Functional Health Services for Your Well Being

China Study Revisited

About 10 months ago I wrote an article entitled The China Study – How Not to do Science.  I wrote it with the express intention of  having a resource to which I could direct people who questioned me about the value of Colin Campbell’s ode to veganism.  Unfortunately, my design to make things easier on myself hasn’t worked out quite the way I had expected.  Instead of having to explain myself less, I find myself continually entangled in lengthy disourses supporting my position.  It seems I have decidedly underestimated the emotional and intellectual investment most people have already made in Campbell’s hyperbole by the time they ask me about the book.  Either that or I’m just wrong about all this!

Here’s the infuriating thing.  The China Study seems to have magical powers.  It can turn regular people with little nutritional background or knowledge into a know-it-all vegetarian/vegan zealots.  Once they’ve read the book, these people with, remember, little nutritional background or knowledge, react to my dissenting opinions in one of two ways:

  • They smile condescendingly and change the topic
  • They engage me with Colin Campbell quotes and act like I have no idea what I am talking about

I have included below the better part of one on-line “conversation” between myself and one of these Campbell followers.  The person who wrote the comments below had basically told my client that I didn’t know what I was talking about regarding nutritional advice and that she should read The China Study and follow Colin Campbell’s advice instead.  I told her to forward my China Study article to him.  This was the discourse which transpired:

Guy who thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about:

Truthfully I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, I can see Colin Campbell saying for the hundredth million time “Do I think the China Study findings constitute absolute scientific proof? Of course not. Does it provide enough information to inform some practical decision-making? Absolutely. ” Some of the biggest critics including MasterJohn from the Weston A Price Foundation, who is just another 24 yr old Smart Ass American loud mouth, these types will argue the sky is blue to get attention. It’s interesting reading Colin’s rebuttals, the poor guy is not even challenged in the slightest. As you can see I am still a China Study Fan. Btw I did read about the Paleo Diet, it’s an interesting theory but it’s just that.Their are so many speculations in this theory, many more than Campbell’s China study, not to mention Paleolithic life expectancy was only 32yrs, Even a Mcdonalds diet can make you live to 32 today. Anyways It’s really hard for me to swallow that diet as being the solution to optimum health especially in light of some really good science.
 
btw below is a snippet from Colin Campbell on Vegsource.com….regarding your Weston A Price Foundation, clearly the empty vessel makes the loudest sound.
(Alex’s note – the snippet, which is part of the article linked above, basically just criticizes Denise Minger’s  and Chris Masterjohn’s credentials and affiliations with the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF))

My Reply

I’m afraid you are not reading the critiques or the rebuttals very thoroughly.  You say Campbell “is not even challenged” in his rebuttals.  If that is true, why is it that he does not answer any of the salient questions which Minger, Masterjohn and myself ask?  Namely: Where is the evidence, first in rats and second in humans, that any kind of animal protein besides isolated casein has any causative effect on disease at all.  The casein/rat/cancer experiments are his biggest source of support for the China study results.  Without them, it is just another piece of epidemiology which proves nothing.  If evidence exists which supports the generalization of isolated casein in rats to all animal protein in humans, why isn’t it in the book?  Moreover, why isn’t it in any of his rebuttals?

Campbell calls his detractors on using uncorrected correlations when claiming that the China Study results are not what he says they are.  Yet he is unwilling to provide the corrected correlations which, he says, he used in developing his results.  He says he doesn’t have the time to find them.  Although correcting correlations can be important, it also subjects the data to researcher bias.  If he does not show us exactly how he “massaged” the data, we are left to take his word that he wasn’t biased when he corrected the correlations.  Considering that this debate is entirely about whether he is biased or not, his refusal to provide such essential information is simply not fair play.  Where are the adjusted correlations he used?

The third piece of Campbell’s puzzle relies on the work of several clinicians using low fat vegetarian diets to treat modern diseases.  Namely Esslestyn, Ornish and McDougall.  All of their work is riddled with confounding factors like cholesterol lowering drugs and lifestyle changes.  All are achieving success compared to a typical American diet…which we all know is bad for you.  Where is the evidence that a diet low in animal foods will do better than a diet low in processed American crap?

Campbell spends well over half of his rebuttals criticizing the credentials of his detractors and emphasizing his own pedigree.  Would that he had spent some of his precious time answering the very valid questions they ask.  It sucks when a “smart ass American loud mouth” asks important questions which you can’t seem to answer.

