Professor T. Colin Campbell | In response: NY Times article

Correcting Nutritional Fictions from the New York Times

Editor's note: Professor T. Colin Campbell sent the following letter to the New York Times rebutting Jane Brody's recent erroneous assertions on osteoporosis. We can only hope the NY Times serves the public interest by publishing it.

To the Editor:

Jane Brody's article "Options for Protecting Bones After Menopause" (April 22, 2003) misrepresents certain well-established facts on diet and osteoporosis. She asserts that it is important to maintain a high intake of calcium (1200-1500 milligrams per day for everyone over age 50) and vitamin D, "no matter what else is done". Then Ms. Brody advocates the consumption of low fat and non-fat milk, eggs and liver, among other foods, as a means of getting adequate calcium and vitamin D. She further states that "animal protein sources (meat, poultry, eggs and cheese) are protective" against this disease.

This is a serious oversimplification, at best. The evidence, now several decades old in some cases, is quite the opposite. In a comparison of different countries, bone fractures are increased with increased intakes of animal protein (Abelow et al. Calcif. Tissue Int. 50: 14-18, 1992). There also is substantial evidence to show why this is so (Frassetto et al. Am. J. Clin. Nutri. 68: 576-583, 1998). Animal based protein, among other effects, increases the metabolic production of acid that is then neutralized by drawing calcium from the bone.

Further, as calcium intake is increased in various countries, so too is the fracture rate (Hegsted. J. Nutr. 116: 2316-2319, 1986). Thus, it is not surprising to find that a higher intake of dairy foods, a major source of animal protein and calcium, also correlates with higher fracture rate.

Whereas there is considerably more to learn about this disease, it is now abundantly clear that increased intakes of animal protein and calcium (mostly provided by cow's milk products) are not protective against bone fractures. Moreover, it is grossly incorrect for Ms. Brody to suggest that vegetarians may have increased risk for osteoporosis. There is absolutely no evidence for this suggestion. Indeed, if anything, it is quite the opposite, especially for vegetarians who avoid dairy products.

Ms. Brody, it was our comprehensive study of diet and disease in China which you reviewed for a cover story for your newspaper (May 8, 1990) and which was entitled the "Grand Prix of Epidemiology" that further emphasized the adverse health effects produced by the consumption of animal-based foods for a large number of diseases common in Western countries, such as with osteoporosis.

T. Colin Campbell, PhD
Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

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