In this interview, Chris Masterjohn shares his experience with vegetarianism, and his insightful critique of the pro-vegetarian classic, The China Study.
I have previously addressed the China "Study" by Dr. T Colin Campbell in an earlier article and it received the most number of comments ever in this newsletter. It was the only article to have over 500 comments despite having 80 percent fewer views than our most viewed article.
I recently interviewed Chris Masterjohn for his views on soy and our conversation led to the China Study. Chris is a doctoral student and expects to graduate with a PhD in nutrition early next year. He shared insights that I really feel put the final nails in the coffin for anyone seeking to use this work to scientifically defend vegetarianism as a superior choice for everyone.
Chris had offered one of the first critiques of the China Study in the spring of 2005. In the wake of the internet buzz surrounding raw food blogger Denise Minger's recent critique, Chris revisited the topic in a series of articles that culminated in "The Curious Case of Campbell's Rats – Does Protein Deficiency Prevent Cancer?," a comprehensive review of Campbell's animal research showing that Campbell made remarkably egregious omissions about the true health of the rats to whom he had fed low-protein diets.
What is particularly troublesome is Campbell's inability to acknowledge that not all individuals respond favorably to eliminating animal protein from their diet. He insists that all animal protein will cause diseases like cancer and refuses to acknowledge that many people's health fails miserably when following his program, and that when they include animal protein their health dramatically improves.
Can't Argue with Choosing Vegetarianism for Spiritual Reasons
Many people choose to avoid eating animals for spiritual reasons and one can never argue with this type of decision.
John Robbins, an outstanding and passionate speaker in excellent health, gave a very moving and compelling presentation in support of this choice at David Wolfe's Longevity Now Conference earlier this year in Costa Mesa, California. I also spoke at that conference and had the opportunity to hear John speak.
As I have said in earlier articles, it is clear that about one third of the population actually thrives on a vegetarian diet. John Robbins appears to fall into this category. However, there as many people, Chris Masterjohn and myself for example, who are protein types and therefore do not thrive on a vegetarian diet.
This does not mean we don't eat vegetables but it does mean we regularly use high-quality animal proteins in our diet. I personally consume a pint of fresh organic vegetable juice nearly every day to make sure I get a healthy dose of vegetables.
Vegetarianism is Not for Everyone
There are certainly justifications for choosing to be a vegetarian, but using science to argue that vegetarianism is the correct diet for everyone is fatally flawed.
Ultimately people are individuals, not statistics, and experimental science can only give us varying degrees of confidence in our scientific conclusions.
Using the China Study to argue that vegetarianism is correct for everyone is particularly problematic because, as Chris reveals in our interview, not only does Campbell rely heavily on observational data that can never be used to support or refute a hypothesis, he also makes many glaring omissions about his own experimental work, ignoring many promising leads, omitting many critical findings, and taking one pet hypothesis out of many and running with it.
About the most compelling argument I have read for vegetarianism though comes from Gabriel Cousens. A few months ago he wrote a very lengthy response to my China Study article. We really do agree on many points but there are a few that we need to dialog about and I hope to do that later this month with him.
Classic Example of Failure to Respond to Vegetarian Diet
Chris Masterjohn has a unique experience with this topic. He is he one of many who have tried vegetarianism and eventually veganism in support of animal rights. He also had hopes of attaining optimal health but ultimately failed to achieve this until taking a very different dietary approach.
Through his own experimentation, he discovered that a vegetarian diet created health challenges for him, and he has since taken a more in-depth look at the science backing the concept of vegetarianism/veganism.
Chris' journey began with John Robbins' book Diet for a New America, which claims that eating meat is bad for your health and for the environment. Since he was already very interested in animal rights, this concept confirmed his feelings about consuming animals raised in the horrific conditions that are part and parcel of many modern factory farming facilities.
"My personal experience was primarily in the health aspect," Chris says. "What happened to me was really surprising because I was reading in this book that protein causes your body to acidify, and causes calcium to leech from your bones and teeth.
