Dr. Mercola attacks the China Study: clash of the titans

When Joe Mercola contradicts the basics of nutrition taught on GreenSmoothieGirl.com and in my books, we get hundreds of emails.

Mercola’s newsletter yesterday supposedly exposes the “DARK SIDE” of the China Study. I’m not going to link to it and therefore give it a higher page rank. It doesn’t deserve it.

Before undertaking to explain what’s radically wrong with this article, let me say this: I agree with Mercola on some macro issues:

  1. That prevention and natural remedies are the best first-line treatments, rather than drug/surgery medical interventions.
  2. That far too much of our data comes from research that drug companies and agribusiness paid for.
  3. That sugar and processed foods are killing us. (Mercola implies, with the “false dilemma” logical fallacy, in yesterday’s newsletter that either animal proteins are killing us, or processed foods are, as if they are mutually exclusive.)

But we must use critical thinking skills to expose fatal flaws in his comments about Dr. T. Colin Campbell and the China Study.

(When you put yourself in the public domain, you invite dissent. Juxtaposition of ideas creates a climate for the truth to emerge.)

As I strongly disagree with Mercola here, I will invariably get some angry email. Most readers will appreciate that my only motive is to learn and then explain the truth (or as close as I can get to it) in this world of nutrition that has so many competing voices.

My own 12 Steps to Whole Foods is a compendium of the best nutrition practices. It advocates for eating much more plant food (especially raw food) than the average American gets and is a practical HOW-TO guide, more than a philosophical debate or meta-review of research. It purposefully doesn’t advocate for vegetarianism or veganism, although I am supportive of others who choose to wear those labels. My own family, except for two vegetarian daughters, eats a bit of homemade kefir, and occasional animal products when we are away from home.

Mercola attempts to discredit the joint effort of Oxford and Cornell Universities by calling theirs an “observational” study, which he infers is somehow inferior to having once had a medical practice.

The Oxford/Cornell China study is a very sound, huge, comprehensive study spanning over 25 years. My own advanced degree, background in research, and understanding of research principles, lead me to say this:

I am thankful, finally, for a vast piece of research in epidemiology that was not funded or influenced by the drug companies or agribusiness (which primarily hawks refined corn/wheat/soy products and processed and refined and GMO foods). I see no conflicts of interest in the Oxford/Cornell research. I see one of the purest voices in nutrition in Campbell and his team.

I interviewed him by phone as I wrote this, and he said, “I feel personally responsible to Americans to tell them what we did with their money,” because taxpayers funded the China study, not profit-motivated industries.

The research was the next natural step from methodical and rigorous animal studies. It’s   a remarkable piece of research examining 6,500 adults in 130 villages of rural China where some populations eat lots of animal protein, and others eat very little. The book The China Study represents the totality of Campbell’s experiences. Those include his many years of work in the Philippines studying malnourished children, to his experimental lab research funded by the National Institutes of Health, to the human studies project in China.

Mercola refers to Campbell “forcing” everyone into vegetarianism. This makes no sense on two levels beyond the unilateral emotionalism of the word.

First, the two diets Campbell studied were 20% animal protein (which correlates to the Standard American Diet) and 5% animal protein. Neither groups studied were vegetarian. The 5% group correlates to a low-animal-protein diet, similar to Daniel’s Biblical diet, as well as the scriptural “Word of Wisdom” counsel to eat meat “sparingly, only in times of winter/famine/cold.”

Second, Campbell takes the tone of scientist. He reports and interprets the data. He doesn’t “force” or even recommend any specific diet. He allows the reader to infer from the data whatever diet they choose to follow. He isn’t an internet maven selling a philosophy; he’s a researcher who found the opposite of what he expected to. He grew up on a dairy cattle farm and thought, well into adulthood, that a high-protein diet was ideal. Like John Robbins, son of the Baskin Robbins founder, only data convinced him otherwise. I personally am thankful for honest and pure truth seekers, willing to turn another way, when data challenges popular culture and custom.

Mercola attempts to downgrade the massive China project as “an observational study,” which he says does not “prove causation.” This is puzzling to me based on a three logic flaws.

First, Campbell is a scientist and would never say his study “proves causation.” No scientist would. I’m not a scientist but know enough about it to be aware you never achieve or claim “proof of causation.” Mercola gives a two-sentence primer on how the scientific process works: initial study, hypothesis, controlled trial. Which is precisely what Campbell and the research team did:

For the rest of this report, click here.

Weston Price Foundation versus The China Study

A yahoo group I belong to, “Natural LDS Women,” is having a debate about the “science” of the Weston Price Foundation, versus The China Study.” A recent poster said that with scientific “facts” so conflicting, you really just have to pray about it and go with your gut. “LDS” means Mormon (my religion), and in this post I refer to the famous before-its-time scripture known as the Word of Wisdom, as I have in other places in my writings, about nutrition:

I rarely have time to respond to yahoo groups even though I follow some threads, but this morning I responded with this posting, about the two research titans, about research in general, and about navigating the “science” versus “gut” decision making tension:

The first people to tell you there are no scientific “facts” are scientists themselves. We have evidence, but not proof. Good science is hard to come by. In the modern world, the vast majority of our “science” (not even qualifying as “facts”) is bought and paid for. That is, the science looks objective but is funded by someone with a profit motive.

