Ethics, Evidence and the Business of Your Health

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Ethics, Evidence and the Business of Your Health

We are a population of consumers who want ‘magic bullet’ fixes for our problems. From a big business perspective, it’s a lucrative market for making lots of ‘magic bullet’ products. A plant-based nutritional solution, which simultaneously treats most of our illnesses, does not seem to fit that business model. For business it’s a killing proposition but for consumers it’s a solution that saves lives.

For many of my earlier years in research and teaching, I was part of the traditional paradigm of biochemistry, nutritional biochemistry, and molecular toxicology. Then in the mid 1990s, I began teaching a course that challenged the way nutrition had been understood and taught for many decades–myself included. It was called “Vegetarian Nutrition”, not my choice for a name, but I lived with it because it might be of interest to those who thought of themselves as vegetarians. I preferred talking about scientific evidence instead of ideology as the basis for this information. I had been doubting more and more our traditional research methods and the way that findings were being interpreted. I knew that something was missing.

My wife was concerned about my growing doubt and dilemma. She encouraged me to write a book to fully address potential solutions to our mounting health problems. With my son, Tom, we began writing what eventually became The China Study. Initially, I knew it would be a challenge to articulate a clear presentation of our decades of diverse research findings. However, in 2005 the book became a bestseller. I was reasonably happy with the message, thanks in considerable measure to our including the clinical findings of Drs. Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn and John McDougall. Their independent findings, paralleled the biochemical evidence of our own research studies.

In my courses and writing, I continue to challenge the mass of reductionist research which is typical of science and which conceals the big picture. When it comes to nutrition these seemingly ‘normal’ science parts present vast opportunities for confusion by giving little or no attention to any sort of natural ‘whole’. For example, neither dietary cholesterol nor saturated fat are significant causes of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are merely indicators of the amount of processed and animal-based foods being consumed, an observation that was introduced into the scientific research community over 100 years ago when it was shown that animal protein was a more significant cause of early heart disease than ingested cholesterol, for example. Therefore, the source of the food (either from animals or from plants) is a more relevant factor. The actual food being consumed is more telling than components like cholesterol and fat, which can be removed from unhealthy foods through processing and then misleadingly marketed as healthy.

All of this has made me wonder. How can there be such convincing evidence on the benefits of whole food, plant-based nutrition on human health yet be so little known to health professionals? The answer is becoming ever more clear. It’s a combination of factors. It works like this:

  1. Nutrition is not taught to doctors, even though they are the professionals working most closely with the public.
  2. Physicians are reimbursed for offering highly targeted procedures and pills to their patients for specific problems, but not nutrition-related advice–at least not until recently under special circumstances.
  3. Nutrition is often defined as if it is a reductionist biologic effect, when in fact it is not.
  4. Only a relatively tiny fraction of the total biomedical research funding is granted for nutrition research, while the vast majority of that funding goes to reductionist research on single nutrients.
  5. Instead of promoting nutrition awareness, pills and procedures are heavily advertised in public media.
  6. The US Dietary Guidelines has been re-cycling for 30 years a wheel of nutrition confusion instead of spurring meaningful improvements to the health of Americans.
  7. Voice is given to those who say that most of our diet-related health problems are simply a matter of the amount of food we eat. This is absurd because it ignores the effects caused by the kind of food we eat.
  8. It is claimed that heart disease and cancer are the first and second leading causes of death when, in fact, the number one cause is nutritional myopia, a disease of social consciousness.

In other words, there is a business benefit to public confusion about diet and health. It opens the market for a wide variety of health claims and products, each of which is presumably attending to a specific problem.

T. Colin Campbell, PhD has been at the forefront of nutrition research for over forty years. His legacy, the China Project, has been acknowledged as the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted. Dr. Campbell is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. He is also the founder of the highly acclaimed, Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate and serves as the Chairman of the Board for the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

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