How does a world acclaimed, award winning Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry who grew up on a dairy farm, discover that the main protein in cows milk may actually be promoting cancer growth? This is the story of Professor T Colin Campbell and The China Study.
Dr T Colin Campbell studied at Pennsylvania State University, University of Georgia, Cornell University – studying Veterinary Science, a Masters in Nutrition and Biochemistry and then a Ph.D. in Nutrition, Biochemistry, and Microbiology.
Having worked at MIT, Virginia Tech Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, and served both the American Institute for Cancer Research and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Dr Campbell has been at the forefront of nutrition research for decades.
Dr Campbell is also the Endowed Chair as the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell, he has authored more than 300 scientific papers and 3 internationally acclaimed books, he has featured in several documentaries, he has received more than 70 grant-years of research funding, is the founder of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and has given hundreds of lectures around the world during the course of his career.
With a CV as impressive as this, common sense would dictate that Dr T Colin Campbell is worth paying attention to!
Dr T Colin Campbell explains Cancer
Professor Campbell believes that Cancer develops in 3 stages:
He says that the cancer lifespan can be likened to planting a lawn.
Initiation is when you put the seeds in the soil, Promotion is when the grass starts to grow, and Progression is when the grass gets completely out of control, invading the driveway, borders and pavement.
Cancer starts when a chemical genetically transforms a normal cell into a cancer-prone cell and damages the cell DNA. The chemical which causes this mutation is called a Carcinogen (cancer causing agent). Carcinogens can include tobacco smoke, alcohol, certain foods we eat, pathogens, certain toxic chemicals, radiation and by-products of industrial processes.
When a cell is damaged, and it passes that DNA damage on to its daughter cells, the process is irreversible. Daughter cells and their progeny will forever be genetically damaged, giving rise to a potential for cancer – but the key word here is “potential”. According to Dr Campbell, this stage of Initiation is likened to ‘implanting’ the seeds in the soil.
The next stage is Promotion. Just like seeds in the soil needing specific conditions such as water, sunlight and nutrients in the soil, in order to germinate and grow, so too the initial cancer cells lying dormant in the body will not grow and multiply, unless specific conditions are met.
The Promotion process is in fact reversible, depending on whether the early cancer growth is given the right conditions to grow. This is why dietary factors are so vitally important. There are dietary factors which feed cancer growth – and they are known as Promoters. And there are dietary factors which slow cancer growth – and they are known as Anti-Promoters (Campbell et al, 2005).
According to Professor Campbell, cancer flourishes when there are more promoters than anti-promoters, and when there are more anti-promoters than promoters, cancer growth slows or stops. The understanding of the reversibility of cancer growth cannot be overstated.
The final stage is what Dr Campbell terms Progression and he likens it to when a fully grown lawn invades everything around it – the sidewalk, the borders, the driveway. By the same token, in the body the advanced cancer cells formed in a developing tumour, may wander from their initial site in the body to invade other tissues or organs. When the cancer takes on these properties, it is metastasizing and is considered malignant.
Campbell’s extensive studies led him to investigate what were the “Promoters” and “Anti-Promoters” of cancer in the second stage of Cancer development. This key stage, he determined, was the stage which could be reversed and which could be positively or negatively affected by our diet. In particular, Dr Campell’s studies led him to believe that protein – being by its very function a growth promoting substance – directly affected the growth of cancer cells.
But not all proteins had the same affect. In fact, Dr Campbell’s research of animal based proteins, in particular Casein which is the dominant protein in cow’s milk, led him to believe that animal based proteins aggressively promote cancer.
Equally significantly, Campbell’s studies led him to believe that plant-based proteins do the exact opposite – plant based proteins do not promote cancer growth. These findings pointed to the fact that a whole food, plant based diet may significantly protect against the DNA damage by carcinogens – highlighting just how vitally important the food we consume is to our health.
Dr Campbell and his colleagues were then given a rare opportunity to study the role of nutrition, lifestyle and disease on people’s health in the most comprehensive manner ever undertaken in the history of medicine. The China Study.
The Legacy of Dr T Colin Campbell
The China Project was the culmination of a 20 year partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine and is possibly the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted. The Project involved a large scale analysis of the blood, urine, diet and food intake of 6,500 adults across 65 counties of China.
Why China, you may ask? Well because 87% of the Chinese population is from the same ethnic group, the Han people, and the participants were from rural and semi-rural China where they had lived and eaten food from the same area most of their lives. This massively limited the chance of differences in disease susceptibility being due to genetics and concentrated on the impact specifically of diet and lifestyle, on disease.
The truly plant-based nature of the rural Chinese diet also gave researchers a chance to compare plant-based diets with animal-based diets—a comparison that had not been possible in studies on Western subjects, who tended to consume diets that were (and still are) much more similar.
Two distinct groups of diseases emerged from the data of the Project:
Poor people who typically ate poor diets and had low nutrition, suffered from diseases such as pneumonia, peptic ulcers and diseases arising from bad sanitation. But these people had little or no occurrences of cancer or heart disease – the typically deadly ‘Western’ diseases.
Whereas the more affluent people consuming a “richer diet” appeared to suffer from certain cancers, diabetes, high blood cholesterol and heart disease. So what nutrients, when eaten in higher levels, were causing ‘Western’ diseases in the affluent members of the population?
In a nutshell, The China Project showed clearly that animal protein and animal fat cause “diseases of affluence” or “diseases of nutritional extravagance” and these are the very same diseases which are the leading causes of illness and death in most Western countries.
Whilst plant nutrients on the other hand, such as fibre, antioxidants, vegetable protein and complex carbohydrates, appear to protect us from disease.
Not only does a diet rich in plants appear to protect us from disease and death, but it also helps us manage our weight much more effectively.
A fascinating result of the China Project was that the Chinese eat more than the average American, but they weigh less! Although the average calorie intake of the least active Chinese person was 30% HIGHER than the average American, their body weight was 20% lower!
How is that even possible? According to The China Study, eating diets high in animal protein and animal fat make us more likely to store calories as body fat, whereas diets low in animal protein and fat make us more likely to burn calories as heat rather than storing them as body fat (Campbell et al, 2005.).
The (Healthy) Take Away
In order to reduce our risk of illness, we would be well advised to remove the greatest risk factors of the “diseases of affluence” from our diets - which appear to be animal protein and saturated (bad) fat, including cows’ milk and milk products – especially cheese, cream, butter and meat and meat products – including red and white meats, sausages, meat pies (Woodvine, 2006).
The China Study and many others, have repeatedly shown that we can best protect and promote our health, and indeed thrive sustainably, on a varied diet of whole, plant foods. The foods that actively protect our health and fight disease are Fruits (extra mention of Berries as award winning fruits), Vegetables (extra mention of Green Leafy Veg and Cruciferous Veg as award winning veges), Beans, Whole Grains, Mushrooms, Nuts, Seeds, Herbs & Spices.
Endorsements of The China Study
“[These] findings from the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease are challenging much of American dietary dogma.” — The New York Times
“Reflects the profound changes that industrialization is bringing to diet and disease patterns in China, statistics that have had an impact on reevaluating dietary policy in the United States and worldwide.” — The Washington Post
“Everyone in the field of nutrition science stands on the shoulders of Dr. Campbell, who is one of the giants in the field. This is one of the most important books about nutrition ever written—reading it may save your life.” — Dean Ornish, MD, Founder & President, Preventative Medicine Research Institute; Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Author, Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Love & Survival.
“Colin Campbell’s The China Study is an important book, and a highly readable one. With his son, Tom, Colin studies the relationship between diet and disease, and his conclusions are startling. The China Study is a story that needs be heard." — Robert C. Richardson, PhD, Nobel Prize Winner; Professor of Physics and Vice Provost of Research, Cornell University
“The China Study gives critical, life-saving nutritional information … Dr. Campbell’s exposé of the research and medical establishment makes this book a fascinating read and one that could change the future for all of us.” — Joel Fuhrman, MD, Author, Eat to Live
“The China Study is a life changer! I read several books, including Dr. Fuhrman's Eat to Live, each referencing The China Study. After reading it I felt compelled to recommend this book to as many people as possible. T. Colin Campbell's next book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition was just as inspiring.” — Bob Napoli, Senior Vice President, Operations, Hudson Group
But What Can I do?
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The medical and/or nutritional information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek medical advice before using diet to treat disease.