Saturated Fat, Heavy Metals, The Scientific Method, and Personal Fulfillment - Fascinating Articles This Week

January 18, 2011

Dear Family,

Yet another well-referenced critique of “The China Study,” by Chris Masterjohn.

It strikes me, while reading this article, that there is very little difference between me believing Masterjohn, and someone else believing T. Colin Campbell. In both cases, each of us is forming a _belief_ based on someone else's interpretation of a set of ideas. When you get right down to it, neither of our beliefs count for much at all without extensive fact checking and personal experimentation and continual refinement and questioning.

Isn't it interesting, how complicated it is to know whether to Trust other people? And yet it seems like most of us do trust others, every day, constantly--as long as we agree with them. It's also interesting to note the difference between a person who is well-meaning (almost everyone is) and well-informed (it's a crapshoot whether _anyone_ is). It's taken me awhile to realize this: that perfectly splendid and lovely human beings, be they doctors or a scientists or preachers or saints, can be dead wrong.

When I began questioning our family's diet, nine months ago, my world went upside-down, wide-open and raw. Suddenly I was re-evaluating EVERYTHING I ever thought I knew about food. It's embarrassingly rare, in my personal experience, to question a belief fully enough to actually listen to someone whose point of view _completely_ contradicts my own. Once I started doing this, as you're probably tired of me repeating, I was absolutely flabbergasted.

Hundreds of times, over the past months, I've scratched my head in a metaphorical kind of way and wondered: how could I have considered myself a skeptic, and yet never questioned some of the crazy things I believed for thirty years?! (I continue to wonder: what major belief system is ready to be questioned next??)

Up until 9 months ago, these were facts that seemed unworthy of even a second glance, because “everyone,” including myself, knew that: saturated fats are deadly, dietary cholesterol is even worse; that whole grains are healthy; and vegetarianism is healthier than carnivory in every way, as long as you include lots of fresh veggies and whole foods. I knew that unrefined complex carbs (especially lots of fiber-rich ones) are the basis of a healthy diet, and, except for Omega-3s and other polyunsaturated fatty acids, it's good to moderate fat intake. I knew that extra-virgin olive oil was best for cooking, except when frying at higher temps, when a more “stable” oil like canola was healthier. I knew that reducing sodium was a healthier approach. I knew that reducing ones fat intake was a good way to lose weight. I knew that sweets and fruit juice and sugar was okay “in moderation.” I knew that vegetables were the single-most nutrient-dense type of food around...

Oh my goodness, what a Pandora’s box I discovered when once I poked my head out of the sand.

I don't believe any of those things any more.

Isn't that crazy!?

It's obsessively interesting to me, that's what it definitely is...

I've only just begun my personal experimentation with an entirely different way of eating, and am now trying to accumulate data points as fast as I can. Turns out that, while I wasn't in terrible health as a vegetarian, I'm feeling a whole lot better now on my high-animal-fat, low-carb diet--increasingly better as the months go by. (More on that later.) Turns out that when I, in a very sincere and well-meaning kind of way, used to attribute my healthiness to a vegetarian diet (complete with lots of veggies and whole grains), I was perhaps confusing causation with correlation. My new belief: a high-animal-fat, low-carbohydrate, practically-grain-free, and no-modern-processed-foods diet is a much easier way to regain and maintain health than either high-carbohydrate or high-protein diets (even when excluding modern processed foods in all cases).

It could be that now, as I start feeling healthier than I have in years, I'm _still_ confusing cause and effect.

Which is why all the reading I'm doing feels almost as important as the eating, my further attempt to understand what is going on here--in our little family and also with The Human Race at large--concerning diet and health and brain function and every other impossibly complicated single interconnected thing. Becoming a Researcher is slowly bolstering my resolve, as I struggle to meet our small GAPS family's challenges. At the same time that I often lack equanimity or complete fulfillment during hours upon hours of cooking, I am also beginning to take pride in my (unfortunately unpaid) position as “Domestic Goddess of Research, Nourishment, and Healing.”

(I think this last has a nice ring to it.) :)

So now, I'm already starting to trust a whole new set of scientists, a new random dispersal pattern of intelligent people. These folks may espouse the direct polar opposite of that which you believe. Or maybe, my beliefs line up with some of yours and not others, with just a bit of overlap between our personal belief fingerprints... Isn't it interesting how even these will shift and change with time??

Here's an excerpt from Masterjohn's article:

'What is most shocking about the China Study is not what it found, but the contrast between Campbell's representation of its findings in The China Study, and the data contained within the original monograph.

