Vitamin deficiency – Patrick Holford

January 6th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, nutritionists, patrick holford, references | 7 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday January 6, 2005
The Guardian

You’ll be pleased to hear that my new year’s resolution is to stop going on about nutritionists and find some new targets to bait. However, due to the curved nature of spacetime in newspapers I’m writing this in 2004, so by my reckoning I get one more pop, not at dear Gillian McKeith, but at Patrick Holford. Lots of people seem to like him. He’s a clever guy. I thought I’d grab his book, The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, because it would be handy to have a desk reference, instead of always going to Medline to check wacky claims.

Now, I absolutely swear blind, the first thing I did was open it at a random page: HIV Infection and Aids. “Leading researcher Dr Raxit Jariwalla … found that with continuous exposure to ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) … the growth of HIV in immune cells could be reduced by 99.5%.” That’s 99.5%. Wow. But there’s no reference. You’d have thought, in a book with no less than 241 academic references, that this astonishing fact would be something worth referencing, but hey, it’s Christmas.

So I hunt through the references section at the back, and finally find one paper by Jariwalla. Then, like a young Sherlock Holmes, I find the place in the book, sorry, the “Bible”, where this mysterious paper is referred to. Holford’s sentence, on page 208 reads like this: “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than Vitamin C.” Then there’s a little superscript 23, referring you to this Jariwalla paper. Just like in a proper academic article! So, vitamin C is better than AZT. Obviously I had to read that paper. The abstract is at tinyurl.com/4l7vz. The paper is free online. It doesn’t compare vitamin C to AZT for efficacy. It’s a laboratory study. It doesn’t look at whether Vitamin C treats HIV in humans. It measures a few jolly complicated things like extracellular reverse transciptase activity, p24 antigen, giant cell syncytia formation. It has nothing to do with AZT. If anyone can read that paper and tell me how it backs up Holford’s sentence about AZT, then I would like to know how. The paper doesn’t even contain the word AZT. Not once.

Everything Holford writes is plastered with references. He’s almost impossible to argue against, because he’s constantly pulling these references out of the bag. Each one takes about an hour to check – so if you’d like to join the struggle, his book is only £12.99. I hope some of them are better than this one.

Followed up here.


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7 Responses



  1. Midweek Cuckoo: Patrick Holford « moonflake said,

    February 28, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    [...] So, as one nutritionist speaking about another, how does Patrick’s nutritional advice stand up? Well, his HIV/AIDS advice is pretty poor. He got caught out in a big way when Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre pointed out his claim that “AZT is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C”. The statement referenced a paper by Dr Raxit Jariwalla, where HIV-infected human cells were exposed to high doses of acetic acid and died. That’s it, no reference to AZT and hardly basis to make the claims he makes. Dr Jariwalla, whose work is highly praised by Holford, is a senior researcher in nutrition and infectious diseases at the Dr. Rath Research Institute. Yes, that Dr. Rath. [...]

  2. More or less apologetic? Holford on HIV/AIDS and Vitamin C « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science said,

    February 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    [...] recent rally in London. That makes it a good time to come back to some of Patrick Holford’s statements regarding on the advantages of vitamin C over the anti-retroviral drug [...]

  3. Holford on Kim Hill’s Radio New Zealand show « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science said,

    March 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    [...] stance on his claim that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less [...]

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  5. Patrick Holford On Cell Studies and Antioxidants « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    August 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    [...] an experiment in HIV-infected T-lymphocytic cell lines. This has been covered by  Ben Goldacre here (with follow-up here and [...]

  6. Why Write About Alternative Medicine? Part Three: Risks « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    February 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    [...] there’s the nutritionist who claimed that AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than V… and the vitamin pill entrepeneur who bought full page adverts denouncing Aids drugs while promoting [...]

  7. Patrick Holford, Golden Duck nominee | Josephine Jones said,

    September 18, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    [...] has claimed that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than v…” and that we’ve learned “what it is that makes some kids develop autism and also how [...]

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