When I started reading the China Study, I really didn’t know exactly what type of diet T.  Colin Campbell PHD advocated.  Several people insisted I needed to read the book and I was curious to find out what the study was.   I quickly became highly impressed with Dr. Campbell’s extensive 50 year research background and lists of professional accomplishments.  I’ve never read a nutrition or diet related book  from a doctor  with more hands-on research  in the area of nutrition than Dr. Campbell.  And he came across to me as honest and sincere.  So I decided I was going to have open mind.  One of the things I liked was that  Dr. Campbell refers  to research and numbers and statistic to make statements for him-  not just throwing opinions out there with nothing  to back it up.  He lets the research do the talking.  He has a fascinating background which actually begins on his family dairy farm and a participant and proponent of the milk/eggs/cattle/poultry industry which he refers to a big part of “the mainstream Western diet”.   Dr. Campbell shares how the evolution of his current views on nutrition came to be over many years and based on the hundreds of research studies  over a lifetime  convincingly pointing him towards the same conclusions that a whole foods plant based diet, essentially a Vegan diet- is the solution to eliminate heart disease and essentially all chronic diseases.

Dr. Campbell starts by laying out the astronomical  heart disease and cancer statistics here in the United States, and points to other “diseases of extravagance” he calls them- because they don’t generally exist in high numbers  in less developed countries but are prevalent in Western culture.  I don’t think anyone needs convincing that we have a huge problem with obesity, heart disease and cancer in this country.  The China Study compares patterns of disease which exist highly among countries like our own who consume high levels of animal products and contrasts that to  many rural areas of China that are virtually free of the same diseases who follow a primarily whole foods plant based diet with very little animal protein. The study itself was the largest of its kind covering 2400 Chinese counties and 880 million people or 96% of their citizens and they gathered data on 367 variables.   When the study was concluded the researchers found 8000 statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet and disease.

In America he says 15-16% of our diet comes from protein and 80% of that from animal sources as compared to rural China areas which consumes 9-10% of their calories  from protein with only 10% of that coming from animal sources. The main differences in disease rates Dr. Campbell attributes to the difference in animal protein intake.  Rural Chinese also ate more calories, less fat and cholesterol, and much more fiber from whole plant foods and more iron.  Dr. Campbell believes these differences support his conclusions that chronic diseases are closely linked to bad nutrition and in particularly high intake of animal-based products.

The study itself was an amazing undertaking and would seem to support his views that a primarily whole food plant based diet results in less heart disease and cancer.   His arguments are much more persuasive when coupled by the additional studies he sites.   The questions that came to my mind were: 1.)  How can you separate the Western diet problems of excess sugar and overly processed foods consumption with our high consumption of animal based products, fats and cholesterol?  2.)  Could  the answers not lie in the additional benefits of a higher plant and fiber consumption in rural China  independently of  their lower animal-based food intake?   3.) How do you separate the problems of obesity which exists because  of over-consumption in general?  4.) What about the problem of lack of exercise?

The  findings in the book I  find the most interesting and impressive included Dr. Campbell’s rat studies where cancer  was halted in its tracks 100% of the time  by simply altering the protein ratio  fed to rats from 20% to 5% protein.   Any research study with 100% results is pretty phenomenal.  After cancer cells were implanted in rats, the cancer proliferated into tumors 100% of the time when the diet was increased from 5% to 20% protein and was halted 100% of the time when the protein was then reduced to 5%.  The cancer never proliferated as long as the rats were fed only 5% protein.  The research was repeated many times with different variables changed and but always resulted in the same 100% conclusions.   This supported a previous researchers exact same findings. I don’t know about you, but this was the first I heard of any research in which cancer was halted 100% of the time.

Can cancer in humans be halted in the same way  by simply altering our animal protein intake?  Dr. Campbell believes this to be the case and believes the China Study backs up that conclusion with large based human studies.  The question that came to my  mind with the rat study were:  Can the results be related to the actual intake of casein (which was the type of animal protein used to feed the rats)  rather than  generalized to all animal proteins?   Dr. Campbell  did point out disturbingly high correlations between infants fed casein based formula (as opposed to being breast fed) and type 1 diabetes to a % which would make me never want to formula feed if I had a baby to consider.

Can a whole foods plant based diet actually reverse heart disease?  Dr. Campbell believes this to be the case, along with other doctors like Dr. Lester Morrison, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish among others who have done research in this area.   I thought the book provided the most compelling research to back this up this viewpoint.  I wondered why hadn’t I heard of this research before?  Why was I under the impression that heart disease was irreversible and surgical intervention was the only option?  Could it be because that is what we are supposed to believe?

