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Thoughts on Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., with Howard Jacobson, Ph.D.

"As a country, we're quite sick," the authors say on page four. Less than 20 pages later I realized that this must be one of the - if not the - most radical books I will ever read.

In 1983, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project began a joint, 20-year study of mortality rates in China. One of the directors, T. Colin Campbell, called it "the Gran Prix of epidemiology."

Researchers examined 100 subjects from each of 65 counties. They found that people who ate large amounts of animal-based foods had high death-rates from Western "diseases of affluence": cancer, diabetes, heart and autoimmune disorders.

The people from more rural counties, who ate mostly a whole food, plant-based diet (WFPB), had far lower cholesterol and died from more natural causes. Campbell says the world should switch to the WFPB diet.

He and his son Thomas M. published the results in The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health (2005). The book didn't rock the world, but it did rock advocates of the trillion-dollar Standard American Diet industry. Campbell became the focus of a witch-hunt in the media and nutritional/medical journals, backed by Big Pharma, traditional medicine, and factory-farm conglomerates.

Except for some raised eyebrows, the status quo prevailed.

"The government still teaches and subsidizes the wrong things," write the authors. "Businesses still cater to the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated the 'SAD' diet), composed largely of white flour, white sugar, hormone-injected and antibiotic-doused meat and dairy, and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. And lo-carb supporters typically advocate a diet consisting of an unconscionable amount of animal protein and fat."

Campbell wrote the book to ask "Why? Why has so little been done? Why do so few people know about it?"

The answer's obvious. "If the goal of our health-care system were health, then it would operate in a way that promotes health." Instead, "it's profit for a few industries at the expense of the public good."

"A diet of cheesburgers, large fries, and a Coke is good for the economy when it's purchased, but it's even better when it leads to heart disease and a big hospital bill."

Given all the harassment, you'd think Campbell would be an ardent conspiracy theorist. But he isn't. "Nobody lied, cheated, or conspired. As far as I know, there were no shady backroom deals involving suitcases and hush money."" Most people he says, even journalists, are just misinformed.

Campbell's against the idea of a single, ruling conspiracy because, he argues throughout the book, there is no single anything. Everything is inter-connected, is "whole," and to isolate any one part reduces the truth.

This reductionism, he says, is the current scientific stance: that there can be single, magic bullet cures. "If you are a reductionist, you believe that everything in the world can be understood if you understand the component parts. A wholist, on the other hand, believes that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. That's it: the entire debate in a nutshell."

Instead of magic bullet cures (or vitamins), wholists contend that everything is "both a whole and a part of a larger one." Everything is connected. Change one part, even trying to cure it, and you threaten the larger whole.

"The problem with reductionist research is it's too easy to run experiments that show...that milk prevents cancer. That fish oil protects the brain [which, he argues, neither does]...because when you're looking through a microscope, either literally or metaphorically, you can't see the big picture. All you can see is a tiny bit of the far larger truth, completely out of context. And whoever has the loudest megaphone...has the most influence."

Some of Campbell's observations:

  1. [Vitamin] "supplementation doesn't work." Nor does "super-dosing with a single nutrient. Our digestive processes are so complex and dynamic that [it] all but guarantees an imbalance of other nutrients."

  2. "We're really no better at preventing chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer...than we were in the 1950s."

  3. Genetic medicine is the ultimate reductionist fallacy." Isolating a single strand of DNA and changing it to cure, say pancreatic or breast cancer, could do more harm than good.

  4. "The medical, pharmaceutical, and suppliment industries figured out long ago that a nation of healthy eaters would be disastrous to their profits."

  5. "It turns out that most of our present programs, focused on carbon dioxide reduction, are mostly a lot of hot air."

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"As a country, we're quite sick," the authors say on page four. Less than 20 pages later I realized that this must be one of the - if not the - most radical books I will ever read.

In 1983, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project began a joint, 20-year study of mortality rates in China. One of the directors, T. Colin Campbell, called it "the Gran Prix of epidemiology."

Researchers examined 100 subjects from each of 65 counties. They found that people who ate large amounts of animal-based foods had high death-rates from Western "diseases of affluence": cancer, diabetes, heart and autoimmune disorders.

The people from more rural counties, who ate mostly a whole food, plant-based diet (WFPB), had far lower cholesterol and died from more natural causes. Campbell says the world should switch to the WFPB diet.

He and his son Thomas M. published the results in The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health (2005). The book didn't rock the world, but it did rock advocates of the trillion-dollar Standard American Diet industry. Campbell became the focus of a witch-hunt in the media and nutritional/medical journals, backed by Big Pharma, traditional medicine, and factory-farm conglomerates.

Except for some raised eyebrows, the status quo prevailed.

"The government still teaches and subsidizes the wrong things," write the authors. "Businesses still cater to the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated the 'SAD' diet), composed largely of white flour, white sugar, hormone-injected and antibiotic-doused meat and dairy, and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. And lo-carb supporters typically advocate a diet consisting of an unconscionable amount of animal protein and fat."

Campbell wrote the book to ask "Why? Why has so little been done? Why do so few people know about it?"

The answer's obvious. "If the goal of our health-care system were health, then it would operate in a way that promotes health." Instead, "it's profit for a few industries at the expense of the public good."

"A diet of cheesburgers, large fries, and a Coke is good for the economy when it's purchased, but it's even better when it leads to heart disease and a big hospital bill."

Given all the harassment, you'd think Campbell would be an ardent conspiracy theorist. But he isn't. "Nobody lied, cheated, or conspired. As far as I know, there were no shady backroom deals involving suitcases and hush money."" Most people he says, even journalists, are just misinformed.

Campbell's against the idea of a single, ruling conspiracy because, he argues throughout the book, there is no single anything. Everything is inter-connected, is "whole," and to isolate any one part reduces the truth.

This reductionism, he says, is the current scientific stance: that there can be single, magic bullet cures. "If you are a reductionist, you believe that everything in the world can be understood if you understand the component parts. A wholist, on the other hand, believes that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. That's it: the entire debate in a nutshell."

Instead of magic bullet cures (or vitamins), wholists contend that everything is "both a whole and a part of a larger one." Everything is connected. Change one part, even trying to cure it, and you threaten the larger whole.

"The problem with reductionist research is it's too easy to run experiments that show...that milk prevents cancer. That fish oil protects the brain [which, he argues, neither does]...because when you're looking through a microscope, either literally or metaphorically, you can't see the big picture. All you can see is a tiny bit of the far larger truth, completely out of context. And whoever has the loudest megaphone...has the most influence."

Some of Campbell's observations:

  1. [Vitamin] "supplementation doesn't work." Nor does "super-dosing with a single nutrient. Our digestive processes are so complex and dynamic that [it] all but guarantees an imbalance of other nutrients."

  2. "We're really no better at preventing chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer...than we were in the 1950s."

  3. Genetic medicine is the ultimate reductionist fallacy." Isolating a single strand of DNA and changing it to cure, say pancreatic or breast cancer, could do more harm than good.

  4. "The medical, pharmaceutical, and suppliment industries figured out long ago that a nation of healthy eaters would be disastrous to their profits."

  5. "It turns out that most of our present programs, focused on carbon dioxide reduction, are mostly a lot of hot air."

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