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Book Review: “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell

The China Study clearly lays out how the current Western diet can be improved to prevent lifestyle diseases. We say: Most important book on nutrition and health

Book "The China study", T. Campbell, eating less animal protein prevents diseases© <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed" target="_blank">CC-by 2.0</a>, Catalina Sparleanu, PhD, Foundation Diet and Health Switzerland

Conclusion

Saul, who had a good reputation, changed into Paul. In much the same way, T. Colin Campbell, author of "The China Study", underwent a major transformation. In "The China Study", Campbell summarizes an overwhelming amount of evidence from renowned scientists and shows that eating significantly less animal protein is the most important step in preventing common lifestyle diseases. He also discusses the fact that it is often possible to cure yourself by making changes to your diet.

Since the food and pharmaceutical industries have almost unlimited means and actively prevent change toward a healthy diet, evidence of this magnitude is required for the public to have a change of opinion. Business, government, media, and the health care system are closely linked. A good fable (lie) persists forever. But understanding the truth requires the ability to perceive and think.

1. Summary

The author, Campbell, describes quite convincingly how he swore by animal protein as a child and young adult. His dissertation was also based on his conviction that animal protein was of particular importance. He wanted to promote higher consumption of meat, milk, and eggs as he believed this would help to improve people’s overall health. For a number of years, the author worked on a related project in the Philippines.

During this ten-year project, the main goal was to get children to eat more animal protein. One of the ways they did this was to establish “self-help” education centers. Then he discovered that Children who ate the highest protein diets were the ones most likely to get liver cancer (p. 5).

The author then found out that rat experiments conducted in India had come to the same conclusion, but the results were considered implausible. However, his team came to the same results with experiments using transgenic mice. It is not genes that are the deciding factor of whether a person falls victim to one of the ten leading causes of death; instead, it is what they eat. This was a defining moment for Campbell.

Healthy and unhealthy choices for when you're on the go© <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed" target="_blank">CC-by 2.0</a>, Catalina Sparleanu, PhD, Foundation Diet and Health Switzerland

The tests carried out by his team over a period of 27 years were funded by major national institutions and verified a second time by some of the best scientific journals.

The results were shocking for scientists: a low-protein diet inhibited the development of cancer caused by aflatoxin. This type of diet also inhibited any existing cancer growing.

Some proteins did not promote cancer. However, casein, which makes up to 87 % of the protein in cow’s milk, promoted all stages of cancer "growing". Plants, on the other hand, delivered safe proteins.

Dr. Campbell writes how four decades of biomedical research and results of long-term studies have shown (with provocative results) that a healthy diet can save your life. He then lists out the following benefits:

  • Dietary change can enable diabetic patients to go off their medication.
  • Heart disease can be reversed with diet alone.
  • Breast cancer is related to levels of female hormones in the blood, which are determined by the food we eat.
  • Consuming dairy foods can increase the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Antioxidants, found in fruits and vegetables, are linked to better mental performance in old age.
  • Kidney stones can be prevented by a healthy diet.
  • Type 1 diabetes, one of the most devastating diseases that can befall a child, is convincingly linked to infant feeding practices (p. 3).

He came to these conclusions after conducting a massive human study in which 6'500 Chinese from rural areas in several different provinces of China participated. Two universities in the United States and one in China worked jointly on the project—under the direction of the author.

Finally, Campbell concludes that the boundaries between politics, government, the food industry, pharmaceutical companies, science and medicine have blurred over time. Justice and health are the losers. Since this is not recognized for what it is, it is more dangerous than corruption.

The result is massive amounts of misinformation, for which average American consumers pay twice. They provide the tax money to do the research, and then they provide the money for their health care to treat their largely preventable diseases (p. 8).

Comments, preface, and foreword

The book begins with a preface and foreword, each written by a different author, and then continues with an introduction written by T. Colin Campbell, in which he describes his history and motivation, and highlights interesting and important facts.

Next, come the four main parts of the book: The China Study, Diseases of Affluence, The Good Nutrition Guide, and Why Haven’t You Heard This Before? Starting on page 351, there are also four appendices titled Q&A: Protein Effect in Experimental Rat Studies, Experimental Design of the China Study, The “Vitamin D” Connection, and References. These are followed (starting on page 405) by an index and additional information about the authors.

