T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study: Finally, Exhaustively Discredited

If you have the passion for it, all you new bloggers out there (I'm watching a lot of you), don't give up. Pound it out daily, if you can. I had been prepping a post about a few who have really been doing some good work lately who've maybe not been getting the recognition they might deserve.

Here's why you don't stop. Because you'll get emails like this, eventually.

I came across your blog searching for critiques of the China Study, and read (with great amusement) the giant thread on Amazon where Campbell made some appearances.

Back in May I tracked down a copy of the original China Study data, and I've spent a great deal of time analyzing the correlations and crunching numbers. Mainly I focused on seeing whether animal foods were as closely linked to disease as Campbell insinuated. Of course, they aren't. Not by a long shot. So I posted all the data and information I accumulated, along with numerous graphs, on my blog.

I also just finished a lengthy critique of Campbell's book where I put all of the above info in one place.

One thing you'll never hear Campbell mention, nor have I seen other China Study skeptics come across, is the health of one unique county in China called Tuoli. Unlike the rest of China, the Tuoli ate 40% of their diet as fat, ate 134 grams of animal protein per day (twice as much as the average American), and rarely ate vegetables or other plant foods. According to the China Study data, these people were extremely healthy with low rates of cancers and heart disease... healthier, in fact, than many of the counties that were nearly vegan. (No big shocker there, but it's something Campbell completely ignores.)

I don't know if you even have any lingering interest in this stuff, given that your blog posts were from many months ago -- but I thought I'd pass this along for you to use as additional ammo if you ever find yourself in another China Study debate with Campbell or other vegans.

Take care, and thanks for the awesome blog.

That's from Denise Minger, of Raw Food SOS blog. I spent most of my time going over her tens of thousands of words demolishing The China Study and by extension, T. Collin Campbell. Oh, yea, she was a raw veg*n for a decade, though I've not spent a lot of time getting into her history & background. While I'd love nothing more than to say what I really think (about Campbell), I'm not going to do that and risk disillusionment on the part of any poor soul who really, finally, needs to see the real story for him or herself.

Should I steal any thunder? There's lots (of thunder). It's tempting, and I had already resolved to go at it until I finished reading and putting this post together -- and it's very late. So tempting, but Denise deserves all the credit for herself. Get this: There is no critique of The China Study that comes anywhere close to the exhaustiveness of Denise's work. Sorry, but Chris Masterjohn and Anthony Colpo must now take a back seat. But given the undue, misguided popularity of Campbell's book, combined with the dated nature of those past critiques (in calendar terms only), I doubt either of those guys are going to be dismayed at this new and astounding work.

I'm merely the messenger, thankful for it. And this goes to the opening paragraph, folks. When you read some of this, devastatingly contra a best-selling book and effing right, you'll understand what a special thing it can be to do what we do. So stick with it and be as good at it as you can be.

Here are the links.

Meta link: The China Study

There are a number of articles dealing with the actual raw data, graphs, great commentary. Please browse and/or study each one.

Finally, here is the link that sums it all up, a 9,000 word masterpiece, The China Study: Fact or Fallacy. I'll quote from the summary.

Apart from his cherry-picked references for other studies (some of which don’t back up the claims he cites them for), Campbell’s strongest arguments against animal foods hinge heavily on:

  1. Associations between cholesterol and disease, and

  2. His discoveries regarding casein and cancer.

For #1, it seems Campbell never took the critical step of accounting for other disease-causing variables that tend to cluster with higher-cholesterol counties in the China Study—variables like schistosomiasis infection, industrial work hazards, increased hepatitis B infection, and other non-nutritional factors spurring chronic conditions. Areas with lower cholesterol, by contrast, tended to have fewer non-dietary risk factors, giving them an automatic advantage for preventing most cancers and heart disease. (The health threats in the lower-cholesterol areas were more related to poor living conditions, leading to greater rates of tuberculosis, pneumonia, intestinal obstruction, and so forth.)

