One day, the most comprehensive study of the human diet ever conducted may be exalted as the Bible of good health.
More than likely, however, The China Study will vanish into library shelves and beneath blankets of dust in obscure little health food stores until the day meat, milk and eggs start losing their stellar reputations as the key ingredients of nutrition, which is no time soon.
T. Colin Campbell, brainchild of the China Study, and author of the book by the same name, confesses that his lifetime of research got funded only because he deliberately hid the controversial nature of his hypothesis — that animal food products cause of cancer.
The conclusion of Campbell’s life’s work is a tough pill to swallow.
The China Study is most definitely a diet book. But, unlike the popular Atkins and West Beach diets, it does not promise weight loss. It promises cancer if you eat meat, no cancer if you don’t.
Campbell began his research on lab rats, but finally was able to explore whether his refined hypotheses extended to humans thanks to some very precise, and very shocking, cancer statistics in China that had been compiled in the 1970s.
China’s monumental survey documented the death rates for 12 different kinds of cancer for more than 2,400 different counties and 880 million (96 per cent) of its citizens.
A coloured atlas, the visual aid for all of this information, showed clearly that in China cancer was localized; in one region a certain cancer was practically non-existent while in another rates were 100 times higher.
In a country that is practically homogeneous genetically, it was clear that genetics was not the cause.
To put it simply, yes, Campbell’s hypothesis that nutrition is a determiner of cancer panned out.
But why is anything but simple. I will not attempt to explain it all here, but, as Campbell explains it, meat acts as a stimulator or an enabler to carcinogens — what we normally accept as cancer-causing agents.
The China Study dismisses, through scientific evidence, known carcinogens as THE cause of any particular cancer.
These carcinogens include aflatoxin, a fungal toxin found on moldy peanuts and corn, which has been strongly linked to liver cancer.
It is the combination of carcinogens and animal foods in the human body that makes cancer grow.
It is meat’s natural protein, of all things — the “soul” of meat, as Campbell puts it — that he has the nerve to call carcinogenic, along with the proteins of milk and eggs.
Plant proteins, such as gluten, a protein in wheat, did not promote cancer, no matter how high the carcinogen exposure levels.
What Campbell and his team discovered was that carcinogens in the body and a high animal protein diet causes tumours to grow — and that a low protein diet could actually reverse the growth!
The implications for cancer treatment are not lost on Campbell and his colleagues, although attempts to set up nutrition clinics for cancer patients based on China Study evidence have been thwarted.
Ironically, Campbell began his academic career in the United States with a reverence for protein. He spent three years at graduate school “trying to improve the supply of high-quality protein by growing cows and sheep more efficiently so we could eat more of them.”
His ultimate goal was to close the so-called “protein gap” in the developing world by providing them with more, higher quality meat.
Early in his career, Campbell and a team of scientist dedicated to eradicating malnutrition and hunger in the Philippines discovered an alarming trend among the well-fed population, meaning those who consumed lots of meat.
Children as young as four-years-old were dying of liver cancer, whereas in the West, it usually struck people over 40.
Around this time, he happened upon an obscure medical study from India that intrigued him — it suggested a link between cancer and meat protein.
But while Campbell was struck by the correlation, others were dismissive.
“I realized that I had encountered a provocative idea that stimulated disbelief, even the ire of fellow colleagues. Should I take seriously the observation that protein increased cancer development and run the risk of being thought a fool? Or should I turn my back on this story?”
At the completion of his initial work in the 1980s, the China Study got rave reviews. The New York Times called it “the Grand Prix of epidemiology” and the Saturday Evening Post said it “should shake up medical and nutrition researchers everywhere.”
Campbell remained doubtful that his message would reach the masses because of the world’s blind love of meat (thanks to the various industries in the business of encouraging us to worship meat) — and because the likelihood this study will ever be duplicated, thus giving it more weight, was depressingly low.
That was 20 years ago and he was right. His message has not reached the masses and his work is not being duplicated.
But, he has published The China Study, which includes two more decades worth of evidence.
I would suggest you buy it now and crack it open every couple of years. Given the meat-loving climate that we live in, it’ll be like making a new and shocking discovery every single time…
And, you’ll wonder every single time, why on Earth you’re still eating meat.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.