So what happened in the Philippines that piqued Dr. Campbell’s curiosity?
Numerous studies from a variety of renowned scientists of hallowed institutions declared that lack of protein was the singular cause of malnutrition in children raised on plant-based diets. Under the battle cry of increasing childhood diet protein levels, a team of scientists from Virginia Tech set out on a good-will mission to educate Philippine mothers on how to increase protein in their children’s diet. Taking the families’ income into account, the team found that increasing peanut butter options into the diet would be the least expensive and most beneficial protein for the targeted families.
Upon further study, both English and MIT research found that peanuts frequently were tainted with a toxin (specifically aflatoxin – commonly referred to as AF) which caused liver cancer in rats. AF was labeled as the most potent chemical carcinogen ever discovered.
So the dilemma of teaching Philippine mothers to feed malnourished children protein using peanut butter became entwined with the threat of potential of liver cancer through the AF contamination of peanut butter. Because of the dire needs of the malnourished children (as many as 20% of the children were at near starvation level, developing blindness and losing appendages such as arms and legs due to malnourishment), there was an urgency to continue the research using peanut butter.
As a result of two research grants (from National Institutes of Health), Dr. Campbell found that peanuts and corn contained the highest concentration of AF. Liver cancer in the Philippines was concentrated in two towns – Manila (from peanut butter) and Cebu (from corn). Based on personal communication with a prominent Philippine physician, Dr. Campbell learned the depth of liver cancer in the Philippines where children as young as four years of age were dying from the disease! More surprisingly, the children who were dying were from the best-fed families.
This information presented a paradox: liver cancer rates were highest worldwide in countries with lowest average protein intake. So the conclusion had been that the cause was lack of protein. How could the best-fed families with the higher protein intake in the Philippines also have the highest rates of liver cancer?
About this time, Dr. Campbell read a study from India (This particular study was the clincher for me – note from blogger Katie Nall). Two groups of rats were each given the same level of AF. One group was fed diets with 5% protein while the second group was fed a diet of 20% protein. “Every single rate fed 20% protein got liver cancer or its precursor lesions, but not a single animal fed a 5% protein diet got liver cancer or its precursor lesions.” (Campbell & Campbell, pg. 37). Interestingly, no other scientist held this study in any regard beside Dr. Campbell. One response was “They must have gotten the numbers on the animal cages reversed. In no way could a high-protein diet increase the development of cancer.” (pg. 37).
This one study prompted Dr. Campbell to look at his studies of protein and nutrition in a slightly different way. This one study shocked Dr. Campbell to question all his beliefs about protein, meat, health, and nutrition. The rest of Dr. Campbell’s studies were set to find out if the India study had real merit.