I thought that… I would be protected for ages to come from dental decay and osteoporosis. But one of my principal experiences after several years of vegetarianism was that I had come down with a mouthful of tooth decay…"
"What I started to realize was that if I was primarily concerned about the welfare of animals, it might be better to support the farmers who were raising their animals in a humane way… pastured eggs and so on. That's when I started adding a few things like eggs and fish.
What really struck me was at a certain point… I was really starting to crave meat. And when I started eating meat again, I noticed that a lot of the problems I developed while I was a vegetarian started to disappear, like anxiety and some of the digestive problems that I've had."
Chris wrote an article earlier this year debunking the myth that animal protein leaches calcium from the bones: "Does Meat Really Leach Calcium from the Bones?"
My Health Also Plummeted on a Vegetarian Diet…
I too have had my own experience with vegetarianism.
After finishing my family practice residency in 1985 I read the book Fit for Life, which encourages consumption of primarily raw fruits and vegetables. So I followed its recommendations and started eating fruit for breakfast.
After a few weeks I had blood work done and was shocked to find my fasting triglycerides were nearly 3,000. Yes, three thousand...This was surprising because they had never been over 100 in the past.
Clearly this diet was slowly killing me and I am convinced I would have died long ago had I remained on it. I now realize that the strict vegetarian or vegan approach probably helps some, but it was a disaster for me personally.
Now please understand that the program I followed would probably work well for a carb type, but for me as a protein type, it was an absolute health disaster as I had implemented it.
My guess is that I would have done much better had I eliminated the fruits, as it is now very clear that high amounts of fructose can be highly problematic, even from fresh fruits.
Nutrition and Your Mind
Chris was eventually introduced to the work of Weston A. Price, and once he began adding more nutrient-dense foods to his diet, such as organ meats and fish, his health further improved.
One of the most interesting and dramatic health improvements Chris experienced when adding red meat back into his diet was that his panic attacks ceased within a few short weeks.
"Removing those nutrient-dense foods that I needed in my diet precipitated those particular problems in me," Chris says.
A patient of mine experienced similar results. He is the owner of a large company in the Chicago area. He suffered from severe anxiety attacks and could no longer run his company. After seeing some of the top experts across the country he came to see me.
We changed his diet. Like Chris, he was a strong Protein Type who ate a really high-quality vegetarian diet. And as soon as he modified his diet to include animal proteins, which are essential for Protein Types, his debilitating anxiety disorder dramatically improved.
If you think these health outcomes are little more than coincidences, think again.
Nutrition has everything to do with how well your mind works. You can read more about this in the book Nutrition and Your Mind, written by George Watson, PhD, who was one of the innovators of Nutritional Typing. The book is very hard to get though, as it has been out of print for several decades.
Little-Known Facts about the China Study
Chris also ended up investigating The China Study, the primary book used by most vegetarians to justify, from a scientific perspective. The book offers the position that vegetarianism is superior to every other type of diet. Dr. T. Colin Campbell conducted decades worth of experimental and epidemiological research, but his interpretations of this research are fatally flawed.
The book is named after a massive observational study that Campbell conducted in the rural Chinese population. This type of study generates correlations between variables but cannot provide evidence of cause and effect. According to the scientific method, these correlations constitute observations that then need to be tested with experiments, including clinical trials.
The study involved 100 adults in each of 65 counties in China. Only those between the ages of 35 and 64 were studied; for mortality rates they eliminated death certificates of those over the age of 64 as "unreliable." Campbell pooled blood samples from everyone in a village so he would have large enough samples to measure over 109 nutritional, viral, hormonal and other indicators in blood.
Campbell also measured 24 urinary factors, mortality rates for more than 48 diseases, 36 food constituents, 36 nutrient and food intakes, 60 diet and lifestyle factors, and 17 geographic and climatic factors.
All in all, he studied 367 variables and made about 100,000 correlations, about 8,000 of which were statistically significant. With those numbers, we'd expect to find about 5,000 correlations that are "statistically significant" just by random chance, so the study provided Campbell ample means to mine the data however he wanted.
In his book, Campbell used the data generated from this study to support his hypothesis that animal protein causes cancer.
