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Chronic Diseases: Root Causes & Solutions – Part 3

Having examined the widespread global epidemic of chronic lifestyle diseases we are witnessing today, let’s turn our attention to the most important questions

What are the root causes of the spread of these diseases?

Are they preventable and reversible? And if yes what we need to do to achieve this goal.

Root Causes

I think most of us agree that this epidemic of chronic diseases is a recent phenomenon, having raised its head during late 19th and early 20th century and reaching epidemic proportions over the last 50 years. Also having originated in the developed Western countries and then spreading their tentacles across the world. That’s the reason why they are also called modern lifestyle diseases, as these are closely associated with modern western lifestyle, which has now become the global norm.

Most experts today agree that the root causes of these diseases can be summarised under 4 heads.

Diet rich in animal foods, sugars, processed foods and saturated fats

Sedentary lifestyle

Alcohol consumption & tobacco usage and

Widespread Exposure to toxic chemicals, radiation etc. in all walks of life

The prime driver of the above is a diet rich in animal foods, processed foods, sugars and saturated fat.

Let’s look at some facts, emerging out of decades of global independent scientific research, that firmly establish this hypothesis

The China Study

The China Study is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken globally on the link between diet and disease. It was conducted by Cornell University, Oxford University and China Preventive Medicine Centre, led by Dr. Collin Campbell. It covered over 10,000 subjects across 50+ counties of China for over a decade.

The findings. The study found a direct co-relation between all modern lifestyle diseases (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc.) and our diet

Animal foods – the animal protein and fat – were found to be the single most important factor for the onset and growth of such diseases, overriding even genetic and environmental factors

The typical rural Chinese diet in the 1970s was high in carbohydrates (80-85%), low in fats (~10%), and low in protein (5-10%). It was mostly plant based whole foods. Oil, dairy and added sugars were totally absent and animal foods (meat, eggs, etc.) contributed to less than 5% of the calories.

Lifestyle diseases were almost non-existent. By contrast, during the same period US diet was ~30% animal fat and 20% protein and low in carbs (~50%). In addition, the carbs were mostly refined carbs. Result – a large and rapidly growing prevalence of lifestyle diseases.

A similar co-relation was also observed in the more affluent sections of the Chinese population in bigger cities who had started adopting the western diet. As the % of dietary fat and protein, especially animals foods and dairy, went up so did the prevalence of lifestyle diseases. Typically, the study observed a threshold of 10% for protein, beyond which the prevalence of these diseases rose exponentially.

Since 1990’s as China started ‘modernising’ and adopting western diet and lifestyle,

you can see a parallel rise in the prevalence of chronic lifestyle diseases.

Dr. Campbell’s Lab Research

Here I also want to touch upon the extensive laboratory research that Dr. Campbell was parallely involved in focusing on the link between of dietary protein and disease, especially cancer.

The research was done through a series of experiments involving rats- mice over 3 decades. The experiments involved two sets of rats – 1st on a 5% protein diet and 2nd on a 20% protein diet. The protein used was casein, a milk protein. Both set of rats were injected with same amount of aflatoxin, a known carcinogen.

Results: all rats on 20% protein diet developed cancer and none of the rats on 5% diet did so.

When the experiment was run for 100 weeks ALL rats on 20% diet were dead and All rats on 5% diet were alive, active and healthy with no cancer.

But when casein was replaced with plant protein like soy protein or gluten, even 20% protein diet did not lead to cancer.

Similarly, researchers found that when they kept switching diet at 4 weekly intervals between the 2 groups, tumour growth was literally switched ON or OFF depending upon whether a particular set was moving into 20% casein or 5% casein diet.

When they tried the gradual increase from 5% upwards, the 10% threshold was observed here too. The cancer response beyond 10% was exponential

Even when the dosage of aflatoxin was increased from 200mcg per kg of body weight per day to 350mcg, Rats on 5% protein diet showed no cancer growth. But rats on 20% protein diet showed rapidly increasing cancer growth

The researchers also tried the above cases using Hepatitis B virus injected into the mice livers. The same stark difference in liver cancer growth between mice on 5% casein vs 20% casein in cancer growth was observed

The shocking result in all the above experiments was the ZERO to 100% contrast linking animal protein directly to Cancer, overriding all other factors.