The book begins with a preface by Howard Lyman, author of "Mad Cowboy". He respects Colin Campbell because of his courage and integrity and explains how even with solid evidence not much is able to be done against the mainstream.

Lyman served as codefendant for Oprah Winfrey when some cattlemen sued her after she announced her intention not to eat beef any more.

The foreword was written by John Robbins, author of "Diet for a New America, Reclaiming Our Health", and "The Food Revolution". Robbins writes:

It’s easier to find a Snickers bar, a Big Mac or a Coke than it is to find an apple. And your kids eat at a school cafeteria whose idea of a vegetable is the ketchup on the burgers.

Robbins then describes the glossy magazine called "Family Doctor: Your Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being", which all doctors in the US get for free from the American Academy of Family Physicians. It is filled with full-page ads for McDonald’s, Dr. Pepper, and the like and advertising for chocolate pudding and Oreo cookies. It is similar in Europe, but perhaps even more sophisticated. There you will find ads paid for by convenience food manufacturers (PR, public relations) in which so-called dieticians stress the advantages of instant soups and frozen foods. Critical scholars at Yale University call it a toxic food environment.

Robbins describes "The China Study" as a brave and wise book and the author as a man of humility and human depth. Robbins adds, He always shows you how he has arrived at his conclusions. Robbins mentions some of the aspects in the book that he feels to be most important and interesting.

Dr. Gunter R. Neeb, from Idstein, Germany, wrote the preface for the German edition. He is a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and has been a visiting professor at numerous universities around the world (Since some of the information in the German edition is of particular interest, I have included it in this book review as well).

Neeb writes that "The China Study", the largest epidemiological study on the human diet ever conducted, would not be easy for people to believe as the subject matter is too different and unfamiliar. He thought that this would be the case even though the evidence cited in the book on hundreds of substudies is very convincing and believable. The conclusions are based on studies that involved more than 10'000 test subjects over a period of more than 20 years.

He continues, It says in the book, for example, that dairy products accelerate tumor cell division, presumably through cell stimulation caused by IGF-1 (somatomedin C). Yet doctors still recommend emaciated oncology patients to increase their protein intake by means of consuming more concentrated dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.

Redaction comment

IGF-1 is a kind of "insulinlike" growing factor ("insulinlike" growing factor 1), also called somatomedin C (SM-C).

Wikipedia on the problems with IGF-1:
"It is now widely accepted that signaling through the IGF-1-like receptor pathway is a significant contributor to the biological aging process in many organisms. ... Reduced IGF-1 signaling is also thought to contribute to the ‘anti-aging’ effects of calorie restriction. ... The IGF signaling pathway has a pathogenic role in cancer. Studies have shown that decreased levels of IGF lead to the decreased "growing" of existing cancer cells. People with Laron syndrome have also recently been shown to have a much lower risk of developing cancer."

Neeb criticizes how the German Nutrition Society, whose members include many business organizations, “plays down” these facts. This is particularly frustrating since studies demonstrate that not only the "insulinlike" growing factor IGF-1 of cows (bovine IGF) enters the bloodstream, but also the production of human IGF-1 is increased by the casein found in milk. See also this book review on the dangers of milk.

Neeb further mentions that consumers are not informed about the different effects of externally supplied vitamin D (cholecalciferol and calcium) and its role in the causation of breast cancer and osteoporosis versus active vitamin D obtained through sunlight. He suspects the reason for this is that sunlight is free and doesn’t offer any business opportunities for the industry.

After reading The China Study, Dr. Neeb changed over to a nearly vegan (some fish) diet, and he now swears by this “modern” diet.

Vegan and vegetarian dishes in showcase, Wikipedia Vegetarism.© Public Domain, Zeetz Jones, Wikipedia

Redaction comment

The liver binds the storage form calcidiol (25(OH)vitamin-D3) to the vitamin D-binding protein (gc-globulin), which the kidney activates, and it becomes the active compound 1α,25(OH)2Vitamin D3. The medium to the longer-term supply of vitamin D is best determined through the level of 25(OH)Vitamin D3. The bound calcidiol has a biological half-life of about 19 days in the blood. The 25(OH)Vitamin-D3 level in the blood shows the supply over the last three to four months, while the vitamin D3 level shows only the supply over the last few hours to days.

