At best, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health is informed speculation. At worst it is propaganda.
Written by T. Colin Campbell and his son, the book is a litany of so-called scientific proof that humans who eat any kind of animal based foods are sentenced to an early death. The authors even go so far as to say that a strictly plant based diet can prevent or even reverse heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes to name a few diseases.
Even more astonishing than that assertion is the notion that Dr. Campbell’s laboratory study involving rats produced the conclusion that cancer can actually be turned on and off like a switch.
By combining the results of the rat study with the results of a survey of the dietary habits of a selected population of ethnic Chinese in their native land The China Study concludes that eating animal based products – meat, milk, cheese, eggs — is bad forever and always with no two ways about it. Even eating derivatives like whey is condemned. (“It is likely that the potential protective effect of fiber or fruits and vegetables does not kick in against [cancer] until there is a complete dietary shift away from an animal-based diet.” The China Study, p. 284.)
As far as the hundreds if not thousands of studies on nutrition showing that moderate amounts of animal protein intake are good for human health, Dr. Campbell dismisses all of them. Not just some of them. All of them.
He accuses academia of being held hostage (paid) by the food industry, and therefore their studies are all biased. Not only that, he accuses fellow scientists, those in the medical field, and drug companies of actually conspiring against good health.
The scientists, he says, rely on flawed data or flawed methods because the studies focus on just one element in a food rather than the whole food. And yet, Dr. Campbell used the same methodology to prove his contention that cancer can be switched on and off in lab rats.
In his rat study, Campbellfed rats casein which is found in milk. (“For all of these experiments we were using casein….” The China Study, p. 59.) The rats got cancer or the cancer they developed was promoted by casein. When the casein was removed from their diet the cancer went away. He didn’t feed the rats whole milk. But throughout the entire book he states over and over again that it is the combination of elements working together in a given food product – a whole food — and not just one of them that counts.
To summarize, Campbellbelieves that whole foods are the keys to a healthful diet. Yet in his rat study he fed large doses of just one element of whole milk – casein — to rats along with their regular diet. It then follows that Campbell’s rat experiment runs exactly counter to his own assertion that the other scientists he berates are wrong because they focus on one element when he did the exact same thing. (“[Rare] nutrition-related studies unfortunately suffer from the same experimental flaws described in chapter fourteen. Almost always, these studies are designed to tinker with one nutrient at a time….”, The China Study, p. 316).
Scientists studying the effects of diet on rodents found that whey protein could be beneficial because whey, a protein also found in milk, may have anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer properties. (“Dietary whey protein protects against azoxymethane-induced colon tumors in male rats”. Hakkak, Korourian, Ronis, Johnston and, Badger. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. May 2001).
If you believe the results of this rat study then some animal proteins are good for nutrition and therefore health. So despite evidence that shows some animal derived protein has potentially beneficial effects, Dr. Campbell is avowedly against all animal based foods.
Dr. Campbell is also a nonbeliever in nutritional supplements except for one, vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for human health. Without it pernicious anemia develops and can cause death. Vitamin B12 is found in foods that come from animals, including fish, shellfish, meat (especially liver), poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.
Plant foods do not contain vitamin B12. Thus, vegans need supplements to get vitamin B12 in their diet. Dr. Campbell recognizes this and says so in his book. If vitamin B12 is necessary for life and plants do not contain it, then anyone who eats a strictly plants only diet will die from a lack of an essential element.
It is more than just a stretch to believe that doctors, drug companies, food companies, and research scientists in academia have conspired to suppress the wonders of a plants-only diet. Also, is Dr. Campbell asserting that vegans don’t have cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis? And if they do can they “switch if off” asCampbellcontends?
The original Chinaproject was a correlational study. From studying eating habits Dr. Campbell found supposedly that people who ate more meat got more cancer. Conversely, people who ate more plant based food got less cancer. (By the way, the other scientists in the original study team did not come to the same sweeping conclusions that Dr. Campbell did. The following quote is from the actual Chinastudy, Geographic study of mortality, biochemistry, diet and lifestyle in rural China. “[T]he real importance of this study is purely descriptive: better appreciation of the extraordinarily wide range of lifestyles and of disease rates across different Chinese counties will lead to more specific studies.”). TheCampbell hypothesis that if less food from animal based products is good then none is best was neither the purpose nor the finding of the team conducting the study.
The directors of the study, Sir Richard Doll, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford and Professor Liming Li a former director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention had this to say in the foreword of the real China study: “All, of course, is not gold that glitters statistically, and while the fresh eyes of young epidemiologists may be inspired by some highly significant geographic correlation that their relatively jaded seniors may dismiss as an artefact (sic), it has to be remembered that even real geographic correlations are difficult to interpret reliably.”
Yet Dr. Campbell concludes with no support whatever except for his interpretation of the real China study combined with the findings of his casein-only rat study that “ [T]here is overwhelming scientific support for one, simple optimal diet – a whole foods, plant-based diet.” The China Study, p. 224. And “[A]diet low in animal-based foods and high in unprocessed plant-based foods can slow or reverse heart disease.” p. 203. And “[I]f you eat animal foods instead of plant foods, you just might go blind.” p. 214.
Here’s how Dr. Campbell can test his theory that eating only plant based food is best. Conduct a scientifically based survey of vegans. Unlike the Chinese population thatCampbellderived his conclusions from, vegans don’t eat merely less animal based food. They don’t eat any animal based foods. Thus, if any vegan has cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis, or heart disease, or diabetes, or other diseases that Dr. Campbell says can be prevented or reversed, his sweeping conclusions should be seriously questioned.
We can sensibly say that eating fewer potato chips, cake, pie, cookies, candy, french fries, double meat bacon cheeseburgers, and doughnuts is likely to be better for overall health. Similarly, consuming less meat and eating more fruits and vegetables is likely to promote better health. But, much more study would have to be done before anyone can say that without a doubt eating meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese even in small amounts is bad for health, much less deadly.
Propaganda is the spreading of information, ideas, or rumors for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. By disparaging other scientists and their work and using the real Chinastudy for purposes other than that which it was intended, i.e., more study, Dr. Campbell’s book leans more toward propaganda than science. Until the conclusions of The China Study, the book, are established facts, Dr. Campbell’s tome should be taken as nothing more than one man’s informed speculation.
Read a different view of The China Study written by Horis Stedman, MD : The China Study Diet – Vegan Revenge