Minger and Masterjohn do have their own agendas…so does Campbell.  Don’t we all?  If we are to learn anything, we must have intelligent debate instead of name calling.  Until Campbell or his vegetarian/vegan followers can answer the questions Minger and Masterjohn pose, I will side with the consumption of meat.

Re:  “the Paleo diet is interesting but just a theory” and “Paleo life expectancy was only 32 years” and “in light of some really good science

Yes, it is just a theory…as is any dietary strategy…there is just not enough consistent science to “prove” anything about any dietary strategy.  I don’t claim that the paleo diet has more proof than a vegetarian diet.  I claim that the “proof” vegetarians claim supports their diet is very weak and based primarily on epidemiology or faulty generalizations like Campbell’s rat experiments.  Likewise, there isn’t much ”proof” to support the paleo diet.  However, the mechanisms make way more sense.  And, without “proof”, all else being equal, I will default to the way we evolved to eat rather than a diet which is “brand new” by evolutionary standards.

Sure, Paleo life expectancy was only 32 years.  But do you realize that life expectancy actually went down for the first 7000 years after agricultural societies developed?  See here for more on the health and longevity of paleolithic and neolithic cultures. Do you realize that stature and bone density both declined significantly and have never recovered?  Do you realize that modern hunter gatherers with access to modern health care have an average life expectancy of 72 years and have very few signs of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity even at ages over 60?  See here

Finally, on the Paleo subject, where is the “really good science” showing that Paleo is not “the solution to optimum health” or that a vegetarian diet is “the solution to optimal health”?  If such science exists, I would love to see it.

Re:  Colin Campbell chastising the WAPF
Not sure what “the empty vessel makes the loudest sound” is supposed to mean but I assume you are implying that they are a bunch of whiners with no scientific background.
Campbell spends most of this section, as usual in his commentary, criticizing the academic background of Sally Fallon, Chris Masterjohn,  and JayY.  Masterjohn is a PHD candidate in Biochemical and Molecular nutrition with 2 peer reviewed papers.  Not quite the same pedigree as Campbell, but by no means an academic slouch.  Funny that Campbell simply refers to him as a “24 year old chapter leader in the WAPF” with “no first hand experience or training in experimental nutrition research” and “no professional peer reviewed papers.  JayY (turns out Jay Y is actually Anthony Colpo of The Great Cholesterol Con fame) does not even belong to WAPF, although his valid criticisms of the book, like mine have yet to be answered by Campbell even though he is quite willing to slam his lack of education…just answer the questions, Collin!  Sally Fallon is made out to be no more than an English major, though Campbell never mentions her original partner in WAPF, Mary Enig, who’s academic pedigree rivals his.  I guess if he mentioned her, he would have to show a little respect for WAPF, since he places so much emphasis on “experimental nutritional research” and “peer reviewed papers” of which she has 60.

Campbell accuses the WAPF of being in the pocket of big agricultural “farmer conglomerates” which shows that he hasn’t even taken the time to go to their website.  If he had, he might have noticed articles like “After the Recall:  Exploring Greater Transparency in the Meat Industry” or “An Inconvenient Cow” or “Finding Health Close to Home:  A Call for Localism” or dozens of others criticising conglomerate farming.

Finally, Campbell criticizes the WAPF for overemphasizing the findings of Weston Price.  Kind of like his detractors critisize him for overemphasizing the importance of the China Study.  He asks us to realize that the study itself is only a small piece of the puzzle.  (Believe me, we do…it’s just that we think his puzzle is missing some invaluable pieces…like any kind of solid evidence) Perhaps he needs to realize that Weston Price’s work is only a very small piece of the WAPF puzzle (he might understand that if he actually went to their website).  And if he has issues with the other pieces of the WAPF puzzle, perhaps he should take the time to read the multitude of articles by PHDs, MDs NDs and other academics.  Then, perhaps he would be qualified to pose questions of these authors regarding their evidence and enter into some intelligent debate.
Or, of course, he could remain safe withing the confines of the vegetarian focused “Physicians’Committee for Responsible Medicine” where he can keep collecting royalties from his book,  keep bullying his detractors and never have to substantiate anything he says.