The Norway WW2 Case Study

In 1951, Drs. Strom and Jensen, published a study in Lancet, analysing rate of heart attacks and deaths from stroke and CVDs in Norway from 1927 to 1945. (Source: T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition Studies.) As you can see from the graph on the right between 1927 to 39 death rate is steadily going up. Then suddenly there is a sharp drop between 1940 to 45. And then again a steep upward trajectory.

What happened between 1940-45? When Germans invaded Norway they took away all their cattle, sheep, goats, chicken, turkey, etc. In short, there was no meat, milk; people were entirely plant based. End of WW2, back comes meat & diary and back comes strokes & heart attacks

Other correlations

While there are literally 100s and thousands of independent peer reviewed studies, I am listing a few of them here.

A 1990 study based on WHO & FAO data found a group of foods positively correlated with heart disease and another negatively correlated. The foods that were very strongly, positively correlated with heart disease were milk and milk products, animal foods and saturated fat. The negative correlations food groups were fruits and vegetables, grains and pulses.

Papua New Guinea Highlanders consume 90% calories from sweet potato and no animal foods and heart disease is unheard of

Okinawans are known for their very long-life span with lots centenarians & almost negligible rates of heart disease. Their Diet mainly comprises whole unrefined plants. ~70% calories from sweet potato. No meat, eggs, dairy, no sugar, no oil, very small amounts of fish. Also, they stop eating when 80% full

In India too, a similar correlation can be observed. As we start copying the west, abandoning our traditional largely plant based whole food diet, and adopting a diet rich in animal products, dairy, sugars, saturated fats and processed foods, we are witnessing a rapid rise in the prevalence of all chronic lifestyle diseases

Are genes the culprit?

Multiple global studies dispel the misconception that genes are the key reason for these diseases. You may be aware that both diabetes and breast cancer prevalence is very low in Japan, 7-8 times lower compared to western countries like US and UK. This is often attributed to genes. However, studies show that when Japanese people, with the same genetic pool, migrate to these countries within 1 or 2 generations, they inherit the same risk profile as the local population. What changes? Obviously, the diet and lifestyle. Japanese diet is 85% carbs and 5% fat, where as the western diet is 50% carbs and 30-35% fats.

Source: T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition Studies

A migrant Study by Robertson, Kato, and Rhoads is worth noting. The study involved 3 sets of Japanese men in 1960s. The 1st set were men of Japanese ancestry residing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 2nd set were Japanese men residing in Oahu, Hawaii and the 3rd set were Japanese men residing in San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Hawaii and California set, were 1st or 2nd generation immigrants from Hiroshima. Hence all 3 sets had the same gene pool but they were changing their diet and lifestyle.

Findings: The age adjusted rate of heart attack or cardiac death in Japan 1.4 per 1,000 years per person, 2.8 in Hawaii and 4.3 in California. Same genetic gene pool in 3 different areas but dramatically different rates of heart disease.

In short, all the evidence based on almost a century of global independent scientific research & big picture correlations point to a single fact – That all modern lifestyle diseases, be cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and so on are very strongly corelated with modern western diet rich in animal foods, saturated fats, processed foods and sugars. When you add to this sedentary lifestyle, high alcohol consumption and widespread exposure to toxic chemicals – the result is a rapid increase in the prevalence of chronic lifestyle diseases.

Prevention & Reversal is certainly possible

Studies also show that by drastically changing our diet i.e. eliminating animal foods, saturated fat, sugars and processed foods from our diet and switching to plant based whole food diet it’s possible to prevent as well as reverse these diseases.

Especially noteworthy here is the work of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn in the US, who has been reversing advanced heart disease with his Heart Disease Reversal Diet. He has demonstrated that even 80% blocked arteries can be opened up using the diet approach. He is a celebrity doctor who gave up the money-spinning surgery-stents interventions to treat his patients purely based on diet.