Industries paying for lots of research such as pharmaceuticals, dairy, meat, or processed foods (four huge industries that are very powerful) may have sifted through a lot of data and cherry picked whatever makes them look good, for promotion and publication.

Studies begin to become compelling when they are valid and reliable, the two highest standards in research. Briefly, VALID means the study truly measures what it purports to measure. (If a study saying wine consumption reduces heart disease is valid, it will have controlled for the fact that wine drinkers are more affluent than beer drinkers–so they also eat more fruits and vegetables. That’s hard to do!) RELIABLE means the research study was repeatable with consistent results.

The China Study is one of the most reliable studies I have ever encountered. Colin Campbell (PhD, Cornell) conducted the original animal studies, but other researchers all over the world copied them with the same results, over and over. Then he found similar findings in humans–in a huge study of 6,500 people spanning now 30 years (so the study is also longitudinal–that’s expensive and very rare in research, but one of the ways to achieve validity).

When you see a study saying oatmeal prevents heart disease, you don’t run out and buy all the oatmeal you can and knock every other good thing out of your diet. You watch and wait until you see lots of OTHER studies showing the same thing. You have a healthy skepticism about what you read–open minded, keen eye looking for more data. You are waiting for further light and knowledge. And you use your common sense. (For instance, in this case, “Well, I know that UNREFINED oats have bran and germ–vitamins, minerals, and fiber–so it’s good. But other grains have the same thing, so I’ll keep using them, too.”)

Vitamin D is one of those issues. The first time I read a study that those getting more sun get vastly less cancer, I was intrigued but skeptical. Now, more and more research is coming out with consistent conclusions, and I am beginning to believe strongly that getting more Vitamin D is critical to the strength of our immune systems, to our ability to minimize disease risk, to our ability to build and maintain bone mass. And it’s hard to get enough D in places with long winters, or for people who aren’t outside much–without supplementation. It has given me pause, since I have not been much of a fan of taking vitamin supplements in the past. Now that it’s cold here in Utah, I can’t get sun. I took a Quest Diagnostics baseline test during my peak of sun exposure in July, and now I’m supplementing with Vitamin D tablets and will test again in Feb. or Mar. I want to know if my synthetic Vita D consumption actually is utilized in my own body.

Double blinded, placebo-controlled studies are the best. Peer reviewed articles in journals are the best. Even they are not foolproof, though. Plenty of flawed research has been published in the most prestigious journals of the world. Studies that have had to be pulled back when their flaws are revealed. Good research is extremely hard to achieve. It’s meticulous, it’s difficult to isolate one factor, and above all, it’s time consuming and expensive.

This is not the place to go into why I vastly prefer the more recent, more thorough work in The China Study to the much older, much more flawed, much more biased work the Weston Price Foundation has done.

But let me say this, briefly: the findings of China Study match the LDS Word of Wisdom that we discuss in this yahoo group and are a fan of. Campbell’s studies weren’t meat eaters versus vegetarians. They were meat eaters (20%, matching the Standard American Diet in that respect at least) versus eating meat sparingly, in times of winter, cold, and famine. (Language culled from D&C 89, The Word of Wisdom.) Following the Word of Wisdom wins–with more than 200 statistically significant findings. (That means that the margin of error is NOT the reason for the finding.)

Yes, pray and receive revelation to guide your journey through what is admittedly a CONFUSING path in nutrition and health. But also be smart, savvy, educated consumers of information. Some research–though NONE of it qualifies as “fact”–is better than others.

That’s my $0.02. With that and a quarter, you can buy a phone call.

Robyn
GreenSmoothieGirl.com

a very personal blog entry

I promised recently that I’d tell you why I was stressed and my friends were dropping by with healthy treats. Like coconut-milk “ice cream” and whole-wheat pumpkin cookies and applesauce brownies.

It’s hard to talk about.   I’ve had this written a while but am finally getting the courage to post it.    So here goes.   Gulp.

I’m in the process of becoming a single mom, after 20 years of marriage.   I’ve been married virtually my whole adult life!   Because we don’t speak ill of each other, no one saw it coming.   Not the people closest to us or even our kids.

Sad times!   I think it’s tempting in the biggest crises of our lives to let go of our health, quit exercising, and turn to processed food for comfort.   I won’t do it, though–I’ve been there before.   That’s a good way to let anxiety or depression or low energy get the best of you, right when you need your health the most.

In an effort to simplify, instead, I did let my oldest three kids choose to quit piano if they wanted. (If you saw us on Wife Swap, you have to know that was hard!)   I’m proud of them–some decided to continue, caring about their goals even during what promises to be the hardest year of their lives so far.   I think they’re going to be okay, or at least, I’ll do all I can to that end.