Guy who thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about replies to me:

Guys I have to ask you have you actually read the china study in it’s entirety? Honestly It really does not seem like you have? Alex regarding your frustration with the book. Colin Campbell’s argument is that you don’t need to test each and every animal protein because all Animal proteins exhibit the same characteristics and have similar amino acid profiles. (during digestion proteins are disassembled into their amino acids). This is not debated in the industry thus he moves quickly over that issue and onto the results. As you are big Meat advocate did you know that Animal proteins cannot provide you with all 20 amino acids. Even the most complete Animal proteins like casein have only18 Amino Acids and all Animal proteins are deficient in Essential Amino acids 8&9. these cannot be synthesized.  Alex Where is the evidence, the book is full of evidence, thats why it’s so compelling to me. Yes this evidence is using rat models but surprisingly, humans and rats are actually more alike than we are different. For one thing, we’re both mammals and give birth to living young. We’re both warm blooded, and rats eat everything we do…  and live where we live.More importantly, rats and humans often suffer from the same diseases. That’s because humans and rats have the same basic physiology, similar organs, and similar body plans. We both control our body chemistry using similar hormones, we both have nervous systems that work in the same way, and we both react similarly to infection and injury. There’s absolutely no doubt that research on rats and other species has done a lot to advance modern medicine. Thus the fact that these experiments and the evidence is based on rats has not kicked up a stir by his peers.  if you guys want to follow Denise Minger and MasterJohn’s views then go ahead. Read Mingers Bio from her website:

About me (note from Alex – this excerpt is about Denise Minger…just to be clear)

When I’m not blogging, I work as a health and fitness writer, tutor, teacher, editor, proofreader, resume writer, and various other freelance occupations. Born in California, raised in Seattle, schooled in Northern Arizona, and currently stationed in the lovely-but-soggy city of Portland, Oregon. I’m 23, but I didn’t have much of a childhood so it’s really more like I’m 35 and look young for my age.
I currently live in Portland, Oregon and work as a freelance health writer, teacher, and web designer.

My interest in health started at age seven, when I first went vegetarian, and then resurged at the age of 11 when an undiagnosed wheat allergy (not celiac) turned me into a walking zombie for a year. Although cutting out wheat improved my health tremendously, that alone wasn’t enough to keep me feeling big-H Healty, and over the years I cycled through various versions of cooked vegan, raw vegan, and then raw omnivore, with a few forays backed into cooked food along the way. This is what I eat right nowand is similar to how I’ve been eating for the past eight years, if you’re curious. Although I’m still a raw foodist, I’m not the kind that that thinks cooked food is poison—quite the contrary. I eat this way because out of all my self-guinea-pigging dietary experiments, a raw food diet with small amounts of raw animal products is what makes me feel the best.

You’ll notice that even though I write a lot about meat and saturated fat on this blog, I don’t eat a whole lot of either in my own diet. That’s because on an individual level, I value personal experience over studies performed on other people’s bodies.

I’m not a doctor or nutritionist (not yet, anyway—plans of a graduate nutrition degree loom in the future  ). I started college when I was 16, switching majors about ten times but ultimately deciding on English. Everything I know about nutrition has come from eight years of avid research and self-education: I devour medical journals, I analyze studies, I crunch numbers, I guinea-pig myself, and I try—whenever possible—to slice through the bias and misinformation littering the nutritional community.”

SERIOULSY!!! If you ask me she is a fool, also her Organization Weston A Price is so clearly a special Interest group desperately trying to defend the livelihood of their members who are struggling to accept their new fate. Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxb7XPm_SxU
 
BTW Mary Enig, does not rival Campbell is anyway. Even if she has 60 peer reviewed papers, what journals where they in, not to mention Campbell has over 300 in the most respected Journals and is the the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell.

 

My reply to “guy who thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about”
Thank you for your reply.  I will try to address your comments in order.
 

I did read the book…quite thoroughly thank you…if you would like to see the dog-eared/margin covered copy, I will see if I can take a picture of it for you.

