The China Study

“Forks Over Knives”: Is the Science Legit? (A Review and Critique)

Welcome to my “Forks Over Knives” analysis, AKA the longest movie review you’ll ever attempt to read. Thanks for stopping by! In case you aren’t yet convinced that I’ve made it my life’s mission to critique everything related to T. Colin Campbell, this should seal the deal.

As most of you probably know, a documentary called “Forks Over Knives” recently hit the theaters after months of private screenings. Vegans everywhere are swooning, giddy that their message is now animated, narrated, and on sale for $14.99. Proud meat-eaters are less enthused, sometimes hilariously so. The film’s producers call it a movie that “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.” Roger Ebert calls it “a movie that could save your life.” I call it a movie that deftly blends fact and fiction, and has lots of pictures of vegetables. (more…)

One Year Later: The China Study, Revisited and Re-Bashed

Lest this blog sink further into its eery two-month silence, I think it’s high time for an update!

First item of business: The Ancestral Health Symposium. Due to some serendipitous events, it turns out I’ll be presenting at this hyperventilation-inducingly-awesome event next week. My lecture is at 10:00 AM on August 6th in the Rolfe 1200 auditorium. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, I hope to see you there, and to verify my existence for anyone who still thinks I’m a meat industry puppet. Otherwise, unless PETA pops in and sets fire to UCLA, all the presentations should be available online for free shortly after the symposium is over. Woohoo!

Second item of business: Now that he’s outed the project himself, I feel safe in announcing that Mark Sisson is going to be publishing the book I mentioned working on in an earlier blog post, and that it’ll be released mid-2012. I’m super excited, and couldn’t ask for a better publisher to work with. Or one with more impressive abs (see link above). More details to come in the near future.

Now on to the real point of this post. (more…)

An “I Promise I’m Not Dead” Update

As much as I hate posting entries that aren’t twelve pages long and jazzed up with graphs, I’m becoming plagued with blog-related nightmares about my chronic lack of updates—so here’s a peek at what to expect really soon. All may seem calm on the Raw Food SOS front, but three things are brewing behind the recent curtain of silence:

1. The “is wheat going to give you a heart attack?” post. I’m sure my delay-apologies are bordering on parody at this point, but here’s another one anyway: Sorry it’s taking so long! I’ve been trying to get in touch with some researchers who’ve done relevant wheat/gluten/WGA work, but it seems many of them take even longer to respond to emails than I do. (I have tasted my own medicine, and it is bitter.) Nonetheless, expect to see this sucker finally up by next weekend—I’ll post whatever I’ve finished, even if it needs to become a two-parter.

2. A ridiculously huge review of every single vegan study in existence (or close to it). Even though some prominent vegan nutritionists concede that “no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent plant diet in order to be healthy,” the vegan-versus-omnivore debate is probably never going to die. (Which is kind of a good thing—what else would we have to argue about?) So I’m compiling an analysis of all the current vegan research, including reviews of study design and evaluations of how well confounders were accounted for. I think this is a worthwhile project because:

  • As Harriet Hall of Science-Based Medicine recently pointed out, some of the oft-cited studies supporting veganism for disease reversal are either uncontrolled (like Esselstyn) or tangled up with variables like exercise and stress reduction (like Ornish). And other studies sometimes credit veganism for health improvements despite having eliminated more than just animal foods—such as this one that concludes a “vegan diet had beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms,” even though the diet in question was also devoid of grains, sugar, seed oils, and processed fare.
  • I want to see whether most vegan research is really looking at the effects of diet or if it’s reflecting other (unadjusted for) health behaviors. For instance, a recent Polish study took a hard look at the lifestyle differences between vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores, and the (not surprising) conclusion was that meat-avoiders “present a higher level of caring about their health” than standard omnivores—a reality that makes it difficult to separate the effects of diet versus other pro-health behaviors in research focused on vegans or vegetarians. According to this study, 75% of vegans abstain from alcohol (versus 8% of those on a traditional diet), and only 6% of vegans use tobacco products (versus 33% for standard omnis). Vegans and vegetarians are also significantly more likely to exercise and engage in other health-promoting behaviors than typical meat eaters—resulting in a multifaceted lifestyle shift that’s hard, if not impossible, to account for in diet studies.
  • This one’s my main impetus for this endeavor. As proof of the healthfulness of veganism, many folks are citing the opening paragraph of the conservative American Dietetic Association‘s most recent vegetarian position paper, which says:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

That sounds pretty great. But if you trudge beyond the first paragraph and actually read the whole paper (available for download here), you’ll find a less-than-glowing description of the vegan literature—including sections indicating that vegans have higher homocysteine levels, lower DHA in their breast milk, more  frequent bone fractures, higher rates of vitamin D and iodine deficiency, and pregnancies that haven’t been studied enough to draw any conclusions. I already have some other issues with the ADA, but I probably don’t need to explain how I feel when data and the conclusions drawn from it don’t match up.

