The China study:
The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health
T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II.
1. Proteins, as a class of food, are crucial to supporting the processes that make our lives viable. However, the “wrong” types of proteins are killing us
Protein has a special place in culture. Discovered in 1839 by Gerhard Mulder, a Dutch chemist, it is regarded as the most sacred of all nutrients.
Protein entered the mainstream through the work of such early scientists as Carl Voit (1831-1908), a German scientist, who found during his research that consuming 48.5 grams of protein every day was optimum for any human; but would go on to recommend daily consumption of 118 grams anyway. In those days; meat, dairy milk, and eggs — food only the affluent of the day could afford — were a ready source of proteins. Soon, meat, dairy milk, and eggs became synonymous with protein; and soon enough, it became a cultural aspiration to be able to afford and eat these foods; most especially, meat.
Is this a good thing or not? The answer to the question lies in the quality of the proteins we consume.
Proteins are important because they support the biological and chemical processes that make our lives possible. For example, they act as enzymes, hormones, structural tissues, and transport molecules. The catch is that they wear out fast and need to be replaced by eating proteins. When the proteins we eat digest in our bodies, they give us a whole new supply of amino acid building blocks that our bodies can use to make new proteins to replace the worn ones. How easy this process is, is a direct function of the availability of eight essential amino acids which our bodies cannot manufacture but yet require for making new protein molecules. Our bodies stop creating new proteins if any one of these eight amino acids is absent.
The highest quality food proteins are the ones that release one or more of these eight amino acids into our bodies after we eat and digest them. Proteins sourced from animals, for example, human flesh, animal flesh, dairy milk, and eggs; are of the “highest” quality because they can provide our bodies with all of the eight essential amino acids at once. Plant-sourced proteins are of “lower” quality because individually, they generally lack one or more of these essential amino acids; but contain all of them when consumed together as a group.
Where the confusion comes in is when we equate high quality with health. “Higher quality” animal proteins like meat, dairy milk, and eggs make us grow fast, but leave us exposed to developing “diseases of the affluent” such as all sorts of cancers, diabetes, and coronary heart disease; while the “lower quality” plant proteins like peanuts and spinach make us grow a little bit slower, but leave us at no risk to these diseases. So, consuming “high quality” proteins doesn’t translate to better health.
Several studies finger the excessive intake of animal-sourced proteins as the causative agent in several cancers because cancerous cells feed off the excess proteins in our bodies.
2. Cancer progresses through three stages: initiation, promotion, and progression
At the initiation stage, a carcinogen sows the seed of cancer by causing a change in the gene structure of one or more normal cells; making them prone to excessive, debilitating growth cancer.
At the promotion stage, these cancer-prone cells grow and multiply until they become visibly detectable. But promotion requires that the nutritional conditions be right for it, and those conditions are provided for by the foods we eat. When we eat more of the class of foods regarded to be “promoters,” the cancer-prone cells grow, and stop growing or reverse when we eat more of foods regarded to be “anti-promoters.” The process is a push-pull one, and it has two important implications.
One, cancer growth doesn’t progress from initiation to promotion if the nutritional conditions are not right for it; and two, cancer growth can be stopped or out-rightly reversed through making the right dietary choices.
The right dietary choice is the one in which there is absolutely no animal-sourced protein — meat, dairy milk, or eggs — in it.
3. The “China Study” revealed the link between the food choices we make and the diseases we suffer
As Chou En-lai, the premier of China, lay dying of cancer in the early 1970s, he commissioned a nationwide study to collect data about cancer. The study was a survey of death rates for different kinds of cancer for more than 2,400 Chinese counties and 880 million Chinese, about 96% of the population of China then. That study became the most ambitious biomedical research project ever undertaken on earth. It provided the scientific community with a color-coded map of China, showing which areas had specific types of cancer that were prevalent and which areas don’t.
At the time of the study, China had a majority of its population living in rural areas and eating mainly plant-based diets. The study represented an opportunity for American and Chinese nutrition scholars to jointly study the effect dietary choices had on disease. That joint study, which began in the 1980s and extended over 20 years, came to be known as The China Study. The study turned out to be very revealing.
In rural China, only 9-10% of all calories ingested came from eating proteins and less than 1% of these proteins are animal-sourced. This implied that the typical rural Chinese eats a diet made up mainly of plant-sourced proteins.
In the US, 15-16% of total calories ingested came from eating proteins and 80% of these proteins are animal-sourced.
The study found that disease patterns could be attributed to dietary choices. The typical American, protein-rich, animal-protein-fueled diet resulted in a group of “diseases of affluence” — cancers of the colon, lung, breast, blood, childhood brain, stomach, and liver; as well as diabetes and coronary heart disease; while the typical rural Chinese protein-average, plant-protein-fueled diet resulted in a group of “diseases of poverty” — pneumonia, intestinal obstruction, peptic ulcer, digestive disease, pulmonary tuberculosis; and the likes.