It is best to get your vitamin D from the sun. However, people in northern countries often get too little sun exposure. In 100 g of food, young salted herring contains 27 µg, salmon 16 µg, veal 3.8 µg, avocado 3.43 µg, and mushrooms 1.9 µg. For vitamin D, 1 IU = 0.025 µg of vitamin D3 = 65.0 pmol. IU stands for an international unit. The IU is usually a randomly selected, reproducible drug dosage based on its effect rather than its amount. The World Health Organization defines these units.

Personal comments

Since these facts are so contrary to the information provided by the food industry, government, medicine, and others, you may find them hard to accept unless you have already discovered this information on your own or you actually read the book, which contains overwhelming evidence from studies of many leading scientists.

The introduction, which is more than eight pages long, contains several interesting statements, such as the following: But the real science has been buried under a clutter of irrelevant or even harmful information—pseudoscience, fad diets, and food industry propaganda.

The findings are extensive

The images below serve to break up the text and provide space for additional comments. The book itself contains few pictures, but it does have numerous tables. These images are from Wikipedia, taken by me, or have public domain status.

The main author didn’t gain fame because of this book or his work in China. It’s quite the reverse; he received this large and important task because of his reputation, his integrity and his ability. You cannot compare this book with one written by an author who made a name for himself by publishing his own views as this book is written by a person with great professional and personal credibility. It includes 708 references, which are listed out for each chapter at the end of the book.

Since much sound and convincing evidence was required for these conclusions, my book review is much longer than it would usually be. The findings are extensive.

I refer to both authors with the name Campbell, father Dr. T. Colin Campbell (PhD in nutrition, biochemistry, and microbiology) and son, Dr. Thomas M. Campbell II, MD. I normally write using the singular, but in certain places, I do write using the plural and title “Drs.” to make it clear that I am referring to two authors.

Wikipedia has an entry for the China-Cornell-Oxford project.

The book reviews of Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, which deals with the American situation, and Lügen Lobbies Lebensmittel (Lies lobbies food), which looks at the situation in the EU, take up the problem of younger readers who eat a large number of convenience foods and junk food.

Here is a link to a book review of Die Ernährungslüge (The nutrition lie), which deals with the additives in our food.

The general public really doesn’t eat a healthy diet, and this is reflected in a large number of lifestyle diseases. These usually only develop after a few decades, similar to the problems connected with tobacco smoking.

This book, however, is addressed to “typical Western consumers,” who probably think they are eating a healthy diet.

The danger is that we often don’t notice that our health is deteriorating because this happens very slowly over several decades. And we often look to those around us when it comes to determining what is right or healthy. We consider lifestyle diseases normal.

Chart: Calories in food of the world population, comparison 1961 - 2001.© <a href="https://creativecommons.org/about/cc0" target="_blank">CC0</a>, Lokal_Profil, Wikipedia

2. Book Review

Dr. Campbell states that he was part of the system at the highest levels for nearly fifty years (at that point). He also describes why we now are where we are. For this, he lists out several important points:

  • Synthetic chemicals in the environment and in your food, as problematic as they may be, are not the main cause of cancer.
  • The genes that you inherit from your parents are not the most important factors in determining whether you fall prey to any of the ten leading causes of death.
  • The hope that genetic research will eventually lead to drug cures for diseases ignores more powerful solutions that can be employed today.
  • Obsessively controlling your intake of any one nutrient, such as carbohydrates, fat, cholesterol, or omega-3 fats, will not result in long-term health.
  • Vitamins and nutrient supplements do not give you long-term protection against disease.
  • Drugs and surgery don’t cure the diseases that kill most Americans.
  • Your doctor probably does not know what you need to do to be the healthiest you can be (p. 2).