Another path breaker in this field is Dr. Dean Ornish, who has successfully demonstrated through randomized control trials and several case studies that heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even aging can be reversed through changes in diet, exercise, social support and mind calming techniques.

Dr. Ornish’s research showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes affect gene expression, “turning on” the protective, disease-preventing genes and “turning off” genes that promote cause oxidative stress and inflammation and cancer and heart disease.

WFPB – The diet that can prevent and reverse lifestyle diseases

WFPB stands for Plant based whole food diet

What is OUT – animal foods of any kind, including milk and dairy products & eggs; Processed foods. Here by processing I mean stripping whole food of its natural balance or converting a multi nutrient food into a predominantly single nutrient food. For example, polished grains, sugar, oils and maida are processed foods. So are bakery items, chocolates, biscuit’s, etc. and also nutrition supplements.

What is IN – all plant based whole foods – fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, pulses, lentils and beans, sprouts – Consumed mostly whole. Please note that raw is whole foods at its natural best. Or minimally processed e.g. jaggery instead of sugar, coconut milk instead of coconut oil. Cooking is also a kind of processing as it generates high heat which changes the natural composition of whole foods. Hence in cooking, steaming, baking, boiling is better, while deep frying/microwaving are out

Wholistic Vs Reductionsit Approach

While looking at the issue of diet and disease it’s very important to approach the subject from a wholistic perspective instead of a reductionist, linear perspective. The ‘modern scientific’ approach is a linear-reductionist approach – focused on single nutrient, single cause, single disease – missing the complex interplay of multitude of factors. That is not how nature or our body (an integral part of nature) works.

Some key pointers are worth noting here

The diet that causes or reverses heart disease is no different from the diet that causes or reverses cancer or diabetes or auto immune. Different diseases are just different manifestations of the underlying imbalances in our body created by a common set of factors. How each body reacts to these factors depends upon the unique genetic context of an individual.

Supplements do not lead to good health. Consuming any type of extracted single nutrient be it protein or anti-oxidant or vitamins in isolation, whether it comes from animals or plants, is harmful. Once you take any food and extract a single nutrient, you are turning a food into a drug, and once this is done, there is the potential for harm without any evidence of benefit.

E.g. Isolated soy protein actually increases insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1 more than dairy protein. Increased IGF-1 is associated with cancer growth. Similarly, studies have shown that anti-oxidant or vitamin supplements are either ineffective or in some cases harmful

A diverse WFPB diet automatically ensures – without any need for counting calories or supplementing – that all the nutrients needed by the body be it protein, fat, carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and many other micro nutrients are provided in right balance. The only exception here is Vitamin B12, which needs to be supplemented

When these foods are consumed as whole foods the absorption of nutrients is optimum, our body knows exactly how to handle whole foods but not processed foods. To quote Dr. Campbell “Nutrition is the biologically “wholistic” process by which the elements of food and water are used by the body to optimize health”


Homeostasis, is the body’s tendency to always work toward maintaining a stable, functional equilibrium. This is true within bodily systems, from electrolyte balance to body temperature to pH balance, as well as between bodily systems. And this careful balance is what we call health.

Within cells, homeostasis is largely managed by a highly responsive array of enzymes — tens of thousands of them — working together in concert in a hundred trillion cells, all in communication with one another. The resources they use to maintain homeostasis—to maintain health—are the foods we eat. That’s why nutrition, viewed wholistically, is the crucial factor in health.

When we eat the right foods, our bodies naturally tend toward homeostasis. Rather than something that needs to be coaxed out of several reductionist interventions, health naturally happens because of — the inherent complexity of body chemistry

Outcomes like losing excess weight, increased energy levels, stronger immunity (whether against Covid19 or a host of other chronic and communicable diseases) and overall health and wellbeing are automatic outcomes of following a WFPB diet.

To conclude, I urge everyone to try this diet for a period of atleast 2 weeks. Commit 100% to it during that period. You will experience the changes, the benefits yourself. Also make the switch when you are still healthy. Prevention is always easier and better than cure and reversal.

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