Educate young people!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin Campbell, PhD has been dedicated to the science of human health for more than 60 years. His primary focus is on the association between diet and disease, particularly cancer. Although largely known for the China Study — one of the most comprehensive studies of health and nutrition ever conducted, and recognized by The New York Times as the “Grand Prix of epidemiology” — Dr. Campbell’s profound impact also includes extensive involvement in education, public policy, and laboratory research.
Dr. Campbell’s research experience includes both laboratory experiments and large-scale human studies. He has received over 70 grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding (mostly with NIH), served on grant review panels of multiple funding agencies, actively participated in the development of national and international nutrition policy, and authored over 300 research papers. Throughout his career, he has confronted a great deal of confusion surrounding nutrition and its effects. It is precisely this confusion that he has focused so much on, in recent years.
In order to synthesize the findings of his long and rewarding career, and to give back to the public whose lives are threatened by rampant misinformation and special interests, Dr. Campbell co-wrote The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, which has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. He is also the author of the The New York Times bestseller Whole, and The Low-Carb Fraud. Several documentary films feature Dr. Campbell and his research, including Forks Over Knives, Eating You Alive, Food Matters, and PlantPure Nation. He continues to share evidence-based information on health and nutrition whenever given the opportunity. He has delivered hundreds of lectures around the world and he is the founder of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and the online Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate in partnership with eCornell.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I was raised on a dairy farm, milking cows. No one in my family had gone to college. My father, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, wanted me to get an education, so I drove just over 100 miles per day for five years to go to public high school in Washington DC. My uncle’s business provided the gas.
Eventually, I went to Penn State, then early admission to veterinary school (primarily to be an animal doctor), then was surprised after my first year with an unsolicited offer to go to graduate school at Cornell to study nutritional biochemistry. There, I received my MS and PhD degrees, doing my doctoral research project that would help to promote greater consumption of protein, almost entirely focused on “high quality” protein from animal sources. As I mentioned, I grew up on a dairy farm, so this protein idea was familiar to me. That resulted in my first professional science publications in 1961–63.
After a 2+ year stint as a post-doc MIT, I then accepted a faculty position at Virginia Tech. In addition to teaching basic biochemistry, I had two professional research tracks — one developing a basic laboratory research program, the other being the Coordinator of a childhood nutrition program in the Philippines for malnourished children, under the U.S. State Department. One of the main objectives was to ensure that these malnourished children had enough protein, which was totally consistent with my personal and professional background.
However, I obtained some unusual evidence that more animal protein consumption increased the development of liver cancer, which is quite common in developing countries. That presented a dilemma. I had to know whether it might be true that animal protein, as in milk, could increase cancer.
This led to an NIH research grant that lasted for 27 years, along with other NIH grants. We confirmed the animal protein enhancement of cancer in experimental animal studies, which was surprisingly strong. We also learned a lot of very challenging, indeed provocative, nutrition effects, most of which associated with the consumption of animal-based foods, especially rich in animal protein.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
No single book that would mention, as I have read a great many meaningful books, and of course, have gained my most important knowledge from personal and professional experiences.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I can’t answer the question in this way, except to say that, as first steps, I urge following the social distancing and other recommendations by the CDC.
Alternatively, I want to recall my research, both in the laboratory and in a comprehensive diet, lifestyle and disease survey project in rural China (eventually 8,000+ families located in 69 counties) where we collected information on a large number of dietary and nutritional factors that might be associated with human cancer and other disease mortality rates. What we and many other research groups from their own research efforts learned is that a diet of plant-based whole foods — without the added oil or nutrient supplements — has a huge unrealized potential to create more health and resolve more diseases than all currently available pills and procedures combined.
However, the vast majority of evidence for this conclusion was obtained on the chronic degenerative diseases (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and some autoimmune diseases). In brief, this effect is not generally recognized as having a similar effect on viral and bacterial diseases that are communicable. Yet, in our study in rural China, we did collect data on a relationship between this same type of nutritional effect (low protein, plant-based diet) on a viral disease, namely, hepatitis B virus and its causation of primary liver cancer.
We did studies in the lab and learned how nutrition is related to the association of active and inactivate virus with liver cancer. Based on this evidence, I am therefore suggesting that it is highly likely that people who choose to adopt a whole food plant-based diet should suffer significantly less symptoms from the COVID-19 virus as well. I am hypothesizing that people, who are positive but asymptomatic for COVID-19, will be less likely to become symptomatic. Similarly, for those who do become symptomatic, I am suggested that the symptoms will be less severe, perhaps even avoiding death. We also know that those who die are those who have been nutritionally compromised, and the diseases they suffer are those that often can be reversed by this same diet.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Learn as well as one can this evidence, then learn how to cook the food.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
I don’t feel that I am qualified to speak about anxiety, other than what I said in response to the last question. It’s such a personal question and there are many situations that create anxiety. For myself, I get comfort learning the facts of an issue.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Perhaps the most famous of all: do unto others that which you would have done unto you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Educate young people!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
I don’t do social media. Otherwise, our online course on plant-based nutrition (https://nutritionstudies.org/courses/plant-based-nutrition/) and (https://plantpurecommunities.org), the outreach program that includes nearly 500 ‘pods’ (wellness groups), involving more than 250,000 members in 22 countries, most in the U.S. I also encourage everyone to check out the Global Jumpstart being launched by PlantPure Communities, which you can learn about here.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!