What is the True Predictor of Disease?

As you can probably tell from entering this website, I advocate a diet that includes both animal and plant foods. But as a clinical nutritionist, I often come across people with severe health disorders and I design the best individual diet for them based on numerous factors. Sometimes this is gluten-free, dairy-free, GAPS, low-carb, paleo or plant based, and I have explored them all and their application to different diseases. What I have found in the past, is that books like The China Study are pinning the wrong people against each other. We are debating a plant based diet vs. an omnivore diet as if the other is the reason for disease. While the basis of this argument is incorrect, there is an ounce of truth to this. What we should really be looking at is the toxic load, and which animals and plants should be avoided.

I have read the heart disease research from Dr. Ornish and his results from a plant based diet, which also includes fish and lifestyle modifications including yoga, relaxation techniques like meditation, stopping smoking and group therapy to deal with the emotional component of heart disease. I have also read Dr. Esselstyn’s vegan diet for heart disease, that also includes supplementation and statin drugs. Both severely restrict fat intake as the reason for heart disease, and both claim success (along with their patients). Yet, you will also find research like the January 2010 meta analysis from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition over 23 years showed no correlations of all saturated fat intake to heart disease and stroke, and my further analysis here.

You will also find clinical work to prevent and reverse heart disease with a wheat free omnivore diet. Cardiologist Dr. Willams Davis in the book Wheat Belly has done this and said “wheat consumption causes heart disease. It’s not cholesterol, it’s not saturated fat that’s behind the number one killer of Americans; it’s wheat.” If I had to single out something from my own experience with seeing clients for the last 10 years, I wouldn’t say that meat is making people sick; it’s sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Here you can see different approaches to the same problem, all looking at one major cause and solution. However, we know that obesity, toxins, smoking, sugar, refined vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise and high stress are all the biggest contributors to heart health and other diseases. You know what the main result is on each of these diets? Weight loss. It is glaringly clear how crucial that point is for reversing and preventing the main diseases in the US.

This leads us to the argument that animal foods are the cause of disease. While it has been a few years since the hoopla of The China Study, I am consistently asked about my thoughts on the book from the clients in our practice. So I wanted to revisit all of the material again, but this time more in depth.

The Leader of the Plant Based Gold Rush: T. Colin Campbell

T. Colin Campbell is the author of The China Study, and his conclusions can be summed up in two points:

#1 “The consumption of animal products, including meat, fish and dairy, triggers chronic diseases and impaired health and poses a greater risk than heredity or environment.”

#2 “We can turn on and turn off cancer cells from animal protein. If you get animal protein in excess of what’s needed, you turn on cancer. If you replace it with plant protein, that doesn’t turn it on.”

Interesting enough, in a Q&A he said “with respect to whole grains, there is a limited caveat. They’ve only been around 10,000 years and that’s not enough time for our bodies to not have sensitivities to things like gluten.” He knows that we consumed meat and fish for millions of years and grains only entered the diet 10,000 years ago – and agrees that is a problem – but still sides with an animal free diet. Even one of his own studies found that fish oil prevented cancer, and corn oil promoted it. This is consistent with Campbell’s inconsistent conclusions. Let’s take a look at his rat studies and the actual China Study where he made these conclusions. In these studies rats were given casein (an isolated milk protein) in small or high amounts and a hefty dose alfatoxin (a cancer causing fungus that grows on certain crops).

The China Study Chart

T. Colin Campbell's Rat Study Chart
















* For an in depth critique of the rat studies, read this analysis
** Monkey Study: Mathur, M. and N.C. Nayak. “Effect of low protein diet on low dose chronic aflatoxin B1 induced hepatic injury in rhesus monkeys.” Toxin Reviews. 1989;8(1-2):265-273.
*** Meta-analysis study

As  you can see from the charts – and further in depth in the rat studies analysis link – these conclusions are not supported by his own research.