The study also showed that as a rural population accumulates wealth and its people begin to change their dietary habits, lifestyles, and sanitation systems; more of them begin to die from diseases of affluence.
The study eventually established that a person who had a high level of blood cholesterol had a high chance of developing a disease of affluence.
4. An increased level of blood cholesterol directly results from the consumption of fat-rich, animal-sourced proteins
In the West, a person with a blood cholesterol level as low as 150 mg/dL is deemed a health disaster waiting to happen. “The China Study” revealed that 85% of all rural Chinese had blood cholesterol levels in the 80-127 mg/dL range; and yet they remained very healthy. The “health-disaster-waiting-to-happen” thingy was a myth.
The blood cholesterol levels in the West average 170-290 mg/dL range, and the West has a lot of deaths from coronary heart disease — 17 times as much as the rate in rural China, deaths from breast cancer — 5 times as much as the rate in rural China, etc., to show for it.
So blood cholesterol is the culprit we all have been looking for. It converts and becomes in our bloodstream from the fat-rich, animal-sourced proteins that we eat.
In contrast, dietary fiber, found exclusively in plant-sourced food, is good for our health, even if our bodies don’t digest them. They are highly-complex carbohydrate molecules that come in thousands of different chemical variations. They contribute zero calories to our diet but help dilute the calorific density of our diets, create a sense of fullness and help shut down our appetite so we don’t eat excessively.
Fibers pull water from the body into the intestines to keep digestion and excretion going. They soak up nasty chemicals — for example, carcinogens — that find their way into our intestines and eject with them, when we excrete, from our bodies.
Antioxidants, also found exclusively in plants, are another benefit we get from eating plant-based food. They stop our bodies from producing unwanted free radicals which can cause our tissues to become rigid and limit their functions; giving rise to such ailments as cataracts, hardening of the arteries, cancer, emphysema, arthritis, and the likes.
5. “Eating right” is as easy as following eight principles of food and health
Everyone can aspire to a healthy life. We can all live longer, look and feel younger, have more energy, lose weight, lower our blood cholesterol levels, prevent and even reverse heart disease, lower our risk of developing cancers, and more by simply changing our diets and “eating right.”
A good way to start is by being aware of and following the eight principles of food and health.
One, nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances; and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What this means is that the chemicals we get from the foods we eat are engaged in a series of reactions that work together to produce good health. Intricate controls inside our cells and throughout our bodies carefully orchestrate the changes these chemicals go through and decide what nutrient goes where, how much of each nutrient is needed, and when the changes take place.
Two, vitamin supplements do not solve nutritional deficiencies. Good health results from good nutrition, which in turn, is a result of several thousands of complex chemicals undergoing reactions in our bodies. It makes no sense to think that some isolated nutrients taken as supplements will be good substitutes for whole foods.
Three, there is no nutrient in animal-sourced food that is not better provided by plants. Animal–sourced food has more protein, cholesterol, and fat; which makes eating them a disadvantage to us because of the diseases of affluence they leave us vulnerable to. On the other hand, plant-sourced foods have more antioxidants, fiber, minerals, and fewer proteins; which make eating them an advantage to us because they prevent us from developing diseases of influence.
Four, genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed; and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed. Every disease our body suffers results from one genetic defect or another. That notwithstanding, these genes do not turn themselves on by themselves. Our nutritional choices trigger them off or keep them dormant.
Five, nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals, for example, carcinogens; no matter the dosage or how frequently we ingest them.
Six, the same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages before a diagnosis can also stop or reverse disease in its later stages after diagnosis. Since chronic diseases take several years to develop into their full-blown states, we have a window of opportunity to slow them down, stop them and even reverse them by consuming plant-based whole foods. The earlier in our lives we eat these foods that are plant-based, the better the health outcomes we will derive from them.
Seven, any nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board. This is because the same biochemical processes underpin a lot of the diseases we suffer and it only makes sense that the same good nutritional practices will generate health and prevent diseases across the board. For example, plant-based whole foods will not stop one disease and promote another. It will stop all diseases across the board.
Eight, good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected. The concept of good health is holistic — that is, interconnected. Good food and good nutrition are an important part of it. So also is physical activity, emotional and mental health, and the well-being of our environment.
6. Healthy eating should be a simple, enjoyable, and worry-free experience; and should not rely on deprivation
People who follow any of the several weight-loss plans that abound have to count calories, points, servings, or nutrients; or eat specific amounts of certain foods based on specific mathematical ratios. There are tools to use, supplements to take, and worksheets to fill in. That’s a lot of complexity at play, and this is the reason why the plans seldom work.
A simpler approach to good food and good health is to follow the main recommendation coming out of several published literature — eating whole foods, plant-based diet while minimizing the consumption of refined foods, added salts, and added fats.
