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The China Study

Many people interested in health and diet have heard of The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. Published in 2005, the book details the food eaten by people in different areas of China and the correlation to health problems. The basic conclusion from this study was that animal foods cause cancer and heart disease, while a plant based vegan diet is the healthiest. It is one of the most often quoted sources I’ve seen in the past few years when claiming a vegan or vegetarian diet is best for human health. If you’re like me following an SCD, GAPS or Primal type diet, you will have people questioning you about eating so much meat and fat, and you will at some point hear someone referring to this study as their ultimate “Ha! You’re wrong!” argument. I’ve even heard people following the SCDiet successfully and overcoming digestive problems turn around and ask “but will I get cancer since I’m eating so much meat?”.

I have read rebuttals against the China Study before but this past week read through a most interesting and thorough discussion of not just the China Study book, but of the actual raw data the study was based on. Denise from Raw Food SOS took the time to sort through all the data and what she found was quite interesting. Many of the claims made by Campbell were simply false. Read her full post here: http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/07/07/the-china-study-fact-or-fallac/.

Of particular interest was the correlation between wheat and cancer and heart disease. Most people are aware that wheat can impact the digestive system and is the main cause of Celiac Disease, but here it is shown to have an effect on other health issues that are usually attributed to red meat and saturated fat. (Note, +’s are bad here, -‘s are good, bold emphasis is mine)

Why does Campbell indict animal foods in cardiovascular disease (correlation of +1 for animal protein and -11 for fish protein), yet fail to mention that wheat flour has a correlation of +67 with heart attacks and coronary heart disease, and plant protein correlates at +25 with these conditions?

Speaking of wheat, why doesn’t Campbell also note the astronomical correlations wheat flour has with various diseases: +46 with cervix cancer, +54 with hypertensive heart disease, +47 with stroke, +41 with diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs, and the aforementioned +67 with myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease? (None of these correlations appear to be tangled with any risk-heightening variables, either.)”

This led me to find a number of other people who have questioned wheat’s role in heart disease including Brad Marshall who wrote about it shortly after The China Study came out. You can read his take here:
http://bradmarshall.blogspot.com/2005/12/is-wheat-killing-us-introduction-maybe.html.

Denise also points out that Campbell had completely removed data of one group of people from the study. These people ate a lot of dairy and animal protein, almost to an extreme compared to the other groups, some of which ate a mostly plant-based diet. How can we believe a study that purposely omits data, especially data that clearly shows the opposite of what is being claimed is true?

“Why does Campbell overlook the unique Tuoli peoples documented in the China Study, who eat twice as much animal protein as the average American (including two pounds of casein-filled dairy per day)—yet don’t exhibit higher rates of any diseases Campbell ascribes to animal foods?

If you want to see other blogger’s reactions to Denise’s work, check out The China Study Smackdown Roundup for a list of links, over at Free The Animal: http://freetheanimal.com/2010/07/the-china-study-smackdown-roundup.html.

Make sure to check out Chris Masterjohn’s work: http://westonaprice.org/blogs/the-curious-case-of-campbells-rats-does-protein-deficiency-prevent-cancer.html.

And finally I just want to add a bit of advice. Cut out the junk food, sugar, juices, pasteurized skim milk, rancid vegetable oils, and poorly processed grains. Then you can start playing around with ratios of meat, vegetables, fruit etc. Eat real food!

Kat

I have been following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet since January 2008 to recover from Celiac disease. As part of the diet, I don’t eat grains, sugar or potatoes and prepare all my meals from scratch.

31 Comments

  1. I will be going through the long essay very very soon. A lot of people have discussed it on there blogs within the past week. It is sad that we have a person like Campbell who simply lies. Who is this guy really? He is doing more harm then good. But, at least we have people who are well aware of what he is doing.

  2. @Primal Toad I think one lesson to learn from all this is that studies can never give us a definitive guide to eating. There are too many variables in what may cause disease. Sometimes I think I’m lucky that I have such strong reactions to certain foods, since it’s easy for me to know what food is good for me. It’s a lot easier than sorting through scientific studies!