As observations, correlations never show causation. As Chris Masterjohn pointed out in his original critique of the China Study and his dialogue with Campbell, animal protein was not even associated with cancer in this study.
Campbell had to make the connection with six surrogate blood markers that he claimed to be reflective of animal protein intake. His method is buried deep in a footnote, he provides no references supporting his use of these markers, and most of them didn't even correlate with animal protein intake within the China Study.
But the study after which the book was named only constitutes one chapter of the book. Chris has critiqued the broader arguments that permeate the book as a whole.
Masterjohn's Original Critique of the China Study
Chris summarized the initial critique of The China "Study" he had made back in 2005:
"He focuses primarily on cancer, in respect to his own research, and he has three parts to this argument," Chris explains.
"First, he did some animal experiments showing that casein promotes cancer. Second, he did a very vast and comprehensive epidemiological study in China – the study the book was named after – showing that animal protein intake is associated with cancer in humans.
The third is basically a presentation of many different practitioners' clinical experiences and many other findings outside of his research.
I had originally written a review of his book about five years ago and I had three criticisms to his arguments – one for each argument.
… The first criticism that I made was that Dr. Campbell's animal experiments were using casein. He showed, or at least he says he showed, that casein promotes cancer in rats. Then, after showing that several plant proteins such as wheat and soy don't have the same effect, he concludes that all animal proteins have this effect.
He says a general pattern is emerging – that all the nutrients from animal-based foods were associated with disease, while all the nutrients from animal-based foods were associated with the protection of health.
… [but] casein is just one animal protein; and not only that -- because
you've divorced it from the natural food context – that you would ordinarily consume it as raw unpasteurized milk. First of all, who knows whether casein actually has an effect when you consume it as this type of milk?
Secondly, how can you generalize from casein, to beef protein, to chicken protein, to egg protein, when in fact, you can't even generalize from casein to whey, because there are experiments nowadays where you can see the different effects of casein and whey.
If you can't generalize from one protein in milk to another protein in milk, how can you generalize… protein from milk… to all animal-based foods?
It just doesn't make any sense. "
Flawed Arguments, Errors and Omissions…
Another problem with the China Study (the epidemiological study that Dr. Campbell and many of his colleagues conducted on the Chinese population) arises when Dr. Campbell argues that the China study recapitulated what he found in his rat studies.
"If you look closely at his argument, it doesn't quite support that," Chris says. "For example, while he makes the statement that it is difficult to tie the animal protein intake to the incidence of cancer in the China study, all blood markers of animal protein, however, were associated with cancer.
… [then] you have to follow a footnote at the back of the book. You'll find that buried in this footnote, he lists several biomarkers, such as plasma copper and some hormones, that are the supposed links between animal protein intake and cancer.
But the fundamental fact is that animal protein intake itself wasn't associated with cancer, and all of these biomarkers were very convoluted biomarkers.
He doesn't provide references showing that they're reliable, when in fact many of these things can be influenced by so many other things in the diet. For example, plant foods are a good source of copper."
Dr. Campbell disagrees that hypotheses generated from observational data must be tested experimentally:
"[H]e has described publicly, and in private to me… his viewpoint is that "if you have biological plausibility, then you can go out and test your hypothesis by making an observation."
The scientific method doesn't say that, but that's what Dr. Campbell apparently believes," Chris says.
In this case, not only has Campbell's hypothesis not been tested, but the connection he claims to have found doesn't even exist in the observational data!
The Raw Data Does Not Support Campbell's Own Conclusions
In the past year, a few significant critiques of Campbell's work have cropped up, one of which was done by Denise Minger, which addresses this very issue in depth.
"Denise Minger… runs a blog called RawFoodSOS.Com. She made a far more extensive critique of Dr. Campbell's The China Study than I have ever made," Chris says.
"She spent hundreds of hours going through the raw data and found that all of the connections from the dozens of pages in his book that he said were there were either not there, or weren't there when you actually looked at some of the confounding variables that he completely ignored."
