolism, in Gibney, M.J., and D. Kritchevshy, eds. Animal and vegetable proteins in lipid metabolism and atherosclerosis. New York: Liss, 9-17

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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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The China Study 2 – Rats

Posted by tinako on November 21, 2009

This is a continuation of my quest to explain why I criticize the nutrition advice given by Jean Carper and the American Cancer Society, among others.  Hopefully you found the rat experiment described in my last post to be interesting.  (By the way, I want to express my deep compassion and sorrow for all the animals used in these experiments.  This isn’t something I condone.)

Dr. Campbell gives a nice analogy in his book between cancer and growing a lawn [p.48].  He says that cancer has three stages: initiation, which is like the seeding of a lawn, only the seeds are carcinogens; promotion, which is like the grass beginning to grow; and progression, which is when the lawn takes over wildly and spreads onto the driveway and into the gardens.

Initiation can take place in a matter of minutes: you are exposed to the carcinogen and almost instantly it can be seeded in your tissues.  These carcinogens “mutate normal cells into cancer-prone cells.”     This is a permanent alteration involving damage to the DNA, and all daughter cells will be cancerous.  Initiation is irreversible.

But like grass seeds which need water, sunlight, and nutrients, the cancer-prone cells need certain conditions met.  If that doesn’t happen, the cancer cells will remain dormant indefinitely.  If they begin to grow and then these favorable conditions are stopped, cancer growth stops as well.  “Promotion is reversible, depending on whether the early cancer growth is given  the right conditions in which to grow” [p.50].  Some dietary factors, called promoters, feed cancer growth, and anti-promoters slow cancer growth.  Wouldn’t you like to know what these are?

Dr. Campbell set out to answer some questions based on the rat study: He wanted to confirm that a low-protein diet suppresses tumor formation and find out why.  He talks in great detail about what they discovered about the “why,” but I am going to mostly follow the rats.

One thing that helped him was that it had just been discovered that tiny clusters of cells called “foci” are precursors and predictive of tumor development.  They were therefore able to study protein’s effect on foci and avoid spending a lifetime and millions of dollars waiting for rats to grow cancer cells. First they replicated the earlier rat experiment and found that foci grew far less on a 5% protein diet (there’s a chart, and it looks like about 0.8 foci response) vs. a 20% diet (3.0 foci response).  Next they exposed the animals to different amounts of aflatoxin.  They gave group A a high dose of aflatoxin and a 5% protein diet, and group B a low dose of aflatoxin and a 20% protein diet.  The remarkable results were group A had about an 8 foci response, group B, 90.  “Foci development, initially determined by the amount of carcinogen exposure, is actually controlled far more by dietary protein consumed during promotion” [p.56].

With this information they refined their experiments.  Now they dosed all the animals with the same amount of carcinogen, then fed either 5% or 20% protein during a 12-week promotion stage divided into four three-week periods.  When animals were fed 20% protein during periods 1 and 2, their foci continued to develop, but when these animals were switched to a 5% diet for period 3 there was a sharp decrease in foci development.  When they were switched to a 20% diet for period 4, what do you think?  Foci development was turned on once again.

In another experiment, animals were fed 20% protein in period 1, then 5% in period 2, and foci development decreased sharply.  They were returned to 20% protein for period 3 and foci development again increased.  These experiments showed that foci growth at all stages of development could be switched up and down by altering the amount of protein consumed.  It also showed that the cancer did not go away, but just lay dormant, even for many weeks.

In their next experiment, they wanted to find out what was the magic number between 5% and 20% protein.  Using rats, they discovered that foci did not develop up to about 10% protein, and these results were repeated by a Japanese professor.  10% protein is about the dietary protein need of rats, and they began to see that the problem was in consuming more than we need.  The protein needs of rats and humans is very similar.  The RDA is 10%, which is more than the actual amount needed, in order to be sure people with varying needs get enough.  The average American consumes 15-16%.  The average for nurses in that famous Nurse’s study is 19%!

They continued with their experiments on rats.  A chemical is considered a carcinogen if higher doses yield more cancer.  So they gave varying amounts of aflatoxin to ten groups of rats and then fed half of each group either a 5-10% or 20% protein.  There is a remarkable chart here that shows the 5% protein rats as a straight horizontal line, all data points for increasing aflatoxin doses just over zero.  The 20% rats start a little above the 5% rats and then start going way up as aflatoxin dose increases.  There was no dose-response curve for the 5% rats.  There was no foci response, even when the rats were given the maximum tolerated aflatoxin dose (I took this to mean that any more injected into them killed them outright, not of cancer but perhaps of a huge injection).

Next they wondered whether different types of protein would yield different results.  For all the experiments, they were using the animal protein casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk’s protein [p.59].  So they tried the same experiments with plant protein (they tried both gluten and soy separately).  In their experiments, plant protein did not promote cancer growth, even at the 20% levels.  On the chart, 20% casein is at about 80 foci response and 20% gluten is just above 5% casein, both appearing to be under 10 foci response.

With these preliminary experiments done, they were ready for the big one which would follow several hundred rats for their lifetimes.  Are you ready?  Rats live about two years, so the study was 100 weeks.  “All animals that were administered aflatoxin and fed the 20% casein were dead or near death from liver tumors at 100 weeks.  All animals administered the same level of aflatoxin but fed the 5% protein diet were alive, active,… with sleek coats at 100 weeks.  This was a virtual 100 to 0 score, something almost never seen in research” [p.61].

In the same experiment they “switched the diets of some of the rats at either 40 or 60 weeks, again to investigate the reversibility of cancer promotion.  Animals switched from a high-protein diet to a low-protein diet had significantly less tumor growth (35-45% less) than animals fed a high protein diet.  Animals switched from a low-protein diet to a high-protein diet halfway through their lifetimes started growing tumors again…  Nutritional manipulation can turn cancer ‘on’ and ‘off.’ ”  In case you’re skeptical about the experiments that relied on foci, they also examined foci this time and reconfirmed the very close relationship between foci and tumors.

The conclusion is inescapable.  Cow’s milk protein, at levels commonly ingested by humans, is an incredibly potent cancer promoter in rats dosed with aflatoxin.   Next Dr. Campbell set out to investigate other species, other organs, other carcinogens.

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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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