Lucy Danziger, May 28, 2020

“What we found, when it comes to food, is that we saw a statistically significant relationship between plant-based foods and the formation of antibodies.”        

T. Colin Campbell, co-author, The China Study.


Campbell, who is considered a legend in the nutrition world was discussing the findings of his six years of collecting data on the relationship between diet and health in China, now known as the China Study, considered the most important nutritional study in the world to date. “We measured lots and lots of things that have to do with mortality and dietary characteristics,” and one of those things was the relationship between the food people eat and their ability to create antibodies when a virus infects them.

When they studied how someone who contracted the Hepatitis B virus was able to fight it off, the biggest impact was the effect of diet on the creation of antibodies. There was a clear connection between some nutrients and the body’s ability to create antibodies to the virus,” Campbell explains.

“Now not all viruses are the same,” he concedes, “but viruses, in terms of their infectivity, have some common features. When a virus enters the body and begins to do its dirty work,” Campell explains, “the body tries to create antibodies, which may or may not work. Meanwhile, the virus is doing its dirty work.” At that point, it essentially is a race. Can the body create effective antibodies quickly enough and in large enough quantities to fight off the virus before the virus ravages the cells and creates devastating outcomes? Diet plays a direct role in how this plays out,

Campbell shared his latest views on the connection between COVID-19 and diet in a recent podcast, The Exam Room, with “The Weight Loss Champion,” Chuck Carroll, produced for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

“We found something really interesting, in a population of 8,900 adults, so this was not a small study. When we measured nutritional characteristics in terms of nutrients, and the consequences of what might seem in the serum… and I had a chance to re-examine that. And what we found was that the consumption of plant-based foods… vegetables for one thing, or plant protein or dietary fiber, or dietary thiamine.

“We saw a statistically significant relationship with the formation of antibodies. And in one case it was highly significant. In contrast, we had a set of data that are related to the antigens, an active virus. So we had a significant set of data with the presence of antigen and the formation of antibodies. And we had the data on the outcome of that virus, which with Hepatitis B is liver cancer. So we had all the statistical outcomes of the virus, the antigen’s presence, and the antibodies. I should really publish this. We have a clear clean analysis… we have the data.

“We found that when plant-food is introduced to the body we see a greater conversion of the antigens to antibodies. It was really quite impressive,” Campbell says.

“We obviously saw a relationship between Hepatitis B and liver cancer. And I would suggest that there are a lot of common features between this virus and a lot of other viruses,” he continued, “I am going to suggest with considerable confidence that we know what people ought to do with the COVID-19 virus as well.” Campbell says we all should be eating a more plant-based diet to help us fight off the virus.

“I get upset listening to the news. The experts talk about antibodies and antigens and quite frankly they are missing the point. None of them are talking about the role of diet in creating antibodies.”

So to conclude: If you want to be able to convert antigens (virus cells) into antibodies (your body’s fighter cells that essentially kill the virus and neutralize its ability to grow) eat plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, and grains.

Supplements Are Not Going to Have the Same Outcome as Diet

 People often misunderstand how diet works, Campbell explains. “Nutrition is the effect of comprehensive nutrients working together to create an array of responses and a correlation of a whole host of certain dietary patterns and certain disease outcomes. You have to look at whole patterns, not individual nutrients but dietary patterns. If we approach it that way and make the hypothesis in the right order, correlation does infer causation if you examine it in the right order.”

“In rural China, back in 1983 they weren’t consuming very much animal-based foods at that time. The highest county was still quite a bit lower than what we do [in America]. So we were examining a range of animal intake that was a fairly narrow range– so when we see an effect of animal protein on the population. And we are talking about is examining differences in a fairly low intake of animal food and we saw the impact. So contrast that to an intake of plant-based food that makes it even more powerful and more exciting. It was really quite robust.

“I am not surprised at all [that the impact of COVID-19 has been highest in America]. Our diet is as poor as it can get in many cases. Not only because of the intake of animal food but of processed foods, which are mostly sugar and fat. As we increase the consumption of animal-based food… as a proportion of total intake, we decrease the intake of plant-based food. We are really looking at a combinational effect. The intake of animal food and the lack of intake of plant-based protein which just adds to the effect.”

Essentially for every processed food, we eat, and ever salad we don’t eat, the less healthy we are. “This is based on substantial science. The more plant-based food we eat the better off we will be.”

