Sunday, April 6, 2008

The China Study

I've been writing about the findings in the China Study, another chapter in the next book. The New York times calls it:

“…the Grand Prix of all epidemiological studies…the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.”

I think you will find this very interesting.

He began his career as a researcher at MIT promoting better health through eating more meat, eggs, and milk. Growing up on a farm, he believed that high-quality animal protein was necessary for good health. But later on, while researching why so many Filipino children were getting liver cancer, Dr. T. Colin Campbell discovered that the children who ate the most protein were the ones contracting the cancer.

Campbell became involved in a twenty-year research project, a partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, and the results became known as the China Study. The study researched the connection between diseases and life style factors in rural China and Taiwan. As the New York Times article states, it is “the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.”

The findings were startling, more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between diet and disease. The people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most disease. The people who ate the most plant-based foods got the least. The most important finding out of Dr. Campbell’s research is that the greatest threat to good health is animal protein. It’s not fat, it’s not carbohydrates, it’s animal protein. That includes chicken and fish.

The China Project

The China Project studied the death rates from twelve different kinds of cancer in more than 2,400 counties, 880 million citizens, nearly 96 percent of the population of those counties. 650,000 people worked on the project, the largest ever of its kind. The results showed massive variations in the cancer rates among the different counties. What makes this study so significant is that those being studied came from similar genetic backgrounds. This suggests that cancer is caused by lifestyle and environmental factors and not genetics. In some cases cancers were found to be 100 times greater in one county compared to another.

What makes this study so interesting is that within China there are wide ranges of diets. It is also interesting because diet as studied in the West usually involves the contrast between those rich in animal-based foods and those very rich. In China the diets include mostly plant-based foods. This led to comparing incidence of disease in China to the West.

People in the study were chosen from rural and semi-rural parts of China in order to be assured that they lived in the same area for most of their lives.

Blood Cholesterol

A comparison of the prevalence of cancers, heart disease, and diabetes in each county studied in China with lifestyle and diet indicated that blood cholesterol is linked to these diseases with more than a 99 percent certainty. Lower blood cholesterol levels indicate lower rates of cancer and heart disease.

What was very interesting was that low cholesterol in China is not what we think of in America. In America we are told to keep it below 200. The average level in China was below 130. In some areas women had cholesterol levels of below 90.

Other studies show that the consumption of animal protein increases blood cholesterol. We have been told that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raise cholesterol levels, which is true, but animal protein is even more effective at doing the job. You think you are eating healthy by eating lean chicken, think again. It’s the protein that is responsible for cholesterol more than the fat.


Protein, yes, we all need lots of protein to build strong bodies. That’s what we’ve been told. It is interesting that when the human body is at its fastest stage of growth, the first several years, feeding naturally on breast milk, the protein percentage of breast milk is about 7 percent. Only 7 percent of a baby’s diet consists of protein, not the 15 to 20 percent or more of the typical American diet.

If a baby doesn’t need all that protein, why do adults? The answer probably does not have anything to do with good health but profits for the meat, dairy, and supplements industries.

Back to Dr. Campbell’s work, while trying to find out why the more wealthy children in the Philippines were getting cancer and the poorer were not, he came across an Indian research paper that pointed to protein as being the answer. Rats, predisposed to get liver cancer by being given aflatoxin, when fed a diet of 20 percent protein all developed cancer. Those rats fed a diet of 5 percent protein developed not one case. This led Dr. Campbell to examine more closely the diets of the Filipino children. It turns out that the more “well-fed” children consumed considerably more protein than their poorer counterparts.

Cancer and Protein

To get a better understanding for this, let’s look at how cancer develops. Cancer grows like a lawn. First the seeds get planted, then they sprout and mature, and then they spread and go wild. When we ingest carcinogens we plant the seeds of cancer. Carcinogens mutate healthy cells into cancer-prone cells. The seeds are there in our bodies ready to germinate. That in itself does no damage to the body.

The germination stage can last a long time. In fact, without the right conditions, the cancer will not ever sprout. Just as grass seeds need water and warmth to grow, cancer also needs the right ingredients. It is also known that, like in the growth of a lawn, if the right conditions are removed, the growth can be stopped. This is critical to our understanding of cancer and its spread.

