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Have you seen Forks over Knives yet? It's a documentary that, according to their website:
Examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.
The film is predominantly based on the lengthy research of Dr. T. Colin Campbell most of which was published in a book called The China Study.
I'm sure you have heard of the China Study, but have you had a chance to read it? Honestly, it has taken me quite a few attempts, but after having an in depth discussion with a patient last week regarding her concern over eating animal products, I dug back in.
In the book, Dr. Campbell tells of his life and of how he came to start researching whether or not animal protein causes cancer in the 1960's. From his original studies, conducted on lab rats, his theory is: animal protein (not plant protein) triggers cancer to turn “on” in the body.
Does that statement worry you? I'm a die-hard omnivore (and a converted vegetarian) and I have to say, I wanted to know more.
Before I read the China Study, my first thoughts upon hearing about Dr. Campbell's research went something like this:
What was the quality of animal protein he used to determine this finding? Obviously, we know that the quality of animal protein varies dramatically from commercial farms to grass-fed farms. What about the pesticide loads? What type of protein did he use? How much protein was fed to the lab rats he used?
And, then I got into his research and found out something astonishing– Dr. Campbell's early laboratory research clearly did not study the effect of ALL animal protein–he only studied the effect of milk protein, called casein on lab rats. And, what's worse, he used a powdered, processed form of casein on his subjects.
My next thought: Well, of course the animals had an increased incidence of cancer. They were being fed a diet of processed milk protein.
I then went to a blog that I follow regularly, The Daily Lipid. It is put up by a brilliant young scientist, Chris Masterjohn. Chris has gone over the China Study extensively (much more extensively than myself) and I want to share with you his thoughts on Dr. Campbell's early research,
Other questions, such as what effect different types of processing have on casein's capacity to promote tumor growth, remain unanswered. Pasteurization, low-temperature dehydration, high-temperature spray-drying (which creates carcinogens), and fermentation all affect the structure of casein differently and thereby would affect its physiological behavior.
My thoughts exactly. And, if you watched Forks over Knives, they make a strong argument (which I couldn't agree more with) for avoiding processed, unnatural foods. Yet, the premise of this “animal protein causes cancer” theory that Dr. Campbell has purported is based on a processed form of milk protein. Hmmm.
Again to quote Mr. Masterjohn,
What powdered, isolated casein does to rats tells us little about what traditionally consumed forms of milk will do to humans and tells us nothing that we can generalize to all “animal nutrients”.
But, this milk protein lab rat research was only the beginning. The actual China Study part came in the 1980's when Dr. Campbell–moving forward with his animal protein causes cancer theory– headed up a very large epidemiological study in China. During his time in China, he and his team collected data from a total of 6,500 adults by way of questionnaires, direct observation and blood samples.
Now, when it comes to breaking down for you how Dr. Campbell obtained his data and made his “scientific” assessments, I don't want to reinvent the wheel as there have been quite a few stellar reviews of The China Study. So, if you're interested, please take yourself to the following two reviews:
1. Chris Masterjohn's review on his blog: TheDailyLipid (this review is of the film Forks over Knives, but there are links to Chris' previous reviews of the China Study that are well worth the read)
2. Denis Minger's review on her blog: RawFoodSOS.com
But, to briefly sum it up: the assumptions that Dr. Campbell made regarding animal protein and its cause of cancer were purely assumptions. Dare I say they were assumptions made by a scientist who is extremely devoted to finding evidence to support his theory. And, sadly Dr. Campbell fell victim an issue that afflicts many scientists: he manipulated his data to support his theory.
That may sound harsh, but I'm late to the game when it comes to the above statement. However, you can do your own research here and draw your own conclusions. But the bottom line is– a ton of data was left out of his results and the data he presents is not scientifically derived.
So, now that I've thrown too much information at you. Let's discuss what I think about animal protein…
I think it's an imperative piece to our diet. I think everything in moderation (so cliche, I know). I think if we were meant to eat a vegetarian diet we would have 4 chambered stomach like the other herbivores. And, personally I was a vegetarian for 5 years and I feel much healthier on meat. That's not to say it's for everyone. And, I respect the rights we have as individuals to choose the diet that works best for us. However, from a purely professional, clinical and nutritional standpoint–animal protein is the most nutrient dense food we can ingest.
And, lastly (finally! ha!) my opinion of the movie, Forks over Knives…
The one thing I really loved was how the health of those followed in the movie improved dramatically when they changed their diet. Life was given back to people who had zero quality of life. People who were ill got better. Diseases like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol were rectified. And, that is amazing. I see results like that in my clinic too. But, I don't see it as a side effect of avoiding animal protein, I see it as a side effect of avoiding processed foods. Forks over Knives definitely drives home the point that we need to get back to eating foods that are as close to their natural state as possible and of course I agree. However, I'm sticking to my guns: animal protein does not cause an increase in cancer. There is no science out there supporting this notion.
If you haven't already, take some time and check out the reviews I linked to above. And, if you have even more time watch Forks over Knives. But don't be swayed into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle–instead be convinced that eating wholesome, nutrient dense foods that are as close to their natural state as possible will bring you optimal health.