  3. Hate to burst your bubble but Denise’s analysis of The China Study is heavily flawed and therefore invalid. Debunked by a cancer epidemiologist…

    Here it is…
    http://www.30bananasaday.com/group/debunkingthechinastudycritics/forum/topics/a-cancer-epidemiologist

    The proper testing procedure as stated by an expert on analysing stats…
    http://www.30bananasaday.com/group/debunkingthechinastudycritics/forum/topics/my-response-to-denises

    Campbells response to Denise..
    http://www.30bananasaday.com/group/debunkingthechinastudycritics/forum/topics/campbells-response-to-denises

  4. @freelee Thank you for posting the links Freelee. People can read all the responses from both sides and make what they want of it. Maybe we can all agree though to not eat wheat.

    There are a number of people on the SCDiet who go vegetarian or even try to go vegan. I have nothing against those who decide to follow it that way. I do wish those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet would respect those who choose to eat meat for health reasons.

  5. People feel threatened when facts are released that go against the standard, cultural beliefs. We are raised as children to eat animals and animal secretions and so it is understandable why so many people feel threatened when they find out that the food mama gave them is helping to promote heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, etc. The China Study is the longest, most unbiased studies ever conducted and show statistically significant results, worldwide, that ingesting animal foods create chronic ill heath in humans. I have helped 400 people in the last 4 years to eat a healthy, low fat, plant based diet and they have all rid themselves of the diseases listed above. Now, I have also some Kaiser doctors who, instead of handing pills or surgery, are handing out this book and getting the same results. Thank you Dr. T. Colin Campbell for your 35 year long work. And, I know that you went into this study trying to prove the opposite results!
    When people hear that their upbringing needs to be challenge, they lash out with untruths….just as yound, 23 yr old Mindy has done.

  6. Hi Linda,
    I wouldn’t say I felt threatened by The China Study. In fact I was well on my way towards vegetarianism trying to cure my digestion problems. Even after going gluten-free I was still cutting out meat. What led to realize meat and animal products are not harmful is when I got my health back while eating more of them. So The China Study was not challenging my upbringing nor any of my beliefs when I first read it.

    Just so there is no confusion, I am not against vegetarianism or veganism. There are people following SCDiet while vegetarian and if anyone ever engages in conversation with me on the subject I generally try to help out with recipe ideas or nutritious foods that would fit their version of the diet. I just don’t like people claiming all meat will cause cancer and heart disease (which scared me for years unnecessarily) while citing The China Study as proof. If you think it’s *the* study, well I probably can’t change your mind. Denise Minger & Chris Masterjohn have done a pretty good job convincing me.

    I also think there’s a lot of wasted time on these studies and debating about them. Yes I participated in that, maybe I shouldn’t have. The real problem is so many people relying on processed food, fast food, and junk food, while popping pills to treat various problems. Whether vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, grain-free or whatever, everyone will benefit from eating whole foods prepared naturally. I would absolutely agree that giving someone nutritional advice that follows The China Study principles would probably help them out, if they are coming from a Standard American Diet background. Is meat causing all these health problems? That’s still up for debate.

    BTW who is 23 year old Mindy?

  7. Instead of driving yourself with all these numbers why not just look for visable proof in REAL people. I decided to try plant based eating and here is what happened: (the numbers have actually gotten better since this was published last October) Why I’m a believer in Dr. Campbell’s advice:
    http://www.drmcdougall.com/stars/mike_teehan.htm

  8. @Mike Teehan You bet I look for visible proof, in myself especially. I’m doing great 🙂 and glad to see you are too. I tend not to follow studies and numbers to tell me what to eat. Obviously I read the studies and listen to advice to some degree, but usually have to experiment with it myself to be convinced of anything.

    I don’t like how people cite this study as ‘proof’ that the diet I follow is ‘wrong’. If Dr. Campbell’s advice helped you then great, but it is not proof that eating meat is unhealthy for me.

  9. It isn’t only the China Study which shows the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of a whole food plant based diet. Dr McDougal, Dr Ornish, Dr Fuhrman, Dr Barnard, John Robbins -and many more, all have documented scientific studies showing that as animal consumption increases so do the rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancers of the breast & colon, osteoporosis, macular degeneration and some auto-immune diseases.
    The people of the United States are becoming the fattest and unhealthiest people in the world with their diseases of affluence. Obviously the Standard American Diet which quite typically includes meat and dairy at every meal is not working. At the present rates of the increases in diabetes diagnosis the health care dollars will not support treatment. So, why not be open to the possibility that there is another way? All of those authors above are slim and healthy. Coincidence? Perhaps there is something to this. More and more of us are moving in this direction. Perhaps you’ll join us one day.