'Campbell summarizes the 8,000 statistically significant correlations found in the China Study in the following statement: "people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease."26 He also claims that, although it is "somewhat difficult" to "show that animal-based food intake relates to overall cancer rates," that nevertheless, "animal protein intake was convincingly associated in the China Study with the prevalence of cancer in families."27

'...But the actual data from the original publication paints a different picture. [Figure 1, not copied here] shows selected correlations between macronutrients and cancer mortality. Most of them are not statistically significant, which means that the probability the correlation is due to chance is greater than five percent.

'It is interesting to see, however, the general picture that emerges. Sugar, soluble carbohydrates, and fiber all have correlations with cancer mortality about seven times the magnitude of that with animal protein, and total fat and fat as a percentage of calories were both negatively correlated with cancer mortality.

'The only statistically significant association between intake of a macronutrient and cancer mortality was a modest _negative_ correlation with total oil and fat intake as measured on the questionnaire. As an interesting aside, there was a highly significant negative correlation between cancer mortality and home-made cigarettes!28 ...”

'...In Part II, Campbell presents evidence incriminating animal products as the cause of nearly every disease. He cites several health care practitioners, including Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. and Dr. Dean Ornish, who claim to have been able to reverse heart disease with plant-based diets,34 and cites the Papua New Guinea Highlanders as an example of a traditional society without the occurrence of heart disease.

'Yet the pages of The China Study make no mention of George Mann's and other researcher's extensive study of the heart-healthy Masai or the healthy primitives of Weston Price, who relied extensively on fatty animal foods.

'That the programs of Ornish and Esselstyn involved more than abstention from animal foods-- especially the program of Ornish, of which diet is only a small part-- is not seen as a confounding factor that detracts from our ability to incriminate animal foods in heart disease. Nor does he bother to mention the cannibalism or the swollen bellies of children that accompanies the protein-starved diet of the New Guinea highlands.35 In The China Study's discussion of diabetes, Dr. Campbell concludes that "high-fiber, whole, plant-based foods protect against diabetes, and high-fat, high-protein, animal-based foods promote diabetes."36 He discusses the possible role of cow's milk (an animal food) in causing type one diabetes via an autoimmune reaction,37 but makes no mention that wheat gluten (a plant food) has been implicated in Type 1 diabetes by a similar process.38 He similarly fails to mention the role of fructose consumption (from plant foods) in causing insulin resistance,39, 40 and the increase in high fructose corn syrup consumption that has paralleled the increase in diabetes.

'Campbell discusses the suspected role of animal foods in causing prostate cancer, but makes no mention of the potent preventative role current research is attributing to vitamin A, a nutrient found in animal foods.42 He devotes 19 pages of The China Study to discussing the role of cow's milk in causing autoimmune diseases,43 but zero pages to the role of wheat gluten in causing autoimmune diseases.44

'Campbell reiterates the myth that dietary fat and cholesterol contribute to Alzheimer's and discusses the potential protective effects of plant foods,45 but makes no mention of the protective effect of DHA, an animal-based nutrient, that is currently being investigated and has been known about for years.46

'The China Study frequently ignores the contribution of animal foods to certain classes of nutrients, such as B vitamins and carotenes. Both classes of nutrients are assumed to come from plant foods, despite egg yolks and milk from pastured animals being a good source of carotenes, and the high B vitamin content of liver.

'The most curious of such statements is one found on page 220, where Campbell declares, "Folic acid is a compound derived exclusively from plant-based foods such as green and leafy vegetables."47 (My italics.) This is a fascinating statement, considering that chicken liver contains 5.76 mcg/g of folate, compared to 1.46 mcg/g for spinach!48 A cursory look through the USDA database reveals that the most folate-dense foods are organ meats.

'The China Study contains many excellent points in its criticism of the health care system, the overemphasis on reductionism in nutritional research, the influence of industry on research, and the necessity of obtaining nutrients from foods. But its bias against animal products and in favor of veganism permeates every chapter and every page.

'Less than a page of comments are spent in total discussing the harms of refined carbohydrate products. Campbell exercises caution when generalizing from casein to plant proteins, but freely generalizes from casein to animal protein. He entirely ignores the role of wheat gluten, a plant product, in autoimmune diseases, so he can emphasize the role of milk protein, an animal product. The book, while not entirely without value, is not about the China Study, nor is it a comprehensive look at the current state of health research. It would be more aptly titled, A Comprehensive Case for the Vegan Diet, and the reader should be cautioned that the evidence is selected, presented, and interpreted with the goal of making that case in mind.'


Something that has often nagged me through the years is the way that different members of the same household can be unfairly and completely unequally afflicted by various problems, _exposure to infectious/toxic agents remaining fairly equal_. Like: why do some kids test for high lead levels while other kids in the same neighborhood and even in the same house, who experience very similar exposure patterns, don't? Similarly: how come some people get heavy metal toxicity symptoms from amalgam fillings, and others don't seem to have a problem with mercury at all?