In her critique, Minger also made the point that when Dr. Campbell discovered that casein promoted cancer in lab rats whereas wheat protein didn't, he also found that if you added lysine to the wheat, the wheat became just as powerful a cancer promoter as casein…
"[A] light bulb went off in my head, and I said "Wait a minute, there's a lot more missing from Dr. Campbell's description of his rat research than I thought," Chris says.
"So I went back and analyzed all of Dr. Campbell's experiments purporting to show that animal protein intake caused cancer in lab animals.
I published this on the WestonAPrice.Org. The name of the article is "The Case of Campbell's Rats: Does Protein Deficiency Protect against Cancer?"
I recommend you read through Chris' article on this particular aspect, as it further explains why Campbell's claims can't be taken at face value.
Another nutritional physician who has taken a hard look at Dr. Campbell's book, and the studies that form the basis of his conclusions, is Dr. Michael R. Eades, M.D.
Dr. Eades has been in full-time practice of nutritional and metabolic medicine since 1986, and like myself, has treated tens of thousands of patients. He too came to similar conclusions as Masterjohn and Minger, after reviewing Campbell's work.
The Many Problems with Campbell's Rat Studies
Campbell also looked at the activities of an enzyme that activates aflatoxin (a carcinogenic mold toxin found in peanut butter) into its carcinogenic form.
He cites an obscure study published by Indian researchers in which they fed animal protein to rats and showed that the animal protein was necessary for aflatoxin to cause cancer.
He then began doing his own experiments. First, he experimented to see if the amount of protein given to rats would affect the levels of this particular drug-detoxifying enzyme, which activates aflatoxin and makes it carcinogenic.
"Lo and behold, he says that the rats fed five percent casein had lower levels of activity of this enzyme and the rats fed 20 percent casein had higher levels," Chris says.
But if you go back to the original research that Campbell conducted, you'll find something surprising. Campbell never divulges the fact that these Indian researchers had actually published two papers -- basically two sides of the same story.
Campbell only tells you one side.
Those Indian researchers did in fact discover that when rats were fed a low-protein diet they were less likely to get cancer. But on the other hand, they were also much more likely to get acute toxicity to aflatoxin, which causes all sorts of tissue damage and ultimately leads to death.
"Even in the second paper, where they showed that low-protein diets protected against cancer, they had to stop giving them aflatoxin halfway through the experiment because half of the rats in the low-protein group had died already, when none of the rats in the high-protein group died," Chris says.
You get a very different picture from reading the actual research than what you get from reading Campbell's book.
"Obviously, it's far more difficult to make a case for vegetarianism if you tell people that they have to get toxic tissue damage in order to protect themselves from cancer [with a vegetarian diet]," Chris says.
"[I]f you read further in this paper where Campbell showed that the activity levels of this enzyme were lower, it's very interesting to see the reason for this decreased activity. According to his explanation, they found that the rats on the low-protein diet developed massive fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease is emerging as a very relevant thing nowadays because as many as a hundred million Americans might have this disease… Campbell and his co-authors suggested that fat was clogging up the enzyme and decreasing its ability to work.
You have a contradiction here.
If this enzyme is so bad, why does its activity go down when the rats have fatty liver disease?
It's curious, but in fact the enzyme is not inherently bad; it detoxifies most chemicals. There are just certain poorly behaved toxins in the environment that are activated or turned into something bad by the enzymes that are supposed to detoxify them.
This enzyme is only a "bad" enzyme if you feed rats a huge dose of aflatoxin, so that's a particular experimental model…
These rats had fatty liver disease, which decreases the activity of this enzyme [to begin with].
But Campbell never said in The China Study that he was investigating fatty liver disease. He never said that decreasing the activity of this enzyme may have had a bad effect. He never lets on that the decrease in this enzyme activity might actually be the result of some kind of toxic effect, adverse effect from these low-protein diets."
But the problems with the research don't end there.
The Research Methods Must Be Taken Into Account as Well
Campbell claims that animal protein has an effect whereas wheat protein does not. But he doesn't divulge the fact that when you add back lysine to wheat (lysine is an amino acid that wheat is low in), the wheat protein was just as potent as the casein (animal protein).
And, he doesn't divulge that he added methionine, an amino acid that limits casein, the entire time. That was why casein was effective in the first place.