  10. @shelley I am on a whole-foods diet that is working for me so don’t plan to change that. I was very open to being on a plant-based diet, was scared off eating meat, and started down that path only to get sicker. So I’m open to other people following that but not myself. I do agree we need to get everyone off SAD and onto eating real food 🙂

  11. Looks like the China Study is still as controversial as ever! I enjoyed this post, Kat. I was on the vegetarian path for years when I first became ill, and it was finding the SCD that helped me recover some of my health again. It was incredibly challenging to embrace eating meat again, especially having been a vegan for moral/ethical reasons! But once I did my research and a new philosophical understanding of the world and life itself, everything just started making sense and I knew I had to try something different with my diet if I was ever going to hope for health again. Good thing I did. And I’m grateful for people like you who blog about their own experiences and successes following a non-CW diet (yes I check out MDA now and then).

    As for the China Study, it’s too bad that some information seems to have been excluded, information that would indicate a bigger picture. It’s unfortunate that it appears to mislead people. I agree wholeheartedly that a whole-foods diet is the ultimate choice, be it vegan or vegetarian or more paleo-style. But even from my own experiences I wasn’t thriving without animal products in my diet; I always come back to a few important points:
    – no cultural group/tribes in human history have ever lived on a 100% vegan diet
    – in the China Study, Dr. Campbell admits he has no solid evidence that demonstrates a 100% vegan diet would be healthiest
    – Dr. Fuhrman, who also promotes a plant-based diet, also admits there is nothing suggesting that eating zero animal products is any healthier than eating a minimal amount of them.

    Combined with other facts like anti-nutrients in certain plant foods, the difficulty of getting certain nutrients from plant sources (ie. the proper form of B12; zinc, iron, EPA & DHA, etc.) it just doesn’t make sense to exclude animal products entirely. This point is really hit home when you do consider that a lot of people have compromised digestion, autoimmune issues, celiac, etc. where they just don’t absorb much of anything very well. But, that’s just my perspective!

  12. Friends,

    You don’t need to believe Dr. Campbell. Just read The China Study, slowly and completely, and figure out the truth for yourself. Facts speak for themselves.

    I, and a few of my acquaintances, tried a whole-foods plant-based diet (coupled with biweekly exposure to sunlight in noon and some physical activity) for a year (strict compliance), and it had been working wonders for us after the first few months itself, so we continue to be on it. Some of my friends failed, because they were mostly eating junk (plant-based) foods.

    The China Study book is not just about Dr. Campbell’s work, but more than that it describes the work and results of numerous other research studies, independent and unbiased, that point to the undeniable benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet.

    Denise has adopted a detailed but very narrow view that is insufficient to relate to the larger context. This approach will only add to confusion and misleading conclusions.

    Warm Regards,
    Parag.

  13. @Amelina I’ve pretty much had the same experience as you, except that I didn’t even get to a whole-foods vegetarian/vegan diet. My path towards that was pretty much halted by how sick I became. And yes it was a whole-foods diet I was following even then. I bought grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, vegetables, tempeh, plus seafood and chicken all whole and prepared everything myself. I was just lacking nutrients and not digesting anything. Glad we both managed to figure it out for ourselves!

    @Parag I have no doubt some people can do well on a plant-based diet. I don’t think this proves it’s the healthiest diet. I also think climate and geography can play a role. I live in the North and doubt that I could get through winter on a plant-only diet without having to supplement a lot. What I don’t like about this study is how it is used to ‘scare’ people away from animal foods when there really is no proof that they are harmful. Denise is only one of many who have reviewed The China Study. I encourage you to have a look at the following pages as well:
    Dr. Eades – http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cancer/the-china-study-vs-the-china-study/
    Chris Masterjohn – http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/cholesterol-blog.html

  14. @Amelina
    Hi Amelina,
    I am answering some of your remarks.

    Combined with other facts like anti-nutrients in certain plant foods…….
    There may only be a countable number of anti-nutrients in certain plant foods, but all animal-based foods are loaded with inseparable anti-nutrients starting from dietary cholesterol.

    , the difficulty of getting certain nutrients from plant sources (ie. the proper form of B12; zinc, iron, EPA & DHA, etc.) …….
    B12 is the only nutrient not available in plant-based foods, and that’s because we ourselves have eliminated all natural sources of Vitamin B12 such as pond water, naturally grown fruits and vegetables, by using chemicals and fertilizers. It has already been shown in research studies that organically grown fruits/vegetables have B12 and as soil gets richer in organic content more B12 becomes available.