Quite frankly, I had forgotten the “all animal proteins have the same amino acid profile therefore all animal proteins will cause cancer just like isolated casein does” argument because it is not an impressive argument. If it is the pure amino acid profile which is causing the cancer to grow, then wouldn’t the proteins from combined vegetable sources which, as you say, get completely broken down in digestion, provide the same raw materials for cancer as animal proteins?  Indeed, Campbell knew this was so, since he performed an experiment where he added lysine to wheat gluten, (essentially making it a complete protein)… turns out the fortified gluten had the same affect as casein. Here was his conclusion:  “Lysine supplementation of wheat gluten during the postinitiation period enhanced the gamma-glutamyltransferase-positive response to a level comparable with that of the high-quality protein“ Why is this not in the book?  Regardless, who eats any kind of isolated protein as a mainstay?  The protein we eat is generally packaged in food…whether flora or fauna…and the package usually (if it is from a natural and whole source) contains other nutrients which help to combat disease.

Cancer is a disease of aberrant tissue growth.  In order for tissue to grow, protein is required.  Is it any wonder that an extremely low protein diet stops cancer growth?  It is possible that very low carbohydrate diets will do the same, since cancer seems to fuel best on carbohydrate.  This study, Carbohydrate restriction, prostate cancer growth, and the insulin-like growth factor axis. seems to conclude that it is indeed possible.  I guess we should all just eat 100% fat diets!  Or, we should remember that all these tests are in rodents already induced with cancer.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have cancer.  I would like to know  more about what kind of diet is best to prevent cancer, and none of these studies add anything to my knowledge on the subject.

This study, Effect of high and low dietary protein on the dosing and postdosing periods of aflatoxin B1-induced hepatic preneoplastic lesion development in the rat, also done by Campbell, does add to my knowledge though.  It seems that if you feed rats a low casein diet prior to injecting them with aflatoxin, they are much more likely to get cancer than if you feed them a high casein diet.  So a low casein diet (at least in rats) seems to make you susceptible to the effects of aflatoxin, while a high casein diet seems to be protective! 

SEEMS CAMPBELL FORGOT TO MENTION THAT !

I have never heard of amino acids #8 and #9, so I don’t know what you are talking about.  Usually they are discussed by their names in the scientific literature.  Every nutrition book I’ve ever read says that all essential amino acids are found in all meat sources, so I’d be curious to learn about these mysterious #8 and #9 which are deficient in animal protein.  After all, I have found plenty of other things that these same nutrition books are wrong about.  I did find one online vegetarian site which stated that lysine was not found in meat, although it supplied no references for this and never even bothered to state that this is contrary to most of scientific opinion.  Of course I realize that we can’t get all 20 amino acids from meat…just the essential ones…that’s why they are called essential.  We can make the rest ourselves.  Is it better to get them from food than make them ourselves?  I would have to see some proof of that.

The book is full of evidence, is it?  Or is it just full of questionable references?  Like when Campbell says that heart disease can be prevented by diet alone?  The two references he uses to support this statement, Ornish and Esslyten, refer to studies where much more than diet is manipulated and both are about reversing heart disease, not preventing it.  The book is full of such misleading references and if you take the time to actually check them you will see that this is true.

Yes, rats are interesting critters which have been quite helpful in the study of disease.  Their digestive system is similar to the human digestive system, but not the same.  For example, rats do not have gall bladders, which to me indicates that they may not be adapted to eating as much fat as we are.  Rats also have a larger and more active caecum than humans, (see here) which indicates to me that they are better adapted to eating fibrous plants.  So if we test rats on low fat/high plant food diets compared to high fat/high animal food diets, I suspect they will do better on low fat/high plant food.  Rats do certainly get the same diseases as we do, but this has mostly been observed in lab settings where they eat highly processed rat chow.  Do they get the same diseases as us in the wild?  I doubt it.  Although rat studies can be interesting, I will always take them with a grain of salt.

As far as I can tell, Denise has no official links to WAPF.  I don’t even think she is a member! If you are going to accuse her of being associated with them, I would like to see how you came to that conclusion.  Thank you for sharing her bio…I have already read it…it is the first thing I do when I start following a blogger.I don’t care for her diet either, but it seems to be doing better for her than either a vegetarian or a vegan diet did.  Would she do better on a non raw vegetarian diet?  Possibly.  Would she do better on a paleo diet?  Also possibly. She seems open to dietary experimentation, so perhaps we will find out in the future.  Just because she is young and uneducated does not mean she is incapable of asking important questions.  Perhaps somebody with a superior education could answer some of her questions instead of pompously dismissing them!