If the favorable conditions persist we have cancer cell growth spreading out of control, creating tumors and moving to other tissues in the body. What does all this have to do with protein? Plenty. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Cancer Society, and the American Institute for Cancer Research, Campbell and others have spent the last twenty years studying cancer and nutrition. This is what they found:

Protein creates the conditions for the germination of the cancer seeds by increasing enzyme activity that allows carcinogens to bind to and mutate DNA. Campbell and his associates found that low protein diets protected again cancer growth by allowing fewer carcinogens into cells. Low protein diets actually reduced tumors.

Cell clusters that are precursors to tumor development, called foci, are entirely dependent upon protein to grow. Even the consumption of carcinogens did not result in tumors unless there was sufficient protein. In their tests with rats, foci did not develop until protein levels reached 10 percent. Above that level tumor development took off. Below that number not one rat developed cancer.

Further studies showed that not all proteins had the same effect on the cancerous cells. Plant protein, even at high levels, did not promote growth. Protein from cow’s milk, however, was the worst.

Fats and Cancer

In America we consume more than 35 percent of our calories as fat. Scientists have been saying that that is too much. But they haven’t pushed to go much below the 30 percent figure. Studies show a close correlation between fat intake and breast cancer. The China Study disclosed that fat consumption varied between 6 and 24 percent of calories from fat. And even at that level there was a significant reduction in risk at the lower levels. In other words, to be protected from risks of cancer dietary fat needs to be down around 10 percent. This sounds like what Dr. Doug Grahman teaches in his books that a healthy diet consists of 80 percent carbohydrates, 10 percent protein, and 10 percent fats. We will be discussing this in a later chapter.


So where does all of this leave us? Quite simply: the food we eat, our nutrition, plays are very big role in the triggering of disease. Plant-based foods lower blood cholesterol. Lower blood cholesterol is related to lower rates of disease. Animal-based foods increase blood cholesterol. Higher blood cholesterol is related to higher rates of disease.

What the China Study points out is that it is not enough to simply eat more fruits and vegetables…and keep eating our burgers, and chicken, and steaks, and salmon. A salad before a meal and bowl of fruit for desert does not begin scratch the surface. In order to enjoy the protection of good nutrition there needs to be a radical change. Even a little animal protein can trigger cancer in humans. Blood cholesterol has to be drastically lowered to prevent heart disease. Protein has to be reduced to prevent cancer.

Fat and cholesterol are factors in all kinds of illness, but what we miss in all of this is that it is the animal protein that we bring into our bodies that cause fat and cholesterol to be there in the first place. The meat and dairy industries want us to think we can lower our fat and cholesterol and eat their products at the same time. That just is not possible. All the lean hamburger, lean chicken, lean fish, in the world is not going to protect you. The problem isn’t in the fat; it’s in the protein. To eliminate protein we have to stop eating animals.

By the way, plant protein and plant fat, are good for you. In fact, they lower your risks of heart disease and cancer. It is also interesting that the Chinese in the study, consuming a plant-based diet, were ingesting more calories per pound of body weight than us Americans—and they are slimmer. Why? Because a plant-based diet allows the body to burn calories as body heat instead of storing them as body fat as do the calories from an animal-based diet. In addition, carbohydrates from plants provide more energy fuel than a more heavy and fatty food from animals. Are you starting to get the picture? It is no wonder when you read about people turning to a more live food way of eating proclaiming that they have so much more energy, need less sleep, have fewer aches and pains, the human body likes the lightness of a plant-based diet.

Principles of Good Health

In summary, Dr. Campbell promotes eight principles for good health as a result of his years of scientific research:

  1. The nutrients in food are packaged together, they work in concert; it is too simplistic to think that one specific nutrient by itself will provide a benefit.
  2. That is why supplements will not save you. Isolating nutrients will not provide the benefits that whole foods provide.
  3. Plants provide all nutrients in a more absorbable and useful way than animals.
  4. Research shows that genes do not determine disease alone. In most cases it takes poor environment and diet to express and trigger them.
  5. Nutrition trumps toxic chemicals. Cancer causing chemicals are all around us. But research shows that nutrition determines if the chemicals cause disease.
  6. Nutrition can halt or reverse disease in its later stages.
  7. Good nutrition supports health across the board.
  8. Good health is a holistic undertaking, it requires exercise, the caring for emotional and mental needs, and concern for the places where we live.

For a more complete understanding read:

The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, by Campbell, T. Colin, Ph.D. and Campbell, Thomas M. II. (2004) Benbella Books.

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