THE CHINA STUDY by Prof. Colin Campbell
It was indeed enlightening to hear Prof. T. Colin Campbell, author of the path-breaking book “The China Study” share his lifetime work of over 5 decades, on Saturday, 18th July 2009 at the Singapore Conference Hall.
Many of things he said certainly challenged some of my long held notions, and I’m sure those of several in the audience, about the linkages between our health and the food we take in.
Prof. T. Colin Campbell is Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University who lead the 20 year study, a US-UK-China partnership through Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. This was one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted, linking diet, disease and health, with surveys done in more than 2,500 counties in China and Taiwan for 6,500 adults, using over 350 variables.
To put things in context, Prof. Campbell spent his childhood growing up in a dairy farm. Much of his early research career, including his PhD thesis lay in proving the importance of animal protein in diet, and to find ways to enhance the quantity and quality of animal proteins in human diet through the consumption of animal foods.
The China Study turned around some of his own notions about the role of animal proteins in diet and their impact on human health.
What does “The China Study” and Prof. Campbell’s several decades of research tell us?
1. There is a high correlation between consumption of even small amounts of animal protein and cancer, heart and other chronic diseases.
2. The most carcinogenic of the animal proteins is Casein found in milk. Increased consumption of dairy products like milk, butter, cheese etc is linked to higher rates of cancers and other diseases.
Children are made to drink milk as it is supposedly good for their bones. I can relate to this, growing up with two glasses of milk a day, which again I have religiously administered to my own children till my homoeopath advised me against this not too long ago.
Think about this. Babies are meant to drink their own mother’s milk, not milk from another species. Yet, we are the only species which continues to consume milk from another animal and even that, right upto adulthood!
How do cows get their calcium then? They don’t drink milk. They eat grass! We humans can get more than adequate calcium by simply eating our greens.
3. Evidence in the study shows that we can actually reverse cancer and other chronic diseases or at least control them, by following a vegan diet. An even more remarkable discovery of the studies is that one can literally turn “on” and “off” cancer development by switching from an animal based protein diet to a plant based protein diet.
4. An excessive amount of protein is a powerful triggers for cancer and other diseases, like cholesterol, heart disease and auto-immune disorders.
In case of breast cancer, a higher level of estrogen is a result of consuming excess proteins that come from an animal food based diet, in particular milk.
A higher level of acidity results from these excess proteins. To neutralise or alkanise this acidity, the body pulls calcium from the bones, leading to osteoporosis. This goes against what we’ve been conventionally led to believe – that we need to increase our intake of milk or take calcium supplements to prevent osteroporosis. Unwittingly our bias (and that of the entire dairy and advertising industries) towards milk, may actually be leading to higher bone fracture rate - a fact shown in studies where the countries with the maximum intake of dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
The body needs 8-10% of total calories in the form of protein, which is naturally provided by a whole vegan diet, based on a balanced intake of vegetables, fruits, lentils, nuts and seeds (as opposed to processed foods). Nature thus, provides the ideal quantity of protein in a plant based diet. 95% of the American diet at least, consists of over 11-20% protein based on animal foods, putting a large proportion of the population at risk.
A vegan diet then is the optimum diet for health and to reduce the risk of cancers to the minimum.
5. The idea that Genes determine disease and cannot be reversed is fatalistic. This is the premise of the Gene risk assessment tests which has become a big industry. Genes do play a role in disease, but the studies have shown that even gene expression can be changed through plant based foods, by preventing negative tendencies. So genes are not an unchangeable “given.”
6. We need to relook at medical education where the intense focus is on individual chemicals, individual nutrients or individual diseases. Not a single MD in America is required to study nutrition, though as the study shows, nutrition plays such an important role in promoting health, and actually reversing and curing diseases. The medical system needs to think of the body in a holistic way, rather than treating only a specific symptom.
7. Nutrition is about the integrated effects of thousands of constituents in our food. and the infinitely countless mechanisms that work at the cellular level, and supplemented by exercise, water and sunshine. As Prof. Campbell says, if you crawled inside a cell, you’d find a “biological symphony” that comes together to create sound health, by giving the body the right resource- in the form of a balanced wholesome vegan diet, rather than consuming a plethora of vitamin supplements.
Prof. Campbell took a few questions after his talk, both on and off stage.
1. Can we get adequate Omega3 fatty acids with a vegan diet? According to Prof. Campbell Omega 3 Fatty Acids supplements do not really work for total mortality, heart disease and cancer. We can get them in sufficient does in a diet based on nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
2. Are small quantities of milk in tea and coffee or as chicken stock in soups alright? Small quantities may be alright, as he said, but it is best to have a balanced vegan diet based on whole plant foods. In case of soup stock, it will continue the craving for animal foods, so it is best to change to plant based stocks.
3. How about Yoghurt? told him about the strong cultural bias towards yoghurt and rice in South India, especially. I have stopped milk but do take in small quantities of yoghurt from organic milk. Though Prof. Campbell said moderate quantities of yoghurt could be an exception (I imagine due to the fermentation process, as he didn’t get to dwell on the point). However, I am convinced enough to explore alternatives such as making yoghurt from rice milk or soy milk, or whatever source gives the acidophiles or good bacteria for the stomach.
We haven’t of course, touched upon the humane and environmental aspects of turning vegan. The extensive cruelty to animals on concentration camp- like factory farms is incredible. The environmental effects are equally mind-boggling, both of which are captured in the movie, FOOD Inc.
One might say, “what do I care?” What we choose to eat now, will certainly have an important effect on our tomorrow. As Prof Campbell, who is in his healthy 70s on a vegan diet, says in his book, “The enjoyment of life, especially the second half of life, is greatly compromised if we can’t see, if we can’t think, if our kidneys don’t work or if our bones are broken or fragile. I, for one, hope that I am able to fully enjoy not only the time in the present, but also the time in the future, with good health and independence.”
And someone we can certainly learn from is Teresa Hsu who was invited on stage. She is a vegan, aged 112 (yes, you read that right, a hundred and twelve!) showing all her energy and enthusiasm for life. She continues to this day her charity work for the neglected members of society through the “Heart to Heart” organisation. Amazing and inspirational!
Many thanks to the Vegetarian Society, Singapore for organising the informative and inspiring event.
PS: Can we have medical research without the use of animals? I couldn’t help posing the same question I had asked Jane Goodall when she was here in Singapore. The China Study had used rats for experimentation. Prof. Campbell admitted that they were useful, but with advancements in research methods, it would not be really be necessary to use animals any more in the area of nutritional research. I was glad to hear that.
Prof. T Colin Campbell http://www.tcolincampbell.org
Vegetarian Society Singapore http://www.vss.sg
Vegan resources http://www.veganhealth.org/
Vegan guide http://www.tryveg.com/
Guide to vegetarian restaurants and shopping http://www.vegguide.org/
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