Why does everyone care that the WAPF is a special interest group?  I am a special interest group, as are you, and as is Dr Campbell.  Is there some sort of evidence I am unaware of that WAPF is nefariously attempting to ruin the health of Americans?  They are a bunch of people who believe that traditional diets, many based on naturally raised animal products, are superior to the Standard American Diet.  When they see a popular but scientifically weak book out there which goes against much of what they believe, they defend their beliefs by criticizing the book.  Other than a short PETA reference by Masterjohn (which he subsequently apologized for) they restrict their criticism to questioning many of the book’s findings.  Campbell replies with mostly bluster about their lack of academic background, but has yet to answer most of their questions.  He also claims that their critiques are quite personal, but compared to him, I find both Masterjohn and Minger to be very polite.

By the way, what is the “new fate” which the WAPF members are struggling to accept?

The youtube video.  I assume you wanted me to listen to the criticism of WAPF, which is basically a reiteration of what you sent in your last set of comments.  I will say that Campbell looks like even more of an intellectual lightweight when he stands in front of a bunch of people and rants about how the WAPF is being funded by factory farmers.  If they are, they sure have a funny way of repaying them.  I assume that you have not spent much time on the WAPF site either, since you are sending this youtube video to me even after I pointed out that a few hours on the site will clearly prove that WAPF is not supported by factory farms.

Poor Mary Enig.  You are right, she does not come close to Campbell’s academic pedigree.  Could it be because she was ostracized by the academic community after she almost single handedly won the battle against trans fats?  See here for her contribution.  If it wasn’t for her, we might still all be eating partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in a tub and thinking it was good for us.  She may not have his credentials or his peer reviewed papers, but I contend that she has done way more for the health of the American and Canadian public than Campbell can ever hope to do.

Peer reviewed papers.  If I have learned anything in my attempt to inform myself about nutrition, it is that you can support just about anything you like by searching for peer reviewed research.  I am always the first to admit that just because I found some research to support my ideas, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t opposing research available.  A simple search on pubmed with the search words saturated fat and heart disease will give you plenty of ammunition regardless of which side of the fence you are on.  I like to use these sorts of references just to prove that I am not making things up.  They are by no means definitive.

I don’t claim to know everything about the peer review process, but I have a feeling that getting your research published in a peer reviewed journal has a lot more to do with politics and economics than it does with the quality of your science.  This article in Nature suggests that quality of science is only one of a multitude of factors affecting what does or doesn’t get published. Publication bias seems to be rampant.   Publication bias in situ or Publication bias in clinical trials due to statistical significance or direction of trial results  or Publication bias in clinical trials due to statistical significance or direction of trial results are just a few peer reviewed articles about publication bias. (there are plenty of others if you go to pubmed.com)  You can even find peer reviewed papers about peer reviewed papers about publication bias.

Not only are the publications biased, at least one peer reviewed researcher thinks that most of the research they publish is apparently false.  John Ioannidis explains   Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.  You can read more about Ioannidis’ research and findings in an article in The Atlantic titled Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science, but here is how the author introduces the article:

Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science.”

Now I’m not going to get all conspiratorial on you.  I’m sure there are many good scientists and journals out there doing the right thing.  I just don’t know how to tell which is which.  If money and politics are as big of an issue as I think they probably are, then I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the most esteemed journals are also some of the most corrupt.
 
Always with the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus thing.  Every single reference to Campbell quotes this title as if he were Einstein or something.  Heck, I even put it in my article.  Doesn’t it just mean he is a retired professor who still has his nose in the research?

There has been no further response or correspondence with “Guy who thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about”  

I know this may be difficult for some to believe, but I have nothing against vegetarians.  I’m even OK sharing the world with vegans, since I figure that just means more meat for the rest of us!  The truth is, I’m fairly certain that responsible vegetarianism (you know, the kind where you actually eat a bunch of fruits and vegetables every day- as opposed to the kind where you eat mostly processed grains, sugar and dairy) is, indeed, a superior option to eating the Standard American Diet (SAD).  I do not, however, think that vegetarianism is optimal, and I remain convinced that the typical vegetarian reliance on grains, soy and vegetable oils will be detrimental to their health over the long term. 

You want to be vegetarian or vegan?  Fine by me.  Fill your boots!  But here’s a tip.  Keep your rationalizations to yourself because there is no science to support them.  And whatever you do, please refrain from pontificating to my clients and friends until you have actually done some research.  Reading propaganda like The China Study does not qualify!