3. Top Secret China-Study-Related Mystery Thing: I’d love to spill the beans on this one, but they’re not done soaking and I’d hate to flood you guys with lectins. So for now, I’ll just say that I’m working on a thing with a person, and the person and I have the goal of getting the thing published in a well-known other thing, and if all goes as planned, the published thing should help combat the “but the China Study re-analysis isn’t peer reviewed!” argument. As soon as I can say more about the thing, you’ll be the first to know.

Last but not least, Mercola has a brand new interview up with the original China Study obliterator Chris Masterjohn—and it’s a must-listen for anyone still following “The China Study” debacle. Chris does a stellar job of explaining the most important gaps and distortions in Campbell’s best-selling book, including the problems with his casein research. If you had trouble trudging through my shamelessly verbose critique or didn’t have time to read articles addressing other misleading parts of “The China Study,” this interview will get you caught up to speed. (One warning: The date on Mercola’s article is December 11, 2010—currently six days into the future. Will linking to it right now destabilize the universe? I guess we’ll find out.)

More coming soon!

The China Study, Wheat, and Heart Disease; Oh My!

(Not only is this woefully, frustratingly, absurdly belated, but it’s also not yet finished. But I hate being a blog tease, so here’s part one!)

If you’ve been following along with the previous China Study entries (and the wild drama that ensued), you know that I’ve been promising an entry on wheat for a while now, mostly because this little snippet snagged so many eyes:

Correlation between wheat flour and coronary heart disease: 0.67

That’s a value straight from the original China Study data. Could the “Grand Prix of epidemiology” have accidentally uncovered a link between the Western world’s leading cause of death and its favorite glutenous grain? Is the “staff of life” really the staff of death? Bwah ha ha.


The China Study: My Response to Campbell

Alright folks, I’ll be honest. I was not expecting my China Study critique, which started as a nerdy personal project pursued in the wee hours of the morn, to generate much interest. Like most of my weird projects, I figured it would be briefly perused by a few number-lovers before fading quietly into the abyss of cyberspace.

Instead, it went viral and racked up 20,000 page views within 24 hours.

I’m surprised, but equally thrilled. My self-marketing skills are pretty dismal, and it was only by the grace of all the bloggers who featured my critique that this page-view boom occurred. Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word. I owe y’all!

This post is going to be quite long (no shocker there) and, in places, a bit more technical than the last. I know not everyone digs science mumbo-jumbo, so I’ll try to keep that to a minimum and explain things like journal quotes in simpler terms.

First, I’d like to address a couple points I’ve seen crop up in reader comments and emails I’ve received. (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Dairy and Disease

Mongolian yaks: A source of Chinese dairy.

I’ll admit it: Out of all the variables in the China Project, dairy is the one I’ve been most eager to analyze. Not because I’m a dairy lover myself (I haven’t touched it in years) or because I’m secretly a billionaire milk tycoon with my own thousand-acre Holstein farm (au contraire; I’m strangely phobic of cows). In his book, T. Colin Campbell makes such a compelling case about casein (a milk protein) as a cancer-promoting agent that I’m left wondering: Does the China Study data shows an equally convincing link between dairy and disease?

After all, the counties studied in the China Project weren’t eating the hormone-laden, antibiotic-stuffed, factory-farmed dairy we find in most stores. Their dairy was from pastured animals—typically sheep, goats, or yaks along with cattle—raised on natural diets in rural areas. As best I can deduce, milk products were neither pasteurized nor homogenized. This means that any connections we find between dairy and mortality variables are probably from dairy itself—not the nastiness that accompanies the dairy Westerners are more familiar with. This could be one of our best opportunities for studying dairy consumption in its raw, natural state. Yeehaw! (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Meat and Disease

As promised, it’s time to unveil all this China Study business. Grab a raw, nonalcoholic drink and make yourself comfy!

Let me start by saying that this isn’t an attempt at “debunking” the China Study or discrediting T. Colin Campbell. Quite the contrary. “The China Study” book is excellent in many ways, if only to underscore the role of nutrition in health. If I ever met Mr. Campbell in person, I’d give him a jubilant high-five and thank him for fightin’ the good fight—for exposing the reality of Big Pharma, for emphasizing the lack of nutritional education most doctors receive, for censuring the use of scientific reductionism, for underlining the importance of diet in disease prevention. Campbell and I are on the same page in many ways. His scroll of accomplishments is impressive and I sincerely believe his heart is in the right place, even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions. (more…)