Dr. Campbell writes how four decades of biomedical research and results of long-term studies have shown (with provocative results) that a healthy diet can save your life. He then lists out the following benefits:

  • Dietary change can enable diabetic patients to go off their medication.
  • ​Heart disease can be reversed with diet alone.
  • Breast cancer is related to levels of female hormones in the blood, which are determined by the food we eat.
  • Consuming dairy foods can increase the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Antioxidants, found in fruits and vegetables, are linked to better mental performance in old age.
  • Kidney stones can be prevented by a healthy diet.
  • Type 1 diabetes, one of the most devastating diseases that can befall a child, is convincingly linked to infant feeding practices (p. 3).

Proper nutrition is the most powerful weapon against disease

Redaction comment

Based on the experiences my wife and I have had and the experiences of others we know who have also changed their diet, I can confirm that both the first two statements and the fourth statement quoted here are very true. But most doctors would probably still say that it can’t be that easy.

Usually, the reason for such a reaction is ignorance and doesn’t have to do with money at all. Medical school does not include an in-depth study of nutrition. And nutritional guidelines are largely determined by the food industry.

After reading "The China Study" or this text, a responsible doctor would want to inform patients about what actions they should take on their own. This would be an adjuvant to the treatment provided. If the patients aren’t interested, at least the doctor would have done his or her best.

The results of the hundreds of studies summarized in "The China Study" provide evidence that proper nutrition is the most powerful weapon against disease. Campbell also explains why misinformation or even disinformation persists so stubbornly. He believes that half of the American people are suffering from health problems that require them to take prescription drugs regularly. Hundreds of millions of Americans have elevated cholesterol levels.

Redaction comment

I think this situation is making its way to Europe as well. Such a book doesn’t usually reach the masses. And neither do the findings. And if this were to happen, the information would normally be dismissed. This information will therefore most likely benefit only a very small part of the population. Above all, the readers themselves must be interested in reading something like this; in other words, it’s the reader's responsibility to inform themselves, not the author's responsibility to make sure they do so. But I am definitely still committed to this cause.

Cows in intensive farming, milking carousel, further processing.© <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed" target="_blank">CC-by 2.0</a>, Wikipedia - Elmist, Gunnar Richter, Mattinbgn, Foundation Diet and Health Switzerland

A major transformation

Dr. Campbell writes on page 4: I just ate what everyone else did: what I was told was good food. We all eat what is tasty or what is convenient or what our parents taught us to prefer.

He grew up on a dairy farm, where milk production was the major food and income source. His dissertation at Cornell University was about better methods for the faster "growing" of cows and sheep. He wanted to promote higher consumption of meat, milk, and eggs as he believed this would help to improve people’s overall health.

The author was the last graduate student under the guidance of Professor Clive Maine McCay (1898–1967). Clive McCay was known for conducting experiments with rats in which they were fed much less food than they would normally eat. These rats actually had significantly longer and more active lives than rats that were allowed to eat as much as they pleased. The same thing happened with dogs. McCay died from a serious illness.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Campbell then investigated why millions of chicks were dying as a result of an unknown toxic chemical in their food and determined that dioxin was the cause (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans), probably the most toxic chemical compound.

I initially worked at MIT, where I was assigned a chicken feed puzzle. Millions of chicks a year were dying from an unknown toxic chemical in their feed, and I had the responsibility of isolating and determining the structure of this chemical. After two and one-half years, I helped discover dioxin ... (p. 4)

See also this devastating story of the Seveso disaster and information about Ukraine and Victor Yushchenko, who ingested the carcinogen TCDD. This is what humanity does to itself.

After that, Campbell examined the unusually high incidence of primary liver cancer in children in the Philippines. For ten years, the main goal of this development aid project was to get children to eat more animal protein. One of the ways they did this was to establish “self-help” education centers. Then he discovered that:

Children who ate the highest-protein diets were the ones most likely to get liver cancer (p. 5).

He next heard about some rat experiments in India. The rats there received carcinogenic aflatoxin. One group was given 20% protein in their diet, the other 5%—both groups received the same amount of aflatoxin. The result was that all of the rats receiving 20% protein developed liver cancer. But with the group receiving only 5%, there were no cases of cancer! It was heretical to claim that a high-protein diet was unhealthy. This was contrary to everything he had learned before. It was a defining moment for Campbell.