And their dad has bought a house just a five-minute walk from here.   He and I are friendly, care about each other,  and will always put the kids first.   I’ll be officially divorced probably next month, because we agree on all things financial and custody-related, and we’re both fully capable of supporting a household, so no lawyers or conflict are involved, and papers are filed.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of pain, or that there won’t be lasting scars.   I am so tremendously appreciative of the sweet emails and blog comments from so many of you.   You are a balm to the brokenhearted, and I love you.

As this site went live only a year ago, I’ve been reflecting on its short history.   GreenSmoothieGirl.com has always been, first and foremost, a labor of love to help people understand and love and nurture themselves and their bodies, and their families, better.   But I could never have anticipated the way “e-relationships” would enrich my life!

Even if I had to release my death grip on my “one of these kids will dang well be a concert pianist” dream, I’m not letting go of good nutrition.   One silver lining in this dark cloud of my family’s life is that I will be of more service, more relatable, now, to single moms.   There are a LOT of you out there.   A friend of mine said I’m entering a subculture you really know only when you enter it.  

 

And honestly, I think what I’m going through probably is like what many of you go through, because life includes tragedy along the way for almost all of us.   Right now is a very scary time in the economy and lots of people are suffering.   It’s likely to get worse before it gets better.   It’s a time when we might be tempted to ignore nutrition and our physical health.   But we can’t afford to, because when those things go south, so do many other important things, like our optimism, energy, and ability to reach goals.   Our health is one of the most important things we have, and all parts of it are related: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

I know some people think, “Well, Robyn has more time than I do to spend in the kitchen.”   (I don’t know how that was possible, even before now!)   But now I really have to “do it all.”   So I will learn some new things as I keep on  teaching people about the benefits of the whole, mostly-raw, plant-based diet  . . .  single.   Thanks for being in my corner.

Much love,

Robyn

 

 

help your community: organize a co-op!

Many GSG.com readers are leaders.   You may not think of yourself that way, but are you always organizing things?   Are people starting to come to you for advice, answers to questions?   If so, then you should start a co-op.

 

First off, you’ll want to start keeping a list of people who are interested in nutrition, with their email addresses.   Spend a little time tracking down lists of people who are interested in nutrition, and/or food storage (the LDS/Mormon people in your area are interested in bulk buys, and some of them within that group are also trying to get high-nutrition food storage and are always grateful for help).

 

Second, you’ll want to contact AzureStandard.com to see about monthly deliveries (of virtually every product carried in health food stores).   Require that people send you a check in advance for anything you order, so you aren’t left holding the bag when 20% of the people take weeks or even months to pick up their order.   (This will happen, I promise.)   The people I know who handle Azure Standard locally charge 10% of the order totals, to be paid for their time and effort.   They used to deliver but don’t any more, with gas prices so high.   Make clear that any refrigerated/frozen items must be picked up within a few days.   Have quarterly catalogs and sale catalogs for your people with their orders to be picked up.

 

Third, contact me, and I will hook you up with my contacts to get RAW ALMONDS directly from the ranches in California, since no retailer can sell you unpasteurized almonds any more now. Anyone interested in health/nutrition should have sproutable almonds.   (Ch. 7 of 12 Steps gives you ideas and recipes for what to do with them.)   This is an important group buy, because it’s something that your friends cannot obtain on their own.   In my recent local buy of raw almonds (over 13,000 lbs.!), I made a sample of teriyaki and/or candied sprouted almonds for each person picking up, so they could see what can be done with raw almonds to make them live food that families love to eat.

 

Fourth, be on the lookout for community-supported agriculture.   When you’ve built up your list, you could ask the CSA farmer in your area for a free share in exchange for publicizing his program that you like and finding a certain number of people to participate.   (I confess I am paying for my share, and didn’t do this myself, but you could.   And having a group of people take turns picking up from the farm is still worth the organizing hassle for me, with gas at $4+ and going up!)

 

People want a leader to help them with nutrition.   They really need a little help.   If you lead out and organize a co-op, you will bless many lives, including the lives of children who will have dramatically better nutrition as a result.   You can also reach outside your own carbon footprint to help really decrease the effect OTHERS are having on the environment, a great way for a stay-home mom to make a difference.

 

I’m happy to help if you blog your questions.   Any of you currently running a co-op, I hope you’ll share here what you’ve learned.   Email me privately if you want to do an almond buy in your area and I’ll see if I can work it out.

 

Your network will grow with every group buy you do.   It’s hard for me to quantify here the ways that bringing this group together will enrich your life.   People tell me new things, hook me up with resources I didn’t about, bring me recipes and samples of their own good ideas—because they are on the same quest I am, and because I often invite them into my home to try whatever I’m working on that day.   If you want, use those same names to put together a monthly meeting on a topic related to health you’re all interested in.   It’s fun!

 

So tell us what you’re learning as a co-op organizer, as several of you have already done, by blogging here!