Doctoring the records – Patrick Holford and Fuel PR

January 6th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, fuel pr, ITV, nutritionists, patrick holford, references | 85 Comments »

Read more on “Professor Patrick Holford” here, there, here, there, here and here.

Ben Goldacre
Saturday January 6, 2007
The Guardian

It’s just not cool to anonymously edit your own Wikipedia page. It’s an online encyclopaedia, free to access, a tribute to the powers of the hive mind, and anyone can edit any page. This makes it a valuable resource in the hands of those who know its limitations, but it has certain vulnerabilities, certain rules, and certain moral codes. It’s even less cool to get your hip young PR agent to anonymously edit your Wikipedia page for you.

Patrick Holford is a self styled “nutritionist”. Since anyone can use the title, I am a nutritionist too, so take this as one nutritionist to another, Patrick: you have been the subject of justified public criticism – in my case, with references to back me up – and for a long time. Holford’s only academic qualification is an undergraduate degree in psychology from York in 1976. He set up the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in 1984, and as the director of his own institute, it must have been a particular honour for Patrick in 1995 to confer his “Diploma in Nutritional Therapy” upon himself. This remains his only qualification in nutrition, since he failed to complete a masters in nutrition from Surrey 20 years ago.

There is an awful lot more to be said about Patrick Holford. I have studied his work meticulously, and I can tell you that this is someone who plays very fast and loose indeed with research data: cherry picking studies, misrepresenting them, or misunderstanding them. If one person writes in to genuinely doubt me, then I will campaign tirelessly to get the space a careful appraisal of his work would require.

So far, I have only published one example of this behaviour, and it was referred to on his Wikipedia page. Alongside the lavish biographical praise, this page had an element of criticism, with a lot of references in nice parentheses:

“In the UK, “Nutritionist” is not a title covered by any registered professional body, so some have questioned Patrick Holford’s qualifications and expertise. [1] The accuracy of Holford’s claims re. health and nutrition has also been questioned: for example, Dr Ben Goldacre has responded critically to Holford’s The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. [2] Holford used a non-clinical study where “you tip lots of vitamin C onto HIV-infected cells and measure a few things related to HIV replication” as the basis for his conclusion that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than vitamin C”. [3] [4] For Goldacre, “Holford was guilty of at least incompetence in claiming that [this paper] demonstrated vitamin C to be a better treatment [for HIV/AIDs] than AZT” – “[t]he paper doesn’t even contain the word AZT. Not once.” [5] [6]”

Now, on December 22nd all criticism of Holford was deleted, in its entirety, by a user called “Clarkeola”. A mystery. Normally, on Wikipedia, people will make modifications to the page and explain why, using the discussion page associated with the entry, especially if the issue is contentious.

So who is this user “Clarkeola”? He’s obviously keen on Holford, as he has created pages for other Holford projects, including his private clinic (although one was recently deleted by a Wikipedia editor, after the appropriate process, because the subject was not notable enough for an encyclopaedia entry: a common problem when people make their own entries).

And who is Clarkeola? It’s not a common username. In fact it only seems to be used in one other place: a travel website, where the name Clarkeola is used by a man called Stephen Clarke (I’d post the link but it feels a bit intrusive). He seems to live in Queenstown Road. Amazingly, there is a man called Stephen Clarke who works at Fuel PR who, in another coincidence, are based in Queenstown Road, and extraordinarily, that Stephen Clarke at Fuel PR does the PR for Patrick Holford, and his Food For The Brain Foundation, and his private clinic. Could they by any chance be related? Indeed they are, and it has now been explained to me that the deletion was a mistake (Holford says what he actually asked his PR to do was add a defense of the criticism against him).

Now this isn’t Watergate. But it does show once again how closely celebrity nutritionists try to control brand information – because sometimes it’s all they have – and more than that, how wiki autobiographies are a tricky area. Peter Hitchens edits his own Wikipedia page, for example; so does Cory Doctorow, editor of uberblog BoingBoing. I sympathise. There is no excuse for abuse, imbalance, or libel.

But Hitchens and Doctorow both edit explicitly, openly, and under their own names, justifying changes, and discussing them: because Wikipedia is a collaborative project that belongs to us all, and it edges towards accuracy and completeness through goodwill; not through the anonymous accidental deletion of all criticism by PR agents.

· Please send your bad science to

EDIT: “Clarkeola” Banned 6th Jan 2007 13:30

“Clarkeola” has been banned from Wikipedia, here is the entry from the page:

“I’ve banned this account indefinitely under our “Meatpuppets” policy. “These newly created accounts, or anonymous edits, may be friends of another editor, may be related in some way to the subject of an article under discussion, or may have been solicited by someone to support a specific angle in a debate”. The policy states that these can be delt with in the same way as “sockpuppet” accounts i.e. indefinate bans. –Robdurbar 10:57, 6 January 2007 (UTC)”

This is from

“A sockpuppet (sometimes known also as a mule, glove puppet, alternate account, or joke account) is an additional account of an existing member of an Internet community to invent a separate user. This may be used for fictional support of separate people in a vote or argument by falsely using the account as a separate user, or for acting without consequence to one’s “main” account. It is often considered dishonest by online communities, and such pretending individuals are often labeled as trolls.

“The term meatpuppet is used by some as a variation of a sockpuppet; a new Internet community member account, created by another person at the request of a user solely for the purposes of influencing the community on a given issue or issues acting essentially as a puppet of the first user without having independent views and actual or potential contributions. While less overtly deceptive than sockpuppetry, the effect of meatpuppetry and sockpuppetry on the community as a whole may be similar.”

The Wikipedia policy page is also very interesting on the subject:

This is the Holford page before “Clarkeola” deleted the criticism:

This is the page after “Clarkeola” deleted the criticism:

This is the page as it looks now, it appears there have been some more unwikipediaesque edits since I contacted Stephen Clarke:

Here is the current page, whatever it may be when you click it:

And here is Hitchens discussing on his own entry’s discussion page, it’s really interesting process to watch, he posts as “Clockback” and is open about his identity, there is also interesting discussion on Clockback’s talk page.

The core Wikipedia values include, at the risk of encountering the scorn of wiki nerds for oversimplifying: NPOV (“neutral point of view”), no original research, verifiable information only, and citing