Ancestral Health Symposium Thoughts, Paleo Vegetarianism, and Other Fun Things

For those of you who couldn’t attend the first-ever Ancestral Health Symposium that happened August 5th and 6th, I’ll try not to rub it in your face that you missed out on one of the most fantastic health events in the history of the universe. I won’t tell you how you should have soul-crushing regrets about not purchasing a ticket in time, or how you should feel so ill with remorse that you skip work for the rest of the week and sob quietly on your bedroom floor, lamenting. Because that would just be mean.

But seriously, you should have been there because this thing was all sorts of awesome. (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: Fact or Fallacy?

Disclaimer: This blog post covers only a fraction of what’s wrong with “The China Study.” In the years since I wrote it, I’ve added a number of additional articles expanding on this critique and covering a great deal of new material. Please read my Forks Over Knives review for more information on what’s wrong with the conclusions drawn from Campbell’s casein/aflatoxin research, and if you’d rather look at peer-reviewed research than the words of some random internet blogger, see my collection of scientific papers based on the China Study data that contradict the claims in Campbell’s book. I’ve also responded to Campbell’s reply to my critique with a much longer, more formal analysis than the one on this page, which you can read here.

When I first started analyzing the original China Study data, I had no intention of writing up an actual critique of Campbell’s much-lauded book. I’m a data junkie. Numbers, along with strawberries and Audrey Hepburn films, make me a very happy girl. I mainly wanted to see for myself how closely Campbell’s claims aligned with the data he drew from—if only to satisfy my own curiosity.

But after spending a solid month and a half reading, graphing, sticky-noting, and passing out at 3 AM from studious exhaustion upon my copy of the raw China Study data, I’ve decided it’s time to voice all my criticisms. And there are many.

First, let me put out some fires before they have a chance to ignite:

  1. I don’t work for the meat or dairy industry. Nor do I have a fat-walleted roommate, best friend, parent, child, love interest, or highly prodigious cat who works for the meat or dairy industry who paid me off to debunk Campbell.
  2. Due to food sensitivities, I don’t consume dairy myself, nor do I have any personal reason to promote it as a health food.
  3. I was a vegetarian/vegan for over a decade and have nothing but respect for those who choose a plant-based diet, even though I am no longer vegan. My goal, with the “The China Study” analysis and elsewhere, is to figure out the truth about nutrition and health without the interference of biases and dogma. I have no agenda to promote.

As I mentioned, I’m airing my criticisms here; this won’t be a China Study love fest, or even a typical balanced review with pros and cons. Campbell actually raises a  number of points I wholeheartedly agree with—particularly in the “Why Haven’t You Heard This?” section of his book, where he exposes the reality behind Big Pharma and the science industry at large. I admire Campbell’s philosophy towards nutritional research and echo his sentiments about the dangers of scientific reductionism. However, the internet is already flooded with rave reviews of this book, and I’m not interested in adding redundant praise. My intent is to highlight the weaknesses of “The China Study” and the potential errors in Campbell’s interpretation of the original data.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: My response to Campbell’s reply, as well as to some common reader questions, can be found in the following post: My Response to Campbell. Please read this for clarification regarding univariate correlations and flaws in Campbell’s analytical methods.)


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: Eggs and Disease

Ah, eggs: Incredible and edible, as the commercial goes. A quintessential staple of American breakfasts, loaded with protein, packed with cholesterol. Bodybuilders chug ’em down en masse, and raw foodists sometimes experiment with them—but could they raise your risk of disease, as T. Colin Campbell claims all animal foods do? Let’s take a look at the original China Study data and find out. (more…)

Exciting Update: Analyzing the China Study

Alright, folks: the hiatus is over. Time to get back into the bloggin’ swing of things!

To kick it off, I want to unveil a special project I have in the works. Some of you are no doubt familiar with the China Study by T. Colin Campbell—a book that has, since its publication in 2005, become wildly popular among vegans and raw foodists as the “final word” linking animal foods and disease. While the book has many strengths, I’ve always been skeptical of its conclusions, and woefully curious about the data Campbell used to decide animal products are universally harmful.

Lo and behold, my knowledge-thirst is quenched! It turns out the entire raw data set is available online for anyone with a bit of spare time (and some knowledge of stats) to analyze:

China Study Data at Oxford University

Not only that, but—after months of searching—I’ve finally managed to get my paws on the original China study book: “Diet, Life-style and Mortality in China,” which is an uninterpreted, 894-page collection of all the correlations the China study data uncovered. Venturing lightyears beyond the effects of just animal protein, this book connects the dots between consumption of specific foods, nutrient status, lifestyle factors, diet habits, and chronic diseases. You can look up fruit consumption, for instance, and see what diseases it correlates with or seems to protect against.  The book is an absolute jackpot of information. And it’s mine, all mine, until July 3rd (when the inter-library loan expires and I have to return it—shucky darns!).

With the data now at my fingertips, I’m researching and analyzing like a maniac. And although I initially started this project out of personal curiosity, what it’s uncovering has been so completely shocking that I’ve decided to post everything I find here on my blog. My next few entries will have some awesome data for you.

But you have to wait, because it’s not in presentable form yet. Oh, the suspense! 🙂

In the meantime, I’ll just say that the findings reaffirm what I’ve suspected for a while: Campbell’s “China Study” book is a spectacular example of how you can cherry-pick data to create a trend that isn’t there. And also, wheat may be one of the most toxic things you could ever put in your mouth. More on that later.

Stay tuned.