My husband had a heart attack over ten years ago. At that time, we decided to clean up our diet and follow a vegetarian plan to help control his blood numbers. This change came at the recommendation of his cardiologist, based on the work of a certain Dr. Dean Ornish. We worked diligently with our docs, particularly our family doctor, as his blood numbers improved, weight dropped, and he slowly, but surely regained his health.
OK. I know. In retrospect, Ornish is a tad… er… flowery. I acknowledge that. However, his lifestyle has worked well for us. Maury and has maintained his life changes for over ten years. In fact, he just aced his latest stress tests. Turns out the whole, watch your diet, exercise, and learn how to handle stress kinda/sorta works… for now.
Whether his current status is due to vegetarianism is debatable. The reason I bring this up is because our vegetarian lifestyle has attracted some very interesting people … particularly the “vegans.”
People who call themselves “vegan” are those who eat zero animal products whatsoever. No dairy, no eggs, they won’t wear leather, drink many beers (not even my fruity beer!), won’t use products tested on animals, it’s an all encompassing lifestyle that once fascinated me.
Interestingly, something new has popped up in this tight knit, yet growing community the last few years: vegans are now claiming to be immune to most, if not all, diseases. I likely wouldn’t have noticed this phenomena had it not been for my recent cancer diagnosis. However, when I saw not one, but two, vegan guru-wannabes proclaim they both had cancer and their clean vegan diet had “dissolved” their “tumors” my ears perked up. Sadly, neither will disclose any details of said cancers so I don’t know how far the alleged disease had progressed.
Shortly thereafter, another vegan guru-wannabe, an aerobics instructor, advised her large Facebook following to eschew their doctor recommended mammograms because she had to wait an entire weekend for her results. Waiting that long gave her the sads. Plus, she implied, vegans are immune to cancer, so why get mammograms?
Well, it turns out, these folks are basing their skewed recommendations on the work of a certain T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University.
Campbell is also the author of The China Study which details:
…the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Recognized as the most comprehensive nutritional study ever conducted on the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease, The China Study cuts through the haze of misinformation and examines the source of nutritional confusion produced by government entities, lobbies, and opportunistic scientists.
The China Study, a national bestseller co-authored by Dr. Campbell and his son, Thomas M. Campbell, MD, has sold more than 1 million copies since it was first published in 2005. It is the foundation upon which a nationwide plant-based diet movement is based. The China Study presents a clear and concise message of hope as it dispels a multitude of health myths and misinformation.
The science is clear. If you want to be healthy, change your diet.
Yay! The science is clear. Crystal clear. I can expect to pick up a copy of every woman’s magazine at the grocery store and each will proclaim this clear truth… right?
Although the initiated cells are not considered to be reversible, the cells growing through the promotion stage are usually considered to be reversible, a very exciting concept. This is the stage that especially responds to nutritional factors. For example, the nutrients from animal based foods, especially the protein, promote the development of the cancer whereas the nutrients from plant-based foods, especially the antioxidants, reverse the promotion stage. This is a very promising observation because cancer proceeds forward or backward as a function of the balance of promoting and anti-promoting factors found in the diet, thus consuming anti-promoting plant-based foods tend to keep the cancer from going forward, perhaps even reversing the promotion. The difference between individuals is almost entirely related to their diet and lifestyle practices.
Our work showed that casein is the most relevant cancer promoter ever discovered.
Among other fundamental effects, it makes the body more acidic, alters the mix of hormones and modifies important enzyme activities, each of which can cause a broad array of more specific effects. One of these effects is its ability to promote cancer growth (by operating on key enzyme systems, by increasing hormone growth factors and by modifying the tissue acidity). Another is its ability to increase blood cholesterol (by modifying enzyme activities) and to enhance atherogenesis, which is the early stage of cardiovascular disease.
And finally, although these are casein-specific effects, it should be noted that other animal-based proteins are likely to have the same effect as casein.
I thought the alkaline diet hypothesis had been debunked. I guess some information dies hard. Anyway… tell me more about casein:
I would first say that casein is not just “intrinsic” but IS THE MAIN PROTEIN OF COW MILK, REPRESENTING ABOUT 87% OF THE MILK PROTEIN.
The biochemical systems which underlie the adverse effects of casein are also common to other animal-based proteins. Also, the amino acid composition of casein, which is the characteristic primarily responsible for its property, is similar to most other animal-based proteins. They all have what we call high ‘biological value’, in comparison, for example, with plant-based proteins, which is why animal protein promotes cancer growth and plant protein doesn’t.
What if we don’t eat pure casein? Suppose we drink milk, which also contains lactose, calcium, water, and such. What if we don’t consume all that much dairy?
I rather like the expression told by my friend, Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD, the Cleveland Clinic surgeon who reversed heart disease and who says, “Moderation kills!” I prefer to go the whole way, not because we have fool-proof evidence showing that 100% is better than, say, 95% for every single person for every single condition but that it is easier to avoid straying off on an excursion that too often becomes a slippery slope back to our old ways. Moreover, going the whole way allows us to adapt to new unrealized tastes and to rid ourselves of some old addictions. And finally, moderation often means very different things for different people.
Never mind. Moderation kills, evidently.
And here’s the money quote:
KF: Are you saying that if one changes their diet from animal based protein to plant-based protein that the disease process of cancer can be halted and reversed?
TCC: Yes, this is what our experimental research shows. I also have become aware of many anecdotal claims by people who have said that their switch to a plant-based diet stopped even reversed (cured?) their disease. One study on melanoma has been published in the peer-reviewed literature that shows convincing evidence that cancer progression is substantially halted with this diet.
Well, there you have it. Cancer can not only be prevented, but reversed with a Campbell-approved plant based diet.
TCC: It is not clear because carefully designed research in humans has not been done. However, we demonstrated and published findings showing that experimental progression of disease is at least suspended, even reversed, when tumors are clearly present.
KF: Consider a person who has been eating poorly his whole life; is there still hope that a dietary change can make a big difference? Or is everything already in motion?
TCC: Yes, a variety of evidence shows that cancers and non-cancers alike can be stopped even after consuming a poor diet earlier in life. This effect is equivalent to treatment, a very exciting concept.
A cure? That’s an extraordinary claim.
KF: This is sounding like it’s a cure for cancer; is that the case?
TCC: Yes. The problem in this area of medicine is that traditional doctors are so focused on the use of targeted therapies (chemo, surgery, radiation) that they refuse to even acknowledge the use of therapies like nutrition and are loathe to even want to do proper research in this area. So, in spite of the considerable evidence–theoretical and practical–to support a beneficial nutritional effect, every effort will be made to discredit it. It’s a self-serving motive.
Well. I’m going to have to have a word with my oncologist about this. Why on earth wouldn’t all the major cancer centers be jumping all over this new revelation? Wait. I did talk to him. Here’s what he said about Campbell’s research, it’s a pretty short analysis because he’s busy working with patients, not trying to sell books (also, I’m paraphrasing since I don’t recall his exact words):
Campbell claims to have (1) stopped/reversed one kind of cancer, (2) in one organ (liver), (3) in genetically modified rats by (4) adding and subtracting one kind of isolated “animal” protein.
Problem is (1) there are many kinds of cancer, each reacting differently to various treatments. (2) Humans have many organs. A cancer in one organ will react differently to that same type of cancer in a different one. (3) Humans are not genetically modified rats. (4) Few people eat isolated casein (milk protein). Plus, to lump all forms of protein under one umbrella isn’t exactly correct.
So, there you have it. But what do other people have to say? Turns out Harriet Hall from Science Based Medicine has a bit to say on this subject.
Concerning Campbell’s research, Hall mentions instances of:
- sloppy citations
- conflicting data
- higher Chinese stomach cancer rates
- straw man arguments
It would be wonderful if we could prevent cancer and all those other diseases by avoiding animal protein. It would have the extra added benefit to the environment of increasing the productivity of agricultural land and reducing the greenhouse effects of gassy cows. I look forward to future well-designed studies investigating the effects of very low protein and animal-protein-free diets. Meanwhile, The China Study makes a good case, but the case isn’t quite good enough.
Minger goes on to reveal gaping logical holes in Campbell’s own research on casein, a milk protein that he believes causes cancer. He showed that casein was associated with cancer when given in isolation to lab animals, but he projects those results onto humans and onto all sources of animal protein. Other animal proteins have been shown to have anti-cancer effects, and the results of a normal diet containing multiple protein sources are likely to be very different from his casein-only studies.
I think Hall’s takeaway from this discussion is spot on:
This is a cautionary tale. It shows how complex issues can be over-simplified into meaninglessness, how epidemiologic data can be misinterpreted and mislead us, and how a researcher can approach a problem with preconceptions that allow him to see only what he wants to see. The China Study was embraced by vegetarians because it seemed to support their beliefs with strong evidence. Minger has shown that that evidence is largely illusory. The issues raised are important and deserve further study by unbiased scientists. At any rate, one thing is clear: the China Study is not sufficient reason to recommend drastic reductions in protein intake, let alone total avoidance of meat and dairy foods.
So, where does that leave the heart attack guy married to the cancer chick? We met with his cardiologist last week and discussed vegetarianism (not veganism), cancer, and long term health. His recommendation? Stay the path. “Nearly any diet that eliminates junk is a good thing,” he said. As long as it’s nutritionally sound, you have firm nutritional boundaries, and can stick to them long term, keep going.”
As for cancer? His reply was the same as my oncologist: If you’re gonna get it, you’re gonna get it. You can reduce your odds with some lifestyle changes (maybe) but you’ll never eliminate them.
Dang. Isn’t reality a bitch? I wish I could eat a particular diet and become cancer proof. I guess if it’s too good to be true…
However, fantasy is a great way to sell books, seminars, pricy university “certificates” and give a lot of people false hope. Imagine if you were a “healthy vegan” who avoid the “Industrial Medical Complex” based on China Study data and wound up in a life threatening situation? That easily could have been me had I listened to Campbell rather than get my routine colonsocopy.
I’ll take my family doc’s recommendation over an anonymous Internet “doctor” any day. But from what I read on my Facebook page, I’m definitely in the minority. I guess it’s time to cull the Facebook herd again, eh?