This was probably the first book that drew my attention to the possibility that there could actually be some science behind the alleged link between diet and cancer. The connection may seem obvious, but such a thing was definitely not part of my medical school education. The China Study was one factor that sent me on a mission to find out more.
The authors are T Colin Campbell who is a professor of nutritional biochemistry and his son Thomas M Campbell II who is a physician. Colin Campbell’s findings caused him to change his own diet completely.
The book is one of the best-selling books on the subject of nutrition and chronic diseases, including cancer. Some writers have questioned its conclusions, and for a detailed look at the controversy, see https://deniseminger.com/the-china-study/ and then at Dr Campbell’s response at https://nutritionstudies.org/minger-critique/
The Campbells conclude that a diet high in animal products and low in plant based food increases cancer risk, and that a plant-based diet that is low in animal products will protect against cancer. The main complaint from the critics is that the evidence presented in the book is not strong or specific enough.
I am inclined to agree with the critics that our diet does not have to be completely vegan to reduce cancer risk. It would rarely be necessary to entirely eliminate all meat and dairy, although there could be individual exceptions. In Dr Campbell’s rat study, the rats had to eat an enormous amount of casein (a milk protein) to make their cancers grow, and we could never consume that much of it.
There are so many factors associated with cancer risk in the western lifestyle (eg excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates, alcohol consumption, low vegetable intake, chemical exposures, sedentary habits, cancer overdiagnosis) that it can be difficult to say which factors are most important. Other studies support Dr Campbell’s view that meat is a risk factor (especially processed red meat), but large studies have not shown a definite link to dairy intake, and fish consumption probably reduces cancer risk.
However, there is a mountain of evidence that numerous phytochemicals (plant chemicals) have anticancer effects in the laboratory, and population studies show reduced cancer rates in communities that have high intakes of vegetables with certain ones playing key roles in particular.
The China Study is a very interesting and quite inspiring read. It will introduce you to some key concepts in both nutrition and thinking, perhaps leading you to investigate the subject further, and prompting you to get serious about your own eating habits.