The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever - January 2013 - Volume 4 Issue 8


Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday season. While New Year’s resolutions are still fresh in your mind, I’m going to review a book that presents a wealth of information on nutrition, The China Study – The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, MD. I think you’ll be surprised at some of the conclusions resulting from Dr. Campbell’s research, as well as the extent to which our diet influences our health. In addition, he has inside knowledge of the political situation as it affects nutrition in the U.S. which is a real eye-opener. I highly recommend that you read this book; it’s hard to do it justice in a short space.

   Part I: The China Study

Colin Campbell describes his start as a meat-loving dairy farmer in his personal life and an “establishment” scientist in his professional life. However, after decades of research, he now wishes to explain the scientific basis for his current conviction of the multiple health benefits of consuming whole foods (no refined carbohydrates, i.e. added sugars, refined flour), plant-based diet, as well as the health dangers of consuming animal-based foods. Campbell’s research includes both animal and human studies; the animal studies give greater strength to the human studies.

Aflatoxin, protein and liver cancer. Early in Campbell’s career, a major concern was the inclusion of adequate, high quality protein in the diet, especially for people in developing countries. In this climate, he became involved with a study, in the Philippines, where it was decided that peanuts would provide a good source of protein for those whose diet was otherwise low in protein. However, aflatoxin, which was then most commonly found in peanuts and corn in the Philippines, had just been associated with liver cancer in rats.

  • The researchers found that peanut butter was the most heavily contaminated since it was made from worst, moldiest peanuts left after the best had been selected for “cocktail” jars.
  • They then learned that children were most susceptible to aflatoxin and its cancer-producing effects. The cities of Manila and Cebu had the highest rates of liver cancer, and also the highest consumption of aflatoxin. In Manila aflatoxin came from peanuts, and in Cebu, it came from corn.
  • It was a total surprise to the researchers to find that children from the wealthiest families, whose diets were highest in animal protein, had the highest rates of liver cancer.
  • A research paper from India was published at that time, showing that rats exposed to aflatoxin and fed a diet containing 20% protein all developed liver cancer, whereas none of the rats exposed to aflatoxin and fed a diet containing 5% protein got liver cancer.

Campbell includes the basics of what you need to know to interpret research, in a straightforward, highly understandable manner.

Career-defining moment: Campbell describes how the Philippine study combined with the Indian paper led him to make a career decision to pursue this controversial path, focusing on diet and cancer. He describes a series of laboratory experiments he and his students conducted, all of which strengthened this initial evidence. He was able to conclude that while aflatoxin is a carcinogen (causes cancer), animal protein is an initiator (analogous to planting the seeds of a lawn) of cancer, and also a promoter (necessary for the growth of the cancer). Liver cancer can be turned on and off, following the initial exposure to aflatoxin, by raising and lowering the amount of animal protein in the diet. Dietary protein less than 10% of the diet results in minimal promotion of the cancer; beyond 10%, promotion increases dramatically. Casein, the protein found in milk, was used in the animal studies. Plant-based protein (wheat or soy) did not produce the same results.

The amounts of protein used in the animal studies are exactly the amounts that can be found in human diets; this is not a case of exposing rats to hundreds of times the amount that humans might be expected to encounter as is sometimes the case.

Other studies: Animal studies (mice) of hepatitis B virus, another cause of liver cancer were also conducted, and the results replicated the findings of the studies of aflatoxin and protein.

Studies of other nutrients including fish protein, dietary fats, and carotenoids (antioxidants) also showed that “diet was far more important in controlling cancer promotion than the dose of the initiating carcinogen.” A pattern was emerging: “nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based foods decreased tumor development.”

The China Study: Having laid the groundwork with many animal studies, Campbell went on to be a co-principal investigator of the China Study, together with Junshi Chen, Deputy Director of the most significant diet and health research laboratory in China, Richard Peto (Oxford University), and Junyao Li, an author of the Chinese Cancer Atlas Survey and a key scientist in China’s Academy of Medical Sciences in the Ministry of Health. The China cancer atlas had already revealed wide geographic variations – wider in a genetically homogeneous population than most international variations – it had to be due to differences in environment.

The China study included 6,500 adults living in 65 rural and semi-rural counties (where 90 – 94% of the adults had lived all their lives). Data was gathered on 367 variables (items of information); urine sample were taken and a complete dietary history was taken over a 3-day period for every family in the study. The New York Times called this study “the Grand Prix of epidemiology.”