Aflatoxin and Casein’s Connection to Cancer: What We Should Be Paying Attention To

Aflatoxin is a fungus found often on peanuts, corn, hay and other grains in damp environments. So if we were trying to avoid alfatoxin, wouldn’t it be wise to avoid feedlot raised animals fed corn, hay and other grains, and choose grass-fed animals? By consuming feedlot animals – especially dairy – you are re-creating Campbell’s studies with aflatoxin as a cancer initater. But it is even worse because you are also combining growth hormones, heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and other toxins and fungus in addition to aflatoxin. Not to mention the inflammatory omega-6’s are sky high in feedlot animals, another connection to cancer. A sick cancerous animal, will produce a sick cancerous human being. Grass-fed animal foods cannot be emphasized enough.

According to Campbell, animal protein increases the enzyme MFO (mixed function oxidase) that causes increased carcinogenic activity. But he neglects to mention that animal protein also decreases toxicity from chemical exposure. He states “this enzyme is very complex because it also metabolizes pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, friend or foe to the body. Paradoxically this enzyme both detoxifies and activates aflatoxin.” He claimed that gluten did not show the same effects, leading to his plant based protein stance. However he added the amino acid methionine to his casein studies, making it a complete protein. If you add lysine to gluten to make it a complete protein, you will get the same tumor progression as casein. This was from his own study. He left that part out but seems to recognize why we should avoid gluten from a evolutionary standpoint. Conflicting conclusions. 

Why Might Gluten and Casein Promote Cancer Once Initiated?

Stay with me, it’s gonna get a little technical. One theory of the pervasive intolerance of cow dairy in the western world is believed to be caused by the breeding of A1 beta casein cows instead of A2 beta casein cows. Goats and sheep do not produce A1 beta casein, and is highly likely why people are rarely allergic to goat or sheep dairy. The A1 amino acid sequence is weak and breaks easily during digestion, creating the peptide BCM7. BCM7 is an opiod like morphine. Interesting enough, gluten will break down to the peptide gluteomorphine during digestion, another opiod.

Opioid metabolism takes place primarily in the liver, and stimulates enzymes for this purpose. And like MFO, morphine has been found to both promote cancer, and protect against it. Could BCM7 from casein or gluteomorphine from gluten over-express the MFO enzyme in a cancerous state? Casein is also isolated from the whole in the experiments, meaning it will behave different on its own vs. found in whole milk with counterbalancing mechanisms.

There are also no discussions of synergy that would occur in a complete diet, not just casein and aflatoxin. What would happen with a balanced diet that contains anti-cancer herbs, vegetables, mushrooms, fruit and fermented foods and drinks? This would most definitely improve the detoxification process and further prevent cancerous lesions. To make the leap from casein as a cause of cancer to all animal foods is is like taking a leap onto the invisible bridge in Indiana Jones, except it’s actually not there.

What Does This All Mean for Me, The Average Human Just Trying to Do the Right Thing

First, what is the reason for cancer in these rat studies? Aflatoxin. The increased toxic load is what has increased the initiation of cancer in the past 80 years. The reason you will find success with all types of diets, is because they are share one thing in common; weight loss and taking out all of the toxic foods. When you lose weight, and take out toxins, sugar, corn syrup, artificial anything, excess refined carbohydrates, cigarettes, restaurant food, vegetable oils, excess coffee and alcohol, increase whole foods, exercise and lower stress, your body finds balance. Whether this diet has more animal foods, less or none at all, you WILL find people that are perfectly healthy and ones that are not on all types of diets dependent on these variables. So, let’s stop the nonsense and focus on the real problem with cancer, heart disease and other diseases:

1. Toxins from feedlot animal meat, dairy and farmed fish / fish from polluted waters. Choose pastured, grass-fed and organic if consuming animal foods.
2. Toxic effects from refined modern wheat, vegetable oils, processed foods, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. The main cause of obesity. Avoid all completely.
3. Toxins from heavily sprayed plant foods. Choose organic or from the farmer’s market for the freshest picked, and therefore the highest nutrient levels.
4. Toxins from air and water pollution. Keep your home chemical free, mold free and your water filtered.
5. And finally stress, which will produce your own toxins and undermine all of your best efforts. Yoga, meditation, hiking and Qi Gong can do wonders for stress management.

Decrease you toxic load, slow down, eat clean, laugh often and enjoy a long and happy life. 

Due to the current workload at Nutrition Genome, Alex is not able to answer questions at this time. Please check back soon!