Natasha Campbell-McBride notes that many beneficial bacteria in the human gut have the under-appreciated job of chelating (removing) heavy metals and many other toxins from the system. Therefore, when antibiotics (which kill both “good” bugs and “bad”) are prescribed for any reason, there are many potential side effects, including: a temporarily or indefinitely compromised detoxification system.

Dr. Campbell-McBride mentions a study done on two groups of rats, both of which had been dosed with organic mercury. “...One group were given a powerful antibiotic, the other group were not. The mercury got into the bloodstream of only about 1% of those without the antibiotic, and 90% of those with the antibiotic.”

Campbell-McBride's take home message: Keep gut flora healthy and strong and it will protect you. (Incidentally, she does not support any chelation techniques aside from natural ones such consuming fresh green juices, etc.)

I will tell you one reason that I so admire the work of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride : in her clinical practice, and in her books, she constantly emphasizes the importance of consuming exclusively homemade, highly-nutritious foods. She isn't trying to get rich off these foods, because, of course, they must be made at home, fresh, every day. She is convinced that bodies can _heal themselves_, given the right foods and lots and lots of time.

Who can argue with fresh, healthy food? Her conviction on this point, along with the way she generally eschews supplements and pills and medications and therapies, causes me to infinitely admire her integrity.


Does intake of saturated fat correlate with increases in blood cholesterol or heart attacks? I appreciate Stephan Guyanet's analytical approach to trying to answer this question.


This article may sound more like conspiracy theory than not, but when you consider the fact that only cooked milk is legal to sell in NY state grocery stores, it does make me wonder: what's next?? Make raw eggs illegal, “to protect” my health??

'We have no freedom of choice in America; it’s an illusion. The federal and state governments regulate every single market in this country which means that everything any American thinks he is freely choosing is something that in fact has been “approved” by the state for American consumption and Americans may only “choose” from that list. Choosing something not on the “approved” list is considered criminal and can result in one losing their freedoms altogether. That’s not freedom of choice, that’s state control of people’s lives. If the last two sentences were said in the context of a communist regime, no one would hesitate to nod acceptingly, but when uttered in the context of the U.S. government, they are considered to be conspiratorial and paranoid...'


Lots of information about broth-making. I especially like the way the author says things like, “To treat such-and-such disease, it can be helpful to supplement with calcium (broth)...” or “...potassium (broth)” or “...gelatin (broth)...” This approach further emphasizes my ongoing desire to escape from Nutritionism--as Michael Pollan calls it--and return to the concept of eating Traditional, healing, whole foods.


Noel Johnson: A Dud at 70, A Stud at 80 -

If you need some inspiration, of the Never-Too-Late-To-Start variety, look no further!


People have always eaten “processed” foods. But there are differences between traditional and modern processes, and unfortunately for us, processed whole grain breakfast cereals that are extruded into nice shapes are a food-like-product that is very different from a bowl of millet porridge that has been milled and pounded and fermented for five days before being cooked up into a steaming bowl of nourishment. The nutritional content is vastly different, and so is our connection to the food itself.

From “Full Moon Feast,” by Jessica Prentice:

“Traditional food processing often took on the characteristics of a ritual. Author Malidoma Patrice Some discusses the important role that chant and song often play in the completion of apparently mundane tasks in West African indigenous life:

“'Most work done in the village is done collectively. The purpose is not so much the desire to get the job done but to raise enough energy for people to feel nourished by what they do. The nourishment does not come after the job, it comes before the job and during the job. The notion that you should do something so that you get paid so that then you can nourish yourself disappears. You are nourished first, and then the work flows out of your fullness.

“'Many areas of work among villagers, including farming, are accompanied by music. Music is meant to maintain a certain state of fullness. People recognize that even if you are full before the work, you can't take that fullness for granted. You have to keep feeding it so that the feeling of fullness continues, so that the work you are doing constantly reflects that fullness in you. It is as if the output of work takes a toll on your fullness, even if it an expression of your fullness, and you have to be filled again before you can continue. Music and rhythm are the things that feed someone who is producing something.'

“Some describes the toll that work takes and the importance of refilling yourself as you go along--not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well. Our daily labors need to fill our hunger for connection as well as our bodies. Some talks about how this impacts food-processing tasks:

“'I remember my mother uttering very moving, poetic chants as she milled grain, grinding for six hours to fill only a small bucket. The meal that came out of her work contained tremendous energy, the spiritual energy of poetry and music as well as the physical energy contained in the grain. All of her work was a work of art, done so genuinely, with total devotion, that it contributed to a profound sense of fullness in the family.'

“Modern women may not relish the thought of spending six hours grinding grains by hand. But I think we should take seriously the possibility that this kind of work can be deeply satisfying and even be a form of expression for the soul.”


Okay, off to make dinner! Happy reading (and don't forget to send me any interesting reading material...)