Even if the correlations with cholesterol did remain after adjusting for these risk factors, it takes a profound leap in logic to link animal products with disease by way of blood cholesterol when the animal products themselves don’t correlate with those diseases. If all three of these variables rose in unison, then hypotheses about animal foods raising disease risk via cholesterol could be justified. Yet the China Study data speaks for itself: Animal protein doesn’t correspond with more disease, even in the highest animal food-eating counties—such as Tuoli, whose citizens chow down on 134 grams of animal protein per day.

Nor is the link between animal food consumption and cholesterol levels always as strong as Campbell implies. For instance, despite eating such massive amounts of animal foods, Tuoli county had the same average cholesterol level as the near-vegan Shanyang county, and a had a slightly lower cholesterol than another near-vegan county called Taixing. (Both Shanyang and Taixing consumed less than 1 gram of animal protein per day, on average.) Clearly, the relationship between animal food consumption and blood cholesterol isn’t always linear, and other factors play a role in raising or lowering levels.

For #2, Campbell’s discoveries with casein and cancer, his work is no doubt revelatory. I give him props for dedicating so much of his life to a field of disease research that wasn’t always well-received by the scientific community, and for pursuing so ardently the link between nutrition and health. Unfortunately, Campbell projects the results of his casein-cancer research onto all animal protein—a leap he does not justify with evidence or even sound logic.

As ample literature indicates, other forms of animal protein—particularly whey, another component of milk—may have strong anti-cancer properties. Some studies have examined the effect of whey and casein, side-by-side, on tumor growth and cancer, showing in nearly all cases that these two proteins have dramatically different effects on tumorigenesis (with whey being protective). A study Campbell helped conduct with one of his grad students in the 1980s showed that the cancer-promoting abilities of fish protein depended on what type of fat is consumed alongside it. The relationship between animal protein and cancer is obviously complex, situationally dependent, and bound with other substances found in animal foods—making it impossible extrapolate anything universal from a link between isolated casein and cancer.

On page 106 of his book, Campbell makes a statement I wholeheartedly agree with:

Everything in food works together to create health or disease. The more we think that a single chemical characterizes a whole food, the more we stray into idiocy.

It seems ironic that Campbell censures reductionism in nutritional science, yet uses that very reductionism to condemn an entire class of foods (animal products) based on the behavior of one substance in isolation (casein).

In sum, “The China Study” is a compelling collection of carefully chosen data. Unfortunately for both health seekers and the scientific community, Campbell appears to exclude relevant information when it indicts plant foods as causative of disease, or when it shows potential benefits for animal products. This presents readers with a strongly misleading interpretation of the original China Study data, as well as a slanted perspective of nutritional research from other arenas (including some that Campbell himself conducted).

In rebuttals to previous criticism on “The China Study,” Campbell seems to use his curriculum vitae as reason his word should be trusted above that of his critics. His education and experience is no doubt impressive, but the “Trust me, I’m a scientist” argument is a profoundly weak one. It doesn’t require a PhD to be a critical thinker, nor does a laundry list of credentials prevent a person from falling victim to biased thinking. Ultimately, I believe Campbell was influenced by his own expectations about animal protein and disease, leading him to seek out specific correlations in the China Study data (and elsewhere) to confirm his predictions.

It’s no surprise “The China Study” has been so widely embraced within the vegan and vegetarian community: It says point-blank what any vegan wants to hear—that there’s scientific rationale for avoiding all animal foods. That even small amounts of animal protein are harmful. That an ethical ideal can be completely wed with health. These are exciting things to hear for anyone trying to justify a plant-only diet, and it’s for this reason I believe “The China Study” has not received as much critical analysis as it deserves, especially from some of the great thinkers in the vegetarian world. Hopefully this critique has shed some light on the book’s problems and will lead others to examine the data for themselves.

There you have it. Go get it. Link widely, please. If you link here, appreciated, but be sure to link to the referenced articles directly as well.

More: Here's a roundup of all the blogs that have helped spread the word (37 at the time of this update): The China Study Smackdown Roundup.

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Comments

  1. I would love to get inside T. Colin Campbells head to discover exactly what the hell is going through his mind. He is insanely crazy and is harming more people then he is helping. Sweet.