Campbell explains he was raised on a farm and understands that some of his views are strictly based on science. He didn’t have preconceived notions of what diet can do, but in fact, grew up believing the opposite. His studies have led him from a diet of bacon and sausage to one of a whole-food, plant-based diet with very little oil or fat.

Can Plant-Based Diet Help Prevent or Treat COVID-19 Symptoms?

 Asked if the doctors treating patients with COVID-19  had put their patients on a plant-based diet, how much less death or devastation would COVID-19 have caused, Campbell strongly believes it would have a benefit: “In so far as the effect of working with people… I would say it most likely would affect people who are infected with the virus. And they would not go in and have their difficulty.” The best medicine, he suggests, is putting patients on a  plant-based diet. This minute they show up at the hospital with symptoms, this could help their bodies turn antigens (live virus) into antibodies (killer cells) faster than if they ate processed food and animal-based food.

“It would affect those people who test positive for the virus. They would be affected less by it. If they do get the symptoms, it would be much less problematic. Which is so bad since it may behave nothing more than like a simple flu. So that is the individuals who most likely would be impacted [by eating a plant-based diet].

“The second is more problematic and very speculative, but it is that people lets say who are around others who are symptomatic or are positive, and they are worried about being infected as a result of this social distancing phenomenon… The ones who are not yet infected or have no evidence of that. If they are consuming a plant-based diet I suspect, and I must emphasize that this is purely speculative on my part: That the plant-based diet may help to prevent those people from actually acquiring the disease in the first place. But let me label that speculation. But I think it is reasonable to make that suggestion.”

Asked again about the impact of plant-based, Campbell says “But the first group, that go from antigen to antibody, that is the group most likely to be affected.”

People who do get sick can switch to a plant-based diet and see a remarkable improvement in their health  In a matter of days, he adds. “People if they would make that change the minute they get infected–and this is a very sensitive topic and I have to be careful how I say this–but they are going to suffer fewer consequences by changing their diet.”

The China Study is a Gift for Anyone Who Wants to Take Control of Their Health

The China Study is worth revisiting, now more than ever, for what it can teach us about the direct effect of diet on health. Anyone concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic should not just wear a mask and stay out of crowded space, wash hands, and get sleep. Campbell suggests that people should eat plant-based to boost their body’s natural defenses against potential illness, especially the coronavirus. The China Study turns 15 this year, is in a new edition, and when you read it now it definitely appeared to be way ahead of its time.

In light of the COVID-19 illness that has swept the country and made us ask the question: How can we be our healthiest? Turning to the book that showed you CAN reverse heart disease through dietary choices, and you CAN dial back cancer growth (or the opposite, prompt more cancer cells) through lab experiments with the protein casein, which exists in milk and dairy. This book, The China Study, is the right place to start and end all conversations of “Why eat plant-based now?”

Consider these facts, from The China Study:

 “A good diet is the most powerful weapon we have against disease and sickness.”

“We spend far more, per capita, on health care than any other society in the world, yet two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and over 25 million Americans have diabetes.”

Though the number of Americans with high cholesterol has been on a mysterious downward trend of the last few decades there are still over 70 million who are living with this condition.”

The Cancer Study that Changed His Beliefs

 In a study of the effect of protein on cancer growth, when scientists introduced a toxin into cells and fed the animals casein, the dairy protein, cancer cells grew. When they introduced the same toxin and fed the animals plant-based diet, it blocked the cancer growth. When they reversed the diets and gave the animals who were growing cancer the plant-based diet, it blocked the cancer growth. “We found that not all proteins had this effect. What protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy.”

That study changed his life, and “shattered” his “most cherished assumptions” that animal protein was healthy, and how he had been fed growing up on a farm had influenced his early beliefs. It also was the study that made him take the most grief. To say that animal protein impacted cancer was a double insult to what had come before. His peers said he had “betrayed the nutrition community” with this science. But he says that the vitriol he received from publishing this study was his motivator to keep going, and he is thankful that he had grown up on a farm and could tell the story of his enlightenment. From this study, he launched a career in dietary nutritional science.

He then went on to China and study the effects of even “small amounts of animal-based food and adverse effects. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease”

The book explores the connection between a whole food plant-based diet and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and various cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone health, kidney health, vision, and brain disorder in old age (like cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer’s).

He thought that heart disease was inevitable, as his father had died of it. But he learned that he was wrong. Heart disease is caused by diet and can be reversed by switching to a whole food plant-based diet low in oil.

For Father’s Day or any day,

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health Paperback – May 11, 2006 by Thomas Campbell (Author), T. Colin Campbell

is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s a lifesaver.