The only “evidence” supporting plant food over animal food comes from epidemiology.  Epidemiological studies look at vegetarians vs. omnivores and measure who lives longer, who gets more heart disease, who gets more cancer, or who gets some other marker of health and longevity.  These  studies are, by definition, riddled with confounding factors.  The truth is, vegetarians tend to be more concerned with their health than meat eaters.  They are less likely to smoke, they drink much less, they eat more fruits and vegetables, they exercise more and they maintain a healthier body weight.  There is no way that epidemiology can adjust for all of these confounders. 

So unless you have a little more than epidemiology to hang your hat on, keep it on your head! And in case any of you Campbellites have forgotten, the study Colin Campbell did in China was most definitely epidemiological.  Probably the largest scale epidemiological study ever done, but still just epidemiological.  And despite his protestations to the contrary, still just proof of nada! 

THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT, COLIN CAMPBELL!

Campbell’s anti-meat agenda is rationalized in The China Study on three constituent contentions.  Namely:

  1. Experiments on rats prove that a high casein diet causes liver cancer after exposure to aflatoxin.  Campbell claims that because all proteins break down into their constituent amino acids in the digestive system, any animal protein will have the same effect.
  2. The observations made in China support the hypothesis that animal protein is detrimental to long term health and longevity.
  3. Clinicians using low animal protein diets to treat disease have proven the effectiveness of such diets in supporting health and longevity.

Campbell himself admits that none of these contentions stand on their own as proof of his hypothesis.  Instead, he claims that when all three contentions are affirmed by sufficient evidence, they make a solid case for the avoidance of meat.  I’m OK with that!  I just don’t think that any of them do!

Campbell has written a compelling book.  I can easily understand how a person could be persuaded by the strength of his convictions.  If you have read or are in the process of reading the book, I urge you to keep the three points listed above in the back of your head and objectively determine whether or not he makes a good case for any one of them.  To help you, I will list below the questions on each contention which I feel he neglects to answer.

  1. On the validity of generalizing isolated casein in rats to all animal protein in humans
    1. Why did Campbell not study other animal proteins?
    2. When claiming that all animal proteins are the same because they all break down into their constituent amino acids, why did he not address the fact that by combining vegetable proteins (as most vegetarians do) you will also get the exact same amino acids?
    3. Why does he neglect to discuss his own study which suggests that by adding lysine to wheat gluten you get the same effect as you do from casein? 
    4. Why does he neglect to discuss the fact that rats have different digestive systems than humans and may be better adapted to grains and less well adapted to protein or fat than humans?  In this study, it is clear that humans respond differently to ciprofibrate, a chemical which causes liver cancer in rats but not in humans.  Other studies have clearly differentiated humans from rodents in relation to heart disease and diabetes.  Even if rats were susceptible to the “ravages” of meat eating, how could this possibly be generalized to humans?
  2. On whether the observations made in China support abstinence from animal products
    1. Campbell seems to have used unadjusted correlations when they fit his hypothesis and adjusted correlations when the unadjusted ones do not.  Unless he provides thorough rationalization for doing this, he can rightfully be accused of fitting the evidence to the hypothesis. This is called confirmation bias, and until he accounts for it, he is guilty of it.  So far, he has refused to do so, choosing instead only to attack the credentials of his accusers. 
    2. Campbell seems to have used aggregate data to support his point when the more reliable individual data would have proven him wrong.  This is called an ecological fallacy and is a well known way of making epidemiological evidence fit your hypothesis.  This also fits under the heading of confirmation bias and unless Campbell defends his use of the aggregate data, he is, once again, guilty of it.
    3. Campbell’s detractors have consistently proven here, here, here, here and here, that, at the very least, the numbers from the China Study can be interpreted in a variety of ways, many of which completely contradict his interpretations.  He has refused to defend his interpretations, arguing only that he is more qualified than his detractors are to make them.  Confirmation bias rears its ugly head once more.
    4. Why does Campbell ignore the equally (and often more) compelling associations between wheat consumption and disease, infections and disease or latitude (vitamin D) and disease in China?  In his response to criticism on ignoring wheat consumption he argues that there is no plausible supporting evidence for this association despite the fact that he, himself co-authored a study providing just such evidence.  Here is what he concluded in that study:  “Significant differences in the diet of rural Chinese populations studied suggest that wheat consumption may promote higher insulin, higher triacylglycerol, and lower SHBG values. Such a profile is consistent with that commonly associated with obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. On the other hand, the intake of rice, fish, and possibly green vegetables may elevate SHBG concentrations independent of weight or smoking habits.”  If you read the study, you will also find that meat eating was significantly associated with lower SHBG.
  3. On the validity of using the clinical work of Ornish, Esselstyn and McDougall to justify abstinence from meat eating for the prevention of disease.
    1. All three clinicians reduce or eliminate sugar, refined grains and vegetable oils, three industrial age processed foods which I and many others suspect play a pivotal role in the development of many Western diseases.   How can Campbell prove that it is the removal of animal foods and not the removal of sugar/grain/vegetable oil  which is responsible for improvements in health?
    2. Ornish also manipulates exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption and stress release in reversing heart disease.  To emphasize the significance of such confounding factors, let’s take a look at Yoga, a technique which Ornish focuses on for reducing stress.  In his famous RCT Ornish was able to reduce the size of coronary artery lesions by an average of 0.4% after a year of his rigorous (including yoga) program.  Not all that impressive, but at least a step in the right direction.  But here’s the thing – This study  indicates that only 6 weeks of yoga, without any other interventions, can reduce blood pressure from 168/100 to 141/84.  High blood pressure, unlike meat eating, is significantly associated with coronary heart disease.  If Ornish’s patients were practicing yoga for a full year, the reduction in blood pressure alone may well have more than accounted for the minor reversal in lesion size.  Maybe they would have had greater reductions in lesion size if they had done the Yoga but kept some more meat and fat in their diets!
    3. Whatever success these practitioners have had is limited to the reversal of disease, not the prevention of disease.  In my opinion, most Western disease is caused by the deadly quartet of over-nutrition, under-nourishment, underactivity and elevated stress.  These four factors all contribute to metabolic dysregulation characterized by deficiencies in metabolizing fats and carbohydrates.  Once you are a victim of these deficiencies, it is reasonable to expect that manipulating fats and carbohydrates might be necessary for reversing disease (although I must insist here that choosing between animal and plant foods plays, at best, a very small and questionable role in such manipulation).  The bigger question of how to avoid succumbing to  metabolic dysregulation remains poorly informed by the work of any of these practitioners.