  2. RIP China Study.

  3. Primazilla says:

    LOL, Joseph. Love it.

  4. Alan M says:

    Wow, a raw food vegan goes to China. Nixon played by Ms. Minger. Heh.

    Her blog is now in my bookmarks–brilliant person.

  5. before you start bashing vegetarians, id like to point out 2 things:

    1 – the majority of vegetarians do it for ethical reasons, not for health reasons, so just because someone is a vegetarian does not automatically make them stupid for following bad dietary advice. some people care more about their morals than their own health

    2 – in general, the average vegetarian does tend to be healthier than the average American, although this is probably due to simply paying more attention to what they eat or eating more vegetables or some other factor other than the actual lack of meat consumption

    that being said, i agree dr. campbell is an idiot, and the china study is a total load of crap. the guy extorts the data to meet his own hypothesis and bases pretty much everything he does solely off of epidemiological evidence. people like him are a shame to the field of nutrition

    • Paul C says:

      Does a vegetarian who does it for moral reasons look for vegetarian sources that don’t harm animals? I am curious if those exist. Would I be able to find a vegetable crop farm that doesn’t use poison, traps, guns, cats, or other killing methods against mice and birds; tills and harvests in harmless manner, etc. I’m not sure if that is possible as I ran over a rabbit nest with my lawnmower yesterday (harmlessly), and got to thinking a combine or other harvesting machine must regularly kill or cause the death of large amounts of tiny animals.

    • JUPITER says:

      Putting your morals ahead of your own health is probably the stupidest thing a person can do, i have a lot of things that i believe in but my health is always going to win out in the end

    • Pretty interesting article on veganism that was tweeted by dr. eades this morning.

      http://chronicle.com/article/Vegansthe-Quest-for/66090/

    • Sonagi says:

      One can make an ethical case against eating factory farm meat, but not meat from animals raised and slaughtered humanely. Death is part of the cycle of life. It’s not like chickens, cows, and pigs would live forever if we didn’t kill and eat them. Salmon that escape the fisherman’s net will end up in the claws of a bear or the teeth of a larger fish.

    • jon w says:

      being a vegetarian for ethical reasons is even stupider than being a vegetarian for health reasons. ethics is a choice everyone can make for themselves. at least there’s some excuse for failing to understand health when you are barraged with lies about it 24/7.

    • anand srivastava says:

      I don’t agree. Most vegetarians in the world are Indians and they don’t eat meat because of moral, ethical, health or any such reasons. They don’t eat it for either a religious reason or a cultural reason. Most have never eaten it so a conscious choice is missing.

      Vegans are just misguided souls ;-).

    • anand srivastava says:

      No Majority of Vegetarians do it because they have never eaten meat in their life. You might not know it but most vegetarians are Indians and they are vegetarians because of culture and religion. Most have never given a serious thought to the ethical or other aspects of eating meat. For them eating meat is just not a choice. They feel revulsion to the mere thought of it.

  6. Sonagi says:

    The first thought that comes to mind when searching for correlations between food intake and disease in China is that food safety is not well-monitored. CCTV used to broadcast (and may still) a weekly program called Zhiliangbaogao, or Quality Report, which featured undercover investigations into the food industry. The reporters would go into restaurants, factories, and farms to film people making rotten food palatable. Moldy oranges were washed, dipped into some coloring agent, and then coated with wax. A spoiled pig’s leg was given some kind of chemical bath to alter the color and the smell. A friend who works in food exporting observed muscle-builder clembuterol being used on cattle.

    Denise Minger examined contradictory data on green vegetable consumption, cancer, and heart disease. Eating green vegetables daily was found to be protective but eating large quantities was not. She correctly noted that Chinese in warmer climes would be able to eat fresh vegetables year-round and that another factor, vitamin D from the sun, might explain the difference in disease rates. An additional factor she may not be aware of is that Chinese in the north, like the Koreans and the Japanese, eat a lot of pickled foods, which contain not only high levels of sodium but also chemical preservatives like sodium benzoate and food coloring.