Intake of animal-sourced foods should be minimized or eliminated. Instead, eat as many wholes, unrefined plant-sourced foods as you want; in as many categories as possible.
Fruits: Oranges, okra, kiwi, red pepper, apple, cucumber, tomato, avocado, strawberries, mangoes, eggplant, pear, watermelon, grapefruit, peach; etc
Vegetables: Spinach, artichokes, kale, lettuce, cabbage, celery, asparagus, mustard greens, etc
Roots: Potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, ginger, etc
Legumes: Green beans, soybeans, peas, peanuts, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, white beans, etc
Mushrooms: White button, baby bella, cremini, Portobello, shiitake, oyster; etc
Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, macadamia, pecans, cashew, hazelnut, pistachio, etc
Whole grains: Wheat, rice, corn, millet, sorghum, rye, oats, barley, teff, buckwheat; etc.
Refined carbohydrates: Pasta, white bread, crackers, sugars, pastries.
Vegetable oils and fish should be minimized while meats — steak, hamburger, lard, chicken, turkey — and cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs should be completely avoided.
People who spend considerable time indoors and/or live in the northern climates can take daily supplements of vitamins B12 and D, both within RDA recommendations.
This is all that science has found to be consistent with the greatest health benefit and the lowest incidence of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other such diseases of affluence.
7. Entrenched interests are misinforming or not informing the public about the dangers of eating animal-sourced food, for monetary gains
Scams, tricks, and outright deception for personal gain are as old as history itself; and the discipline or science of health is not exempt. In the 1970s, there was the Laetrile alternative cancer treatment as well as the pangamic acid scams.
In 1976, US Senator George McGovern convened a committee to draft dietary goals for legislative purposes. One of the committee’s key recommendations is the decrease in the consumption of fatty animal foods and an increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables because of their adverse and beneficial effects respectively on the human heart.
Predictably, the animal foods industry went up in arms against this and other recommendations and their supporters. Six senators from agricultural states lost their seats in the 1980 elections as a result.
It was around this time that the author, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., began working at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and Medicine (FASEB) during a sabbatical break from Cornell University where he taught. From FASEB, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. got drafted into the Public Nutrition Information Committee, whose key responsibility was to “decide what is sound nutritional advice to give to the public.”
Of eighteen members, only the author had no connection whatsoever to the commercial world of food and drug companies and the coalitions they have influence over. Every other member was entrenched in the status quo — being members of professional associations or openly fraternizing with the corporations in the food and drug industry. The conflict of interest but most of the committee members were at odds with the public interest, and it showed in the quality of results the committee was able to achieve.
At the committee’s meetings, there was no honest, open debate about the merit or demerit of any proposed recommendation. There were only entrenched interests. For example, a proposed news release to expose nutrition frauds listed the above Senator George McGovern’s committee key recommendation; without any debate.
Here is a committee, having some of the nutritional sciences’ best minds, taking a biased position on an issue so key to the public interest; because its members were conflicted.
Several such instances abound in the scientific community. Scientists, who ordinarily should use their knowledge and research to further the interests of the public, do otherwise, because of the benefits or perks they stand to lose; should the status quo change. They work in key, consequential scientific committees advising governments, to stifle useful nutritional information from getting to the public. An example is the tobacco lobby, which, for several decades, was able to keep the link between smoking and lung cancer away from the public. These compromised scientists and their allies in government are few, but their influence is far-reaching.
The truth is, in the world of nutrition and health, scientists are not free to pursue wherever their research leads. The “conclusions” of most research initiatives are predetermined, and coming to the “wrong” conclusions even through first-rate science can damage a scientist’s career.
Trying to disseminate these “wrong” conclusions to the public for the sake of public health can destroy a scientist’s career.
"Dark science is the reason important nutritional information, such as the link between animal-sourced proteins and diseases or the many health benefits of eating plant-sourced foods, has not made it into the mainstream of culture."
What we don’t know or understand about nutrition can hurt us. Or even kill us.
What many studies show in unequivocal terms is that our health benefits in multiple folds if we eat plant-based foods and suffer dire consequences in the form of debilitating diseases if we eat animal-based foods; including meat, dairy, and eggs.
Going whole food plant-based diet is the holy grail of a long, healthy life.
What are you going to do about it?
If you are not already vegan, whip out your journal and create a plan that gradually transits you from an animal-sourced diet to a plant-sourced one; over several months. Do your background research. Find out what plant-sourced alternatives exist for the animal-sourced meals you currently relish.
Implement your plan.
You might want to do this along with a few of your friends and family members so you all can mutually motivate one another to stay on track.
How will you describe to a roomful of your family or friends, in your own words, The China Study and its implications for the health of humans? Would it be worth your while to start some sort of advocacy inside of your circles of influence?
Be Blessed by the Divine!
Dr Achyuthan Eswar