As far back as 1946 research was being done by Dr. Lester Morrison to determine the relationship between dietary fat and atherosclerosis.  He took 50 heart attack survivors  and instructed them to maintain their typical American diet and another 50 heart attack survivors and  started them on a low fat low cholesterol diet which only included two 2 oz servings of lean meat a day. After 8 years only 12 of the 50 eating the typical American diet were still alive  vs 28 who were still alive in the experimental low-fat diet group.  After 12 years every single patient in the control group was dead but 19 patients were still alive in the low fat, low cholesterol diet group.  This research was part of the work which led to the current US recommendations of lowering our cholesterol intake to 200mg or lower for heart patients or 300mg for healthy people.

The Esselstyn heart study had the most impressive  results of all  and showed an actual reversal of athersclerosis by as much as 8% in 5 years.  In this study Dr. Esselstyn followed 18 heart patients for 5 years who had already experienced 49 coronary events, so a very high-risk group already.   He placed them on a plant based whole foods diet which eliminated all animal products except for one cup of yogurt or one glass of skim milk.  In 5 yrs on the plant based diet the average total cholesterol of the patients was reduced from 246 mg/dl to 134 mg/dl and the blockages on the arterial walls were reduced by 8%!  Equally impressive was the fact that in the eleven years following the dietary changes there were no new coronary events except for one patient who strayed from the diet for 2 years and experienced angina but which disappeared once he resumed the plant based diet.  I don’t know about you, but this was the first I heard of anything besides surgery or angioplasty for reducing blockages!

Dr. Dean Ornish did research which backed Esselstyn’s findings.   In Dr. Ornish’s study, 28  heart patients were put on a plant based diet eliminating all animal products except for egg whites and a cup of non-fat yogurt daily.  20 additional patients followed their typical American diet.  At the conclusion of one year the 28 patients on the no fat, no cholesterol, no animal products diet experienced a reduction in cholesteral from 227 mg/dl to 172 mg/dl and total bad cholesterol dropped from 152 mg/dl to 95 mg/dl.  Additionally, the patients with the best adherence experienced a 4% reduction in blockages within 1 year.  Frequency and duration of chest pains plummeted by 91% with the patients on the plant based diet whereas chest pains increased by 165% with the second group who didn’t alter their diet and  arterial blockages worsened in this group by as much as 8%.

So what do I think now?

Overall,  Dr. Campbell makes a compelling case for a solely plant based diet.   Am I ready to go vegan?  Maybe not just yet.   This was  the first time I’ve read anything advocating a Vegan diet so I plan to explore this further.  I am definitely asking questions that never entered my mind and I’m more open to looking at this type of diet, and even trying to giving Vegan a shot for some period of time.  Vegetarian?  I could do that no problem.  I’m not attached to meat.  I eat it to get my protein but  I could just as easily rely on egg-whites, low-fat dairy, protein shakes and  fish  for my protein.   Eliminating all animal products wouldn’t be so tough if I was already 100% convinced that Vegan eating was the healthiest way to eat.

What I do like about the whole plant foods based diet Dr. Campbell recommends is that I already eat tons of vegetables, so that confirms my own beliefs that veggies and whole foods are a great thing!   Whole plant based foods are much healthier than refined, processed and sugary foods and trans-fats.  The part  that is a greater leap is abandoning  my long held beliefs that  protein, including animal protein, is necessary for building muscle and a healthy body.  I have adhered to an even higher intake protein  than Dr. Campbell sites for the average American.  Many in the body-building community have been ingrained with the idea that we need even additional protein to build muscle and that we should eat 1gram per lb of lean body weight which would be double the USRDA for protein!  I’ve eaten that way for a long time and it appears to have worked for me. so far.   So that’s my resistance talking.  I’m extremely healthy by all standard measure  including low cholesterol, low blood pressure and  low triglycerides, high exercise endurance and strength.  So doesn’t that mean I’m doing something right? Or does that mean my exercise habits trump my higher protein intake?

I will say Dr. Campbell does have me questioning whether I need as high a level of  protein as I’ve been eating.   I really have not wanted to eat  meat since reading the book and I have cut down on my fats too.  I’ve  been eating  primarily vegetarian style (egg- whites, dairy and fish) while keeping my protein high.   I’m not sure if Dr. Campbell would think that is any better, switching one animal source for another but still keeping my protein intake 20% or more.   But I am open to researching Vegan effects on health more and trying to exchange some of my animal protein based meals for vegetable protein based meals.

Would I switch to a Vegan diet if my I  had heart disease, high cholesterol, blood pressure or triglycerides or cancer?  You bet.  If my diet wasn’t keeping me healthy, I would.   I do believe there are other  problems with the whole Western diet, cancer, heart disease,diabetes, obesity epidemic in our country and I don’t know if animal proteins are at the heart of it.    The truth is, I don’t know.  But Dr. Caldwell certainly gives me another credible viewpoint to consider.  And I certainly am doing that.  Read the book- and make your own judgments.  Hope this review was helpful.