  7. Paul-
    Check out the Vegetarian Myth to see the fallacy of that idea:
    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/lipid-hypothesis/the-vegetarian-myth/

    Richard-
    Full Court Press.

    • Right you are, buddy. No mercy, no quarter.

      Fuck ‘em.

    • Paul C says:

      The fence story was interesting. In addition to what was described, the making and installing of the fence would result in many small animals dying or caused to die.

  8. Mountain Dew says:

    She’s pretty cute too.

    • Actually, I’d have to go with Hotesse. Check out the 2nd photo in the about link.

      • Mountain Dew says:

        Oh wow, just checked it. Wow.

      • Jamie says:

        She is properly foxy.

      • Chris says:

        She is hot – which is particularly ironic, because “minger” in the UK is a very derogatory word for an unattractive woman.

      • I’m Denise’s mom. President Minger was ruling during the time of Nazi Germany. He kept the nazis out and the country neutral during that time. Every time we go to Switzerland, we’re treated like royalty. They even have a Minger special in a lot of the restaurants (it’s like a reuben).
        She is pretty cute and takes after me.

  9. Tomas says:

    You know there is one thing I noticed I’ve never seen on a message board.
    I’ve never seen a vegan that would openly admit being wrong about something when someone points out a fallacy in vegan philosophy. They’re always part some other group that dose things differently, it doesn’t apply to them or just ignoring the point the first person made. (Though the third point may be because of the nature of internet message boards in general.)

    Makes you think if they’re even capable of admitting defeat. Easily at least.

    Seems like everyone who’s ever failed on a veg*an diet is a sinner and anyone who questions veg*anism is a heretic.
    Hallelujah anyone? (And I hope for none.)

    • Auggiedoggy says:

      And you’re surprised that a religious fundamentalist would act this way? That’s exactly what they are. They are the YECs (Young Earth Creationists) of the diet scene.

  10. Emily Deans MD says:

    I find it hard to even fathom that T. Campbell is a full professor emeritus at Cornell. I read his “debate” with Cordain over at Robb Wolff’s blog, and I’m simply amazed by the lack of understanding of basic biological science. Thanks for the link. It’s made for an extremely edifying morning!

  11. Richard, thank you for getting this post up and de-shrouding this disgusting charade! This will be tweeted, FB and everything else that I can think of. You Rock!

  12. Great work Richard,

    You made the whole community wag their tails. You must have special powers :).

    VBR Hans

  13. Sonagi says:

    What happened to John’s comment about misinterpreting the data? Did it get deleted?

    • Yep. Apart from being BS (you can see my reply where he posted that verbatim on Denise’s site, he spammed it all over the place — on al of Denise’s other entries, on both of mine, and then apparently began going down the list here copy/pasting the same thing everywhere he could.

      That sort of thing needs to be nipped in the bud immediately, so I deleted it and banned his IP.

      Anyone who wants to disagree, make a cogent argument and actually discuss and engage is welcome. Spambots are not.

  14. Let the smackdown continue. I linked it as well. :-)

    http://www.fityourlifenow.com/blog/

  15. What is missing in the arguments? How long do you want to live and do you want to do so as a weakling? Have you ever had a good steak–yes, top quality, but don’t ever want to do that again–does anybody like you? Don’t approve of whey or meat?–enjoyed the World Cup, didn’t you? Will “The End of Men” have a sequel, “They Became Repulsed by the Carnal.”