Despite Campbell’s assertions, The China Study is by no means a scientific account of the rational for eating less meat.  At best, it is a heavily biased and myopic masterpiece of obfuscation in support of an untenable hypothesis.  Clearly, Campbell arrived at his own conclusions long before he put pen to paper or grant money to research.  Since then, he seems to have abandoned the scientific method, choosing instead to single mindedly advance his own dogmatic agenda using vegetarian propaganda instead of facts. 

Obviously, my own agenda is diametrically opposed to that of Colin Campbell.  I believe that naturally raised meats and fats are the safest foods for human consumption and that plants, although essential to health and longevity, are frought with dietary hazards.  I, too, could easily cherry-pick the scientific literature and develop a compelling argument in support of my hypothesis.  Ironicaly, I would even be able to use much of Campbell’s own research to sustain my theories. 

BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT!

A compelling story does not prove a hypothesis.  A compelling story sells a hypothesis!  In criticizing Campbell, I am not argueing that he is wrong.  I am arguing that his book, The China Study, is a sales pitch for veganism, not the scientific rational he makes it out to be.  He claims his book proves that everybody should eat as little animal food as possible.  In order for that to be true, all three of his primary contentions should be sustainable.  They should not be plagued by unanswered questions.  Until somebody answers those questions, the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle remain theoretical.

“Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.”  Karl Popper

KarlPopper would have all scientists spend their time attempting to disprove hypotheses rather than prove them.  Perhaps not the most practical way of doing science, but at least well worth some consideration.  I believe that a respected scientist should, at the very least, keep Popper’s philosphy in mind when doing research.  In writing The China Study, Colin Campbell has forsaken his role as a respected scientist and taken up trade as an agent of veganism.  He wields his academic credentials in a shameless attempt both to legitimize his sales pitch and belittle his critics.  But no amount of credential waving can make up for bad science.  And the most effective way of belittling your critics is to provide answers to their critiques!

To book an appointment online, please go to www.totalbodyhealthstudio.com or call 519 939 9034
Copyright © 2009 Total Body Health Studio, All rights reserved.