    ……it just doesn’t make sense to exclude animal products entirely.
    It is certainly possible! Millions of people have already done so. We only need to make up our mind for it.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Parag.

  15. Amazing how people will use any means possible to discredit the truth. My youngest daughter had her childhood snatched from her spending most of it in the hospital and on chemo medication for five and a half years. After reading The China Study and all of us including my husband who is a physician, changing our diet, she is one hundred per cent healthy. So for those of you who choose to discredit the science and want to believe your bologny, it is for one reason and one reason only because you like to eat dead parts of animals, because you do not want to believe the truth, because you want to keep eating animal products. Go ahead and do what you want. I am so sick and tired of people like you trying to discredit the truth and having the large corporations obviously coining the billions of dollars from you, go ahead! You can all spend your lives taking medications being owned by the pharmaceutical industry. Keep making the cruel corporations rich, keep supporting the pharmaceutical industry. But, leave the truth alone!!! We have never felt better, healthier and love the delicious food we now eat ~

  16. @Melanie Thank you for sharing. I have heard many stories of health miracles on a plant based diet. I have also heard a ton of stories of returned health by including animal foods in one’s diet. So again I’ll state I’m not against following a vegetarian or vegan diet if that is working for you. Following that path was not working for me and I spent unnecessary years of sickness, too scared to eat meat, because of studies like this one.

    To say that my “decision” to eat animal parts is because I like it is completely false. I never even liked meat growing up and I did struggle with ethical/moral issues around meat. Recently I have been enjoying it a bit more because of just how good I feel when eating it. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s the experience I have had. Many others have had the same reaction to animal foods bringing them good health.

    I am glad your daughter and family is health and happy. If it’s working for you, then don’t change a thing!

  17. Just one thing. No offense to Minger. She deserves credit for trying, but there is a reason it takes 4-7 years of college level study to learn how to do scientific statistical analysis. I have a Math degree. Denise’s analysis is full of holes. She uses univariate analysis on data that requires regression analysis.
    Read http://www.30bananasaday.com/group/debunkingthechinastudycritics/forum/topics/a-cancer-epidemiologist?xg_source=activity
    for an epidemiologist’s critique of her methods. Bottom line: Campbell’s work was peer-reviewed. Minger’s was not, and would probably not even be accepted for publication because it is so flawed. The science here is clear. Of course, individuals’ response to that will vary. I chose veganism and am extremely healthy, cancer-free, and happy at 59.

  18. @Kat
    I can’t imagine why anyone would want to eat a dead decaying animal carcass containing diseases in the first place. That is why Bible precepts say “do not eat the fat, do not eat the blood” because the life of the animal is in the blood (diseases, parisites, viruses, etc.) and it has been proved by science what animal fats do to our arteries. Use common sense and eat what God has provided for our diets in the beginning when we were created to live forever – in the garden with our animals as friends with names.

  19. Personally, I think any reply to Denise Minger’s blind leap to criticize Dr. Campbell’s work is a wasted effort and risks lending undue credence to her baseless claims. However, I do have this to say: How can she even consider that she possesses the credentials, academic or otherwise, to challenge the findings of a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry and several decades of experience in labs and fieldwork in the area of nutrition? I suppose such research facilities as Cornell and Oxford should reconsider their acceptance of his research findings in support of someone who has absolutely no academic credentials in this arena. In addition, does she think all peer reviews of his work should be reconsidered just because she “likes to crunch numbers”? Please! Give the readers some credit for intellect and common sense.

    Archie L. Tucker
    Certified in:
    Biology, anatomy, health, and astronomy

  20. @altucker If you prefer to read a review by someone with more credentials then maybe you would prefer Dr. Eades’ post which I had posted in the comments above: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cancer/the-china-study-vs-the-china-study/

    @nan I don’t think God would have wanted us to eat food trucked in 1000s of miles. I live in the North. Eating what is available to me includes meat in order for it to be a balanced diet. I don’t eat the dead decaying carcasses of diseased animals. I eat fresh meat from animals who were healthy. I believe in supporting the environment and treating animals with respect.

  21. @Kat

    Dr. Eades also admitted in the same post that he promoted the Denise Minger analysis before he had even read the China Study book. Now he says he agrees with her after worrying that he was promoting false information. IMO that makes him look kind of foolish and like maybe he’s trying to cover his butt.

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