The China Study was suggested by one of my coaches in SheJAMs. She was very passionate about it and with my new found interest in nutrition, I thought why not give it a chance. I was a bit weary of it at the beginning because I wasn’t sure if it was one of those mindless diet books that brainwash you into believing everything you read. I was pleasantly surprised that the book was written by a very well respected nutrition scientist who worked at Cornell, MIT, and VA Tech.
The book is divided into four parts so instead of doing a really large post (and forgetting everything I want to say), I’m going to divide it into four parts! As a disclaimer, I want to say that I am no nutrition expert. I have taken an introduction nutrition class so I do have some understanding of nutrition. I also have a BA in Biochemistry and working on my MPH. These degrees really don’t give me any street cred in the nutrition world, but I’m no dummy. With that said, if you want nutrition advice, my “professional” opinion is seek out your physician or a RD. This blog is one of my favorite and she is an Ironman RD with great advice and recipes!
Part One: The China Study
Chapter One: Problems We Face, Solutions We Need
This first chapter serves mainly to inform the reader on different chronic disease rates in the United States. The leading cause of death in this country is heart disease (~700,000/year) followed by cancer (~550,000/year). What is a little surprising is the number of people who die a year from medical care (~225,000/per year), which includes medication errors, unnecessary surgeries, other preventable errors in hospitals, hospital borne infections, and adverse drug effects. Campbell then goes into explaining how his book is different from other books, such as the Atkins Diet books, etc. The American people are confused about what is the “truth” about nutrition. Are carbs bad? If Saturated fat is bad, can I eat the other fats? Is more protein better? If you have recently walked through the nutrition/diet/food section at any bookstore then you know what I’m talking about. There are about a zillion fad diet books all claiming to lose 30 pounds in 30 days by drinking only protein shakes or no carbs or holding your breathe while jumping on one foot. But is there any science to back up their claims? Campbell has done the studies and has the evidence in over 300 peer review published papers. In the science world, that is a HUGE deal. Every scientist strives to be published. And if you don’t get published, then you might want to consider a career change. Hell, I’m even published! (If your really interested, I will send my PDF file of the published article. I hope you really like pine pollen!)
Chapter Two: A House of Proteins
Campbell did a really nice job in explaining very complex biochemical reactions in layman terms for the general non-science audience. If you really want to understand the nitty gitty, I’ll let you borrow my Biochemistry book! Campbell began his research while working at VA Tech. The study was in the Philippines and the main goal was to educate the mothers of malnourished children. The main sources of protein in the Philippines is fish (if you lived in a coastal area) and peanuts (if you lived pretty much any where else). Peanuts can often times be contaminated by aflatoxin (AF), which is a toxin produced by a fungus. AF had previously been linked to the development of liver cancer in lab rats. The Philippines has a very high rate of liver cancer. What is even more intriguing is that very young children were getting liver cancer, which is rather rare. To no surprise of Campbell, the highest areas of liver cancer occur where the highest number of people eat peanuts! Interesting enough too, the children who got liver cancer were from the best-fed families. The families with the most money ate a similar diet as Americans, high in animal protein. Could animal protein be linked to cancer rates? At this time Campbell had read a novel paper from India that involved liver cancer and protein consumption in two groups of lab rats. One group was given AF and then fed a diet containing 20%. The second ground was given the same level of AF but fed a 5% protein diet. Every single rat in the 20% protein group developed liver cancer or the precursor lesions, and not a single rat in the 5% protein group got liver cancer or its precursor lesions! The thing with science is that nothing is ever proven. Results are repeated and repeated until enough evidence supports the theory. No one believed the India study when it was first published but Campbell knew there was something to that study and set out to repeat those experiments.
Chapter 3: Turning Off Cancer
Cancer. That nasty “C” word. Americans dread cancer more than any other disease. Much of this chapter goes on to discuss Campbell’s experiments with varying levels of protein and AF. In a nutshell, Campbell’s experiments concluded with the same results of the India study. Nutrition influences the development of disease.
Chapter 4: Lessons from China
The China Study, coming from a public health perspective, was an exceptional study. The study interviewed and collected blood on 6500 adults in 65 counties across China. When the study was complete, they had more than 8000 statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet, and disease variables. First we must look at the difference in diet between China and America. The average Chinese consumes about 2600 calories/day with only about 9-10% of total calories from protein and only 10% of protein comes from animal based foods. Americans, in comparison, consume about 2000 calories/day with about 15-16% of our total calories come from protein and upwards of 80% of this comes from animal based foods! Blood cholesterol in China was significantly lower than in the United States. Campbell goes on to explain the relationships between fat and breast cancer, antioxidants, and the importance of dietary fiber. He finished out the chapter linking carbohydrates and the Atkins Diet. My favorite quote thus far is: (in reference to the Atkins Diet) “I have heard one doctor call high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets ‘make-yourself-sick’ diets, and I think that’s an appropriate moniker. You can also lose weight by undergoing chemotherapy or starting a heroin addiction, but I wouldn’t recommend those, either.”
My Thoughts Thus Far
I think it’s a very interesting read. Do I think his study is believable? I do think there is significant evidence to back up his claim that eating a plant-based diet is better for your health. Will I personally become a vegan? No. In my personal opinion you should eat what works for your body, your personal beliefs, and in moderation. I do believe in eating a plant-based diet but with some meat and diary. I still have three more parts in the book to read so maybe Campbell will brainwash me afterall!
This past May I spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua on a medical mission. I got to see first hand what a Westernized diet does to developing countries. Every where you went in Costa Rica there was McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and even a Denny’s. Diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension are all major problems in the Costa Rican populations. It’s truly amazing what a poor diet can do to wreck someone’s health.