  16. Great article! Nice to see people getting to the bottom of this issue. I personally have read “The China Study” on a very unbiased frame of mind. Although there are a lot of misleading facts about “The China Study” that I was unaware of until now, I do believe that there is a lot of good that can be taken out of this book as well. Like anything in this society you must dig further into what one person considers to be true and proven without a shadow of a doubt, and that goes with any “Diet” or nutritional guide. At least, this man is “trying” to get to the bottom of a lot of the fiction present about what is good and bad for you in today’s society.
    I as well especially like this quote “Everything in food works together to create health or disease. The more we think that a single chemical characterizes a whole food, the more we stray into idiocy.” and if all you take from this book is that exact quote than to me the book was worth while in making people think about what they put into their bodies.
    Perhaps it was just the way I read and understood this book, but I never felt as though Campbell was condemning animal protein, in fact he had mentioned that there were complex proteins that you can only get from animal proteins as opposed to vegetarian protein. What I understood was that he was merely trying to prove that and excess of animal protein is not the most healthiest choice for a persons diet. Quite frankly I tend to agree with that, only because of the great results I have had from reducing the amount of animal protein I consume. My personal diet consists of unrefined raw foods and vegetables and very small amounts of animal protein. I get a lot of my protein from legumes and lentils, which for my busy life as a bridge constuction worker, part time marathon runner, and active gym member has provided me with great results, and I simply DO NOT run out of steam, but this is my personal experience and as we know, what works for one person may not work for another.
    Diary is a food group I have not consumed in the last 2 years of my life not for health reasons but for “unnatural” reasons I guess you could say. Seems odd that after the first year of our lives that we humans stop drinking our mothers milk and switch to cows milk as a substitute. I believe we are the only species on this planet that keeps ingesting dairy after infancy, and for many families on a huge scale. Which in my way of thinking is unnatural to the nature of our species. Which is also why I can agree with a more moderate animal protein intake in my lifestyle, because if I were living off the land like our species originated from, animal protein would not be as readily available and whole fruits and vegetables would be more of the norm in our diets. Any animal protein ingested would be of the best quality as well, because you “knew” were it came from, as opposed to much of the foods we shop for in today’s society!
    So I will say it once more, take nutritional advice with a grain of salt, do your own research and always have an unbiased opinion on such subjects. There are always two sides of the fence, try to stay on the fence and learn everything you can from both sides and make your own health conscious decisions that work for your specific lifestyle needs.

  17. Where is the “ample evidence” about whey protein that you mention? What are the specific studies about the benefits of animal protein that you say exist? Where is there a need in human nutrition for animal protein in Harrison’s Medical ? Or in any medical book? I am not for or against any food due to my own habits or food habits or cultural background or even family upbringing. I always, by trial and error ate what gave me the best health and physical performance-and that of my clients who I have trained and coached for 30 years. If there is a better way to eat, we do it. This is not a pissing match. We are all working together for the same end I would hope.

    • Hi Chris, this should get you started:

      Badger TM, et al. Developmental effects and health aspects of soy protein isolate, casein, and whey in male and female rats. Int J Toxicol. 2001 May-Jun;20(3):165-74.

      Hakkak R, et al. Dietary whey protein protects against azoxymethane-induced colon tumors in male rats. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2001 May;10(5):555-8.

      Hakkak R, et al. Diets containing whey proteins or soy protein isolate protect against 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-induced mammary tumors in female rats. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Jan;9(1):113-7.

      McIntosh GH, et al. Dairy proteins protect against dimethylhydrazine-induced intestinal cancers in rats. J Nutr. 1995 Apr;125(4):809-16.

      Papenburg R, et al. Dietary milk proteins inhibit the development of dimethylhydrazine-induced malignancy. Tumour Biol. 1990;11(3):129-36.

      Bounous G, et al. Dietary whey protein inhibits the development of dimethylhydrazine induced malignancy. Clin Invest Med. 1988 Jun;11(3):213-7.

      Kennedy RS, et al. The use of a whey protein concentrate in the treatment of patients with metastatic carcinoma: a phase I-II clinical study. Anticancer Research, Nov-Dec, 1995; 15 (6B): 2643-2649.

  18. devilman says:

    please keep eating all the animal protein, dairy, etc. that you now eat. will wish all of you well as i pass by the local hospital or weight loss centers. as virginia satir once said, it is not survival that drives man it is his need for familiarity. wish all of you well with your eating. the heart disease center and the oncology ward cannot wait to see you. 5555555555555555555555555555

    • gallier2 says:

      Bwahahahahaha!!!

    • Auggiedoggy says:

      Devilman,

      Awwww, thanks but I’m doing just fine on a mixed omnivorous diet. Your nutritional deficiencies await you …

      good luck!

      p.s. Did you mean 666 rather than 555 or are you merely a devil in training?

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