The tests carried out by his team over a period of 27 years were funded by major national institutions and verified a second time by some of the best scientific journals.

The results were shocking for scientists: a low-protein diet inhibited the development of cancer by aflatoxin. This type of diet also inhibited any existing cancer growing.

Some proteins did not promote cancer. However, casein, which makes up to 87% of the protein in cow’s milk, promoted all stages of cancer "growing". Plants, on the other hand, delivered safe proteins.

Redaction comment

Again, I confirm his findings on the basis of my own experiences and that of others I know. My life expectancy in 1978 was only an additional 2.6 years. However, with such a short life expectancy, I didn’t want to go through surgery and chemotherapy, but instead wanted to start anew and make a radical lifestyle change.

Justice and health are the losers

Finally, Campbell concludes that the boundaries between politics, government, the food industry, pharmaceutical companies, science, and medicine have blurred over time. At best, they represent a mix between the making of profit and what is best for society.

Justice and health are the losers. The problems are much more subtle than, for example, corruption and therefore are also much more dangerous.

The result is massive amounts of misinformation, for which average American consumers pay twice. They provide the tax money to do the research, and then they provide the money for their health care to treat their largely preventable diseases (p. 8).

Part I: The China Study

The actual "China Study" is covered in the chapter “Lessons from China” on 40 pages. Before this, we learn interesting things about Campbell’s life that also show how he made the transformation from a Saul to a Paul in the biblical sense, something that only a few people are able to accomplish. The rest focuses on the findings from "The China Study" and the reasons why these have not yet been truly put into practice.

2.1. Problems We Face, Solutions We Need (p. 11)

Campbell includes a graph showing that 47 % of men and 38 % of women are likely to contract cancer. Readers can see that cancer death rates increased from 1972 to 1992 rather than decreased. At the same time, the percentage of obese (BMI = >30) people in the population more than doubled from 1976 to 1999. Expenses for diabetes alone are around $100 billion a year.

In the meantime, treatment costs have spiraled out of control. In 1997, a trillion dollars or $3'912 per person was spent on health care in the US. This is more than twice as much per person as compared to Japan ($1'760), which, if we disregard microstates like Monaco, is the country with the highest life expectancy. Germany spent $2'364 per person.

OECD data from 2009 shows that health care costs increased to $7'290 per person in the US, $3'588 in Germany, $3'763 in Austria, and $4'417 in Switzerland.

These costs also rose considerably based on gross national income (see also GDP and GNP) and in 2009 were at 16 percent of the GDP in the United States. The US, in particular, is expecting more rapid rises in health care costs.

Coronary heart disease and Atkins diet

Campbell tells briefly about growing up on a farm, the heart attack his father suffered at age 61, and his father’s death at age 70 due to coronary artery occlusion.

Redaction comment

Eating his meat-based Atkins diet, Dr. Robert Atkins lived only one year longer than Campbell's father. He died in 2003 at the age of 71 from stroke complications. According to Wikipedia, Atkins had previously suffered from a long history of illness, including myocardial infarction, heart failure, and high blood pressure. His profession: cardiologist!

Campbell highlights studies showing that a healthy diet not only has the ability to prevent coronary artery disease (also coronary heart disease) but can also partially reverse it (p. 3).

The first wave of promised weight loss in the 1970s

Campbell discusses the first wave of promised weight loss in the 1970s, which began with a protein drink. Within a short period of time, almost 60 women died from this diet (life expectancy). Other diets soon appeared on the market and received similar praise, for example, Dr. Atkins diet, Protein Power, and the South Beach Diet. In many cases, these have led to dangerous health problems (p. 19).

The author also states that diets from “health” books such as "Sugar Busters, The Zone", or "Eat Right For Your Type" have made health information even more confusing for consumers who are interested in learning about how to improve their diet.

He regrets that scientists focus on details such as extremely specific food components, rather than taking the broader scope into consideration. The consequences are contradictions (falsificationism), misleading fad diets (food faddism), and consumer uncertainty.

For him, these kinds of fad diets and emphasis on individual dietary components such as vitamin E or calcium supplements embody the worst of medicine, science, and popular media.

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