In the US (and there’s no reason to think Canada is much different) 15-16% of total calories comes from protein and at least 80% of that comes from animal-based foods. In rural China, only 9-10% of total calories comes from protein and only 10% of the protein comes from animal-based foods. There are major differences in fat (US high, China low), fibre (US low, China high) and iron (US low, China high). While there is great variation within China, overall, China has lower rates of cancer than the US.

Based on the differences seen in more economically developed areas vs. rural agricultural areas, Campbell developed a grouping of diseases into “diseases of affluence” (nutritional extravagance) and “diseases of poverty” (nutritional inadequacy and poor sanitation).

  • Diseases of affluence include cancer (lung, breast, leukemia, childhood brain, stomach, liver), diabetes, coronary heart disease.
  • Diseases of poverty include pneumonia, intestinal obstruction, peptic ulcer, digestive disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, parasitic disease, metabolic and endocrine disease other than diabetes, diseases of pregnancy and many others.

It’s impossible to summarize the findings of the China Study briefly – you really need to read the book! Campbell’s conclusions based on his animal and human studies are simply that whole plant-based foods are beneficial and animal-based foods are not. He has put what he has learned into practice, and become healthier in the process.

   Part II: Diseases of Affluence

In this section of the book, Campbell looks at his own and others’ research in relation to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, common cancers (breast, prostate, large bowel (colon and rectum)), autoimmune diseases, and a number of “wide-ranging effects.” Please take the time to read these sections in detail, especially any diseases which concern you or your family. The short form is that invariably a diet consisting of whole, plant-based foods is far healthier than a diet largely based on animal-based foods (the typical North American diet).

Campbell describes his health in his late 60s – he runs every day, often 6 miles or more. He has an active work life and enjoys the same leisure activities. He admits that compared to his 20 year old self, he’s slower, works fewer hours per day, not as strong, and more inclined to take naps. Not bad! Since this book is about nutrition, it’s understandable that there is little about exercise, but clearly Campbell understands its importance.

   Part III: The Good Nutrition Guide

I think it’s worth enumerating the benefits of a healthy lifestyle listed in this section:

  • live longer
  • look and feel younger
  • have more energy
  • lose weight
  • lower your blood cholesterol
  • prevent and even reverse heart disease
  • lower your risk of breast, prostate and other cancers
  • preserve your eyesight in your later years
  • prevent and treat diabetes
  • avoid surgery in many instances
  • vastly decrease the need for pharmaceutical drugs
  • keep your bones strong
  • avoid impotence
  • avoid stroke
  • prevent kidney stones
  • keep your baby from getting type I diabetes
  • alleviate constipation
  • lower your blood pressure
  • avoid Alzheimer’s
  • beat arthritis
  • and more. . . .

Campbell enumerates 8 principles of food and health as follows:

  1. Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  2. Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
  3. There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
  4. 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.
  5. Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
  6. The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
  7. Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
  8. Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.

Campbell is considerably less in favour of supplements than I am, but I won’t go into detail here. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this further.

He recommends not obsessing about minor amounts of animal-based foods in your diet, but cautions against deliberately planning to include even small amounts. He doesn’t really differentiate between meat and fish; however, he does quote studies where various aspects of health were better in the population living in coastal regions of Norway, vs. those living inland, indicating that fish is healthier than meat.

He discusses the implementation of a whole, plant-based foods diet, and includes one person’s account of making the change in diet, and his tips. I agree with his recommendations; however, any reduction in animal protein in your diet will benefit your health even if you don’t give it up to the extent Campbell has. He discusses the benefits of a diet with less than 10% of calories from animal protein, so if that is a more achievable goal for you, it will still benefit you greatly.

   Part IV: Why Haven’t You Heard this Before?

Why haven’t you heard this before? The short answer is that powerful economic interests maintain the status quo with respect to nutrition and health. Campbell has an ideal background to tell us of the dark side of science and government in the US since he has served on numerous government committees, research funding committees and has had an illustrious academic career. This section is fascinating since it really is an insider’s view from every angle. I’m sure the details differ in Canada, but the economic forces are essentially the same. In summary, generally speaking, those who produce food want to make a profit selling it, irrespective of what the food does to our health, and this affects the science/research that is funded as well. Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)!

For additional information, please email; or call Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic at 613.829.0427 for an appointment. Please continue letting friends and family know about this newsletter. Also on our website, please see back issues of this newsletter, additional information about products, order products, and see information about our Clinic.

  1. Campbell TC, Campbell TC II. The China Study – The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Dallas: BenBella Books Inc., 2006.
The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.

These newsletters will help you make better choices for better health. The choices that you make today can either have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. Begin by choosing better. It is a step toward longevity.


Ramila Padiachy
Ramila's Healing Arts Clinic