"[P]robably the biggest discovery of all about the omissions that Dr. Campbell made was that he found that if he gave a high-protein diet to the rats before he dosed them with a massive dose of aflatoxin… it dramatically protected them from cancer.
But if he fed them with a high-protein diet after he gave them the massive dose of aflatoxin, it promoted cancer," Chris explains.
So, whereas Campbell claims he used the low-protein diet to protect the rats from cancer, if you look at the methods, what he actually did was to give them a high-protein diet up until the time that they were given aflatoxin, and then a low-protein diet after they were given aflatoxin.
So part of the benefits of his low-protein, low-casein diets were in actuality due to the fact that the rats got high amounts of casein before receiving aflatoxin!
"What kind of distortion is this -- to tell people that it's an effect of low-protein diets when in fact part of the beneficial effect was due to the high-protein content early on in the study? "Chris says.
So, in order to accurately interpret Campbell's research, you'd have to ask yourself whether or not you're likely to ever eat MASSIVE quantities of peanut butter contaminated with aflatoxin. Based on Chris' calculations, the dose of aflatoxin you'd have to expose yourself to in order for Campbell's claims to be true would be equal to eating millions of peanut butter sandwiches.
"In one of his studies, he actually showed that you couldn't find any cancer in the high-protein diet unless you had this massive dose of aflatoxin," Chris says.
There is No Perfect Diet for Everyone
When science is properly performed, it can provide valuable insights to help us make our choices. However, ultimately the best science is listening to your body.
It is great to experiment with your food choices and see how you feel. If your energy level is high, you aren't hungry after meals you aren't coming down with colds and flus, and your health is phenomenal, this is probably a good clue that your food choices are serving you well.
However, if your health is declining and you aren't thriving on any particular diet, like Chris found when he ate a vegetarian diet, then it is time to make some changes. So the best study you can do is on yourself.
Read whoever you want but don't follow anyone, Campbell or me, just because you believe what we say makes sense. Ultimately your body needs to validate biologically that you are supplying it with a fuel that is optimized for your specific genetics and biochemistry.
Why it Works for Some, but Not for Others
Clearly, our experiences can't justify the opposing stance that everyone should eat meat.
About ten years ago I was exposed to concepts that helped me get a deeper understanding of the enormous level of biochemical and genetic individuality that essentially guarantees that there is no perfect food plan that will work for everyone.
What I gradually came to appreciate is that we are all uniquely designed and require customized plans.
This plan categorizes people into three different groups:
- Protein: High amounts of healthy fats and protein and lower amounts of vegetables
- Carb: High amounts of vegetables and lower amounts of protein and fat
- Mixed: Somewhere between the above options
You can experiment for yourself and observe your reactions, but if you would like a systemized way to approach this and record your results so you can reach your own independent conclusions about what you were designed to eat, then I would encourage you to take the FREE Nutritional Typing Test.
We previously charged people $29 to take this test but now offer for free as a tool to help you discover the ideal fuel for your body.
The Road to Wellness is a Path You Forge Yourself
It is sad to see that many staunch vegans and vegetarians fail to even acknowledge that anyone is designed to have animal protein. Many, like Chris, use this book to support feelings about not harming animals. They use this flawed research to justify their choice to avoid animal protein and leave their brains at the door.
Unfortunately they are able to convince many with seemingly compelling information like Campbell's China Study and as a result, many people continue to suffer from not including vital nutrients in their diet -- nutrients they were designed to eat.
From my perspective the new information provided in this report closes the door on any future comments on this book as in my mind it thoroughly invalidates the primary justifications for the book's conclusions.
Ultimately, if you are sincerely honest and seek to understand what diet is best for you, it is my recommendation to abandon any previously held convictions you might have about diet and listen to your own body, not some hardnosed researcher or internet blogger like me.
Let your body tell you what foods you were designed to eat. You can experiment for yourself and observe your reactions, but if you would like a systemized way to approach this and record your results so you can reach your own independent conclusions about what you were designed to eat, then I would encourage you to take the FREE Nutritional Typing Test.