Review: The China Study by T. Colin Campbell

The China Study

By T. Colin CampbellCover of The China Study book

© 2006 Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.

417 pages

This is a bit more of a heavy read but not too much so. Campbell writes with a conversational style. The inclusion of an index, and quite a good one, makes me smile.

In experiments described in The China Study, rats died faster on a high-casein (milk protein) diet than on a low-protein diet [p.60-62] when they were all fed the same amount of aflatoxin, a cancer-propagating substance.

The casein was an isolate. We know it is more dangerous to consume refined food products, in this case one isolated compound from a whole food…Campbell advocates consuming whole foods himself [for example see p. 98, 106, 228]. What is the percent of casein in whole milk? It seems to be about 2.6%. Now, skim milk has some fat taken out but it seems to have a similar amount of protein for the same volume of milk. When you get into cheeses, the percent protein [and thus percent casein] increases. Campbell writes that up to 12% of total food intake being solely casein was OK for the rats. That seems high to me. How many humans would actually have 12% of their daily calories come from pure casein? I tend to see isolated whey in stores, not casein, but apparently I am not looking hard enough. Checking Wikipedia and a bodybuilding forum shows me that yes, people do buy casein to make protein shakes or they eat a lot of cottage cheese for its casein content. It is a slowly digested protein, good for a consistent supply of protein to the muscles. I am not sure but I suspect that most of us, unless we are severely addicted to cheeses, are not at risk of casein overdose to the point where, when fed potent cancer-propagating substances, we would quickly expire. Those trying to increase their muscle mass with casein, however, may want to take special note of this research.

Then there is the question of soy. You could swap your protein intake for soy if you wanted to go on the vegan diet that Campbell advocates in an effort to block abnormal cells from reproducing in the body. Yet there is research that soy protein isolates can be detrimental in and of themselves mainly because of the processing methods. There is not a lot of evidence to really go one way or the other according to the US Department of Health and Human Services . So if a person were to drink whole milk and eat a variety of foods, would the casein present in that diet be detrimental or worrisome? According to the research Campbell references, probably not. It is in the isolation and consequent consumption of larger amounts than are naturally present in Earth’s foods that can cause problems. We can even ask the question from a protein perspective, like Campbell. If the rats have varied sources of protein instead of just casein as their protein, would it allow the rats to live longer again? Rats, like people, are omnivores, designed to be able to live off of many different sources of food so in this instance they might be a good indicator for our own ability to flourish (or not) on various sources of foods. Do rats, like some humans, retain the ability to digest milk products properly when they reach adulthood? Do they have similar tolerances to the proteins and other compounds in the cow’s milk? This might be important in relating the findings of the experiment to all humans or certain groups of humans, those who cannot digest milk products as adults.

There are more considerations to milk, of course. Not the isolated protein compounds in lab experiments but the actual whole (or skim) milk that we are drinking in our day-to-day lives. What kind of milk? Where did it come from? In those studies did they use the mass-produced hormone and antibiotic-laced milk from cows kept in unsavoury conditions? Were the cows fed large amounts of grain or did they graze on grass? Was the milk pasteurized? Ultra-pasteurized? Would it be any different with a different breed of cow such as an older breed without the relatively modern mutation in the beta-casein or perhaps a goat or a sheep? How about raw milk from animals grown in a friendly manner, given space to move and organic grass to graze on? I would think that the differences in types of conditions for producing the food one consumes would make quite a difference to the result of any test of the effect of that food on the human body. At the end of the day, however, if the casein is a human health hazard in the more modern or in all forms, then it doesn’t matter how “happy” the cow producing your milk is; your milk is still going to contain casein. “Happy” cow milk will at least be lacking in added cancer-propagating substances.

The last chapters of the book are devoted to marketing. I love the subject of marketing; have you ever listened to “The Age of Persuasion” with Terry O’Reilly on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio? Fabulous program. It’s about learning how the brain works and how companies take advantage of that to sell us their products. There is a lot of money to be made selling food since most of us need to eat. Campbell urges us to look at marketing budgets of various food boards, such as the National Dairy Council and American Meat Institute. These are in the USA. Here in Canada we have organizations like the Canadian Dairy Commission and the Dairy Processors Association (see the federal government’s Canadian Dairy Information Centre). We also have the Canadian Meat Science Association and the Canadian Meat Council. Apparently the animal products industry has a much larger budget than most plant products industries, when you are not counting processed foods. Kind of like political parties: once you have a few dominant ones, they have the big budgets and they influence us more than the others.

There is a lot to consider in this book and like all good scientific research, it raises as many or more questions than it supports answers to. The China Study does provoke debate around the link between nutrition and health (and consequently the link between nutrition and disease). It certainly makes one consider more strongly what foods to make a part of the body and what foods, or food products, to leave out.

To learn more:

Official book web site:

Some opposing views from Weston A. Price Foundation:

Leave a Reply