Interesting Information: The China Study Myth
Interesting Information: July 4, 2012
The China Study Myth: Flaws in the Vegan Bible
T. Colin Campbell published THE CHINA STUDY in 2006. Campbell is a “heavy hitter” in terms of credentials: a PhD from Cornell, authorship of over three hundred scientific papers, and decades of research in the field of nutrition.
Campbell’s premise in THE CHINA STUDY is that ALL animal foods cause modern ailments like heart disease and cancer. This idea came from a rat study done in India and rat studies Campbell did, from which he extrapolated his flawed conclusions. The rat studies point to animal protein as being protective, not deadly.
THE CHINA STUDY rocked the nutritional world and about half a million copies have been sold so far. Vegans call this book their “bible” and have taken to shutting down all questions about the health of their diet choices with “read THE CHINA STUDY.” But, beware that only one chapter is actually devoted to the actual China study–a tipoff that belief system might well be at work in Campbell’s conclusions.
Chris Masterjohn, who is associated with the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), critiqued Campbell’s work early on. You can find his analysis on his blog and on the Weston A. Price foundation web site. See, for instance “The Curious Case of Campbell’s Rats”–http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/2010/09/22/the-curious-case-of-campbells-rats-does-protein-deficiency-prevent-cancer/ And, Denise Minger, a health writer, editor, researcher, and vegetarian for about a decade, started digging into Campbell’s data. She concluded that THE CHINA STUDY is “more a work of fiction than a nutritional holy grail.” And, that the book “is not a work of scientific vigor.” And, “the book’s most widely repeated claims, particularly involving Campbell’s cancer research and the results of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, are victims of selection bias, cherry picking, and the woefully misrepresented data.”
Minger’s article “The China Study Myth: Flaws in the Vegan Bible” was published in the spring 2012 “Wise Traditions,” the journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation–you can read it for yourself at http://www.westonaprice.org/vegetarianism-and-plant-foods/the-china-study-myth. And if you harbor the notion that meat is unpure or bad for you and that vegetables are pure and good for you, I hope you take the time to do so.
It’s pretty clear, after reading Minger’s article and Masterjohn’s early analysis, that Campbell’s belief system got in the way of what his data was actually telling him.
Minger explains that Campbell’s now-famous rat study involved exposing “rats to very high levels of aflatoxin–a carcinogen produced by mold that grows on peanuts and corn–and then feeding them a diet containing varying levels of the milk protein casein.” Rats eating low levels of casein remained tumorless, but rats fed higher levels developed tumors. Only, the casein was separated from the rest of the components in milk, which “work synergistically” together in countless ways. Certainly isolated casein can’t be generalized to all forms of animal protein–which Campbell does. And, Minger notes that “an impressive number of studies shows that the other major milk protein whey, consistently suppresses tumor growth rather than promoting it….”
Campbell’s studies showed that wheat or soy protein did not produce cancer, even at high levels. But, what he discovered but left out of his book is that “when wheat gluten is supplemented with lysine to make a complete protein, it behaves exactly like casein to promote tumor growth”–which shows that “animal protein doesn’t have some mystical ability to spur cancer by mere virtue of its origin in a sentient creature–just that a full spectrum of amino acids provide the right building blocks for growth, whether it be of malignant cells or healthy ones.” Minger notes that, therefore, “theoretically, a meal of rice and beans would provide the same so-called cancer-promoting amino acids that animal protein does.”
Minger references Materjohn’s analysis–using the very Indian study that jumpstarted Campbell’s research–which showed that rats on a low-protein diet experienced increases in the acute toxicity of aflatoxin. The high-protein diet for rats was at least keeping them alive. Iin other words “when the aflatoxin dose is sky high, animals eating a low-protein diet don’t get cancer because their cells are too busy dying en masse, while animals eating a higher-protein diet are still consuming enough dietary building blocks for the growth of cells–whether healthy or cancerous.” This fact highlights a major problem with Campbell’s conclusions about plant-based diets and prompts Minger to write that “in a nutshell, the animal protein fear-mongering in THE CHINA STUDY stems from wildly misconstrued science.”
Campbell, writes Minger, cannot prove a relationship between animal protein and diseases because “that relationship does not exist.” Indeed, with plant proteins “we find almost three times as many positive correlations with various cancers as we do with animal protein, including colon cancer, rectal cancer, and esophageal cancer.” And, animal-food eaters in rural China “are getting less cardiovascular disease than their more vegetarian friends.” In short, once again we see that plants are NOT nutrient dense and do not fully support abundant human health.
Minger goes on to show that “although wheat gets nary a mention in the China Study chapter, Campbell actually found that wheat consumption–in stark contrast to rice–was powerfully associated with higher insulin levels, higher triglycerides, coronary heart diseae, stroke and hypertensive heart disease within the China Study data–far more than any other food.”
Minger’s arguments, born of her in-depth analysis of Campbell’s data and his previous papers, is, obviously, much more detailed than I can repeat here. Yet, the paper is easy to read. And, it shows clearly that, once again, correlation has been used to target causation and that belief systems blind one to what science is actually telling us.
Minger writes a blog dedicated to revealing the bad science with regard to food issues (www.rawfoodsos.com), and her upcoming book DEATH BY FOOD PYRAMID will be published in late 2012. I, for one, look forward to reading it.