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The China Study Misrepresents Data: Does Not Support a Vegan Diet.

Chinese eating T. Colin Campbell came out with his book, The China Study which purports to be the most comprehensive study of diet and disease. However Campbell is so intent on promoting a vegan data that he misrepresents the data in the real China Study and cherry picks anti-animal food data. The book distorts the data generated by Junshi Chen in Mortality, Biochemistry, Diet and Lifestyle in Rural China and in no way supports Campbell’s subtitle “The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health” or his thesis that a vegan diet is superior.

For instance, he rightly cites the link between milk and autoimmune disease but fails to mention that gluten, from wheat and related grains, is at least as important a cause. He writes of the association between casein, a milk protein, with cancer, but fails to mention that whey and butterfat are protective against cancer, and in milk you get all of them. He makes completely false statements like folate not being in meat when organ meats are much higher in folate than any plant source according to the USDA. He assumes nutrient consistency with the US without actually measuring it, despite the fact that soil nutrients and species differences have a huge effect on nutrition.

On cancer, he uses this data from the real China Study, Mortality, Biochemistry, Diet and Lifestyle in Rural China: Geographic Study of the Characteristics of 69 Counties in Mainland China and 16 Areas in Taiwan, and claims it shows you shouldn’t eat animal protein, but in fact it shows just the opposite. The higher the positive number, the more the cancer association. The negative numbers show that a food source, like fats (lipids) actually protect against cancer. (Yes, mildly lowers the risk.)

Associations of Selected Variables with Mortality for All Cancers in the China Study

Total Protein +12%
Animal Protein +3%
Fish Protein +7%
Plant Protein +12%
Total Lipids -6%

Carbohydrates +23%
Total Calories +16%
Fat % Calories -17%
Fiber +21%
Fat (questionnaire) -29%*
(Data taken from the original monograph of the China Study.)

Sugar, soluble carbohydrates, and fiber all have correlations with cancer mortality about seven times the magnitude of that with animal protein, and total fat and fat as a percentage of calories were both negatively correlated with cancer mortality. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat protein, because the correlation of eating all food with cancer is +100%, but chances are the higher fat and protein diet will be safer than a high carbohydrate diet.

Why do I say “chances are”? A correlation is only as good as the data it collects. In China, people wealthy enough to have animal protein are also more likely to eat sugar, processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, to lower vegetable intake and to be able to drive instead of bicycle. They are also more likely to live or work in the heavily polluted urban centers. Most importantly, protein consumption usually goes up when people live in colder climates, where they usually have less sun exposure. This information was not analyzed although collected, and may actually be causal as opposed to be merely correlated.

Correlations, even corrected correlations which minimize the effects of potentially confounding data, do not show causation. I remember taking an statistics class in college where we learned all kinds of fancy multivariate analysis statistical manipulations. The professor then unveiled his own thesis, which showed that people who lived above stores had more fire calls than those who didn’t. I realized then that it wasn’t likely the location, but the age of buildings, safety features, ability of poorer people to have babysitters as opposed to leaving children unattended or other unasked questions about the cause of calls to the fire station. Correlation is not causation and the China Study is all about correlation.

The same China study (the real one, not this book) also shows living in a hot climate is highly correlated with low cancer. This exceeds the effect of animal protein by over 700% and may be correlated with low Vitamin D status. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly believed to allow cancers to occur. The Chinese study also show that homemade cigarettes and alcohol are negatively correlated with cancer, but not at a significant level. But he isn’t suggesting smoking and drinking.

He also equates a low protein omnivorous diet with a vegan diet. There is a huge qualitative difference between the two. Many nutrients such as DHA, B-12, carnitine, carnosine and others cannot be found in plant sources. Even a small amount of animal protein allows the proper assimilation of plant proteins. A deficiency in any of the critical amino acids can reduce assimilation of all of the other amino acids.

The only questions in the China study about protein consumption were ‘how many times a month do you eat fish/meat/eggs/dairy?’ There were no questions about which of those foods you eat. For instance, oysters are so important a source of zinc, that native New Guinea tribesmen who live in the interior and have access to meat, insist on going through a war zone to get the oysters once a month. Or they arrange an exchange of mountain fruits for oysters with the very tribes they are fighting. But there were no questions that differentiated fish, which have very different profiles from shellfish.

Vegetable contents also vary with soil conditions, and so do the meats of animals that feed upon them. For instance, Paul Bergner in his bookThe Healing Power of Minerals, found that when you compared the nutrient content of food in the 1975 USDA Nutritional Content of Food with the suupplements published in the 1990s, the amount of magnesium and a number of other minerals fell by about a third due to the industrial farming practices that strip mined the topsoil. If the plants don’t have minerals, neither do the animals that eat them, Campbell, unlike Weston Price, failed to look at soils although the Chinese are so aware of the effect that herbs are often grown on special soils to enhance their properties.

He misrepresents any number of studies that he cites, taking one described by the researcher as “high protein and low fat” and labels it as low protein. He shows an appalling lack of knowledge in the constituents of meats. He suggests Alzheimers can be prevented by a vegan diet, ignoring the vast literature on the preventative aspects of DHA which is only found in animals and marine plankton. His ideology prevents an honest evaluation of the data.

A pity that the original study is not affordable to the average reader because Campbell is a poor representative of the data and what it means.


Mortality, Biochemistry, Diet and Lifestyle in Rural China: Geographic Study of the Characteristics of 69 Counties in Mainland China and 16 Areas in Taiwan by Junshi Chen, Richard Peto, Wen-Harn Pan, and Bo-Qui Liu (Mar 16, 2006)

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, Thomas M. Campbell II, Howard Lyman, and John Robbins (Jun 1, 2006)

Nutrition and Physical Degenerationby Weston A. Price and Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation (Jan 31, 2008)

The Original Diet: The Omnivore’s Solution by BS, JD, CNC, Roy Mankovitz (Jan 7, 2009)

Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients, and Trace Elements (The Healing Power) by Paul Bergner (Jul 1, 1997)

Anthony Colpo. http://www.thegreatcholesterolcon.com/The_China_Study.html

Chris Masterjohn http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/Campbell-Masterjohn.html

T. Colin Campbell http://www.vegsource.com/articles2/campbell_china_response.htm

020_18_0001I highly suggest that you look at Denise Minger’s awesome analysis of the China Study data at http://rawfoodsos.com/the-china-study/ .  Although she spent a decade as a raw food vegan, her dedication to objective science causes her to reject Campbell’s cherry picking of data without running regression analyses in order to eliminate confounding variables.  So she runs her own correlations and regressions (which allow you to eliminate other factors) using the publicly available China Study data.  One major one:  high vegetable intake happens in lower latitudes, where vitamin D from the sun may be the real reason behind lower cancer rates.  Another is the relation of Schistosomiasis with corectal cancer instead of low fiber.  Or the idea that increased dietary DHA from fish is postively correlated with diabetes falls apart when you realize that high fish eating regions also have high rates of sugar and flour consumption.  So it is probably the carbs instead of the fish that cause the higher diabetes rates.  Anyway Denise rocks, and I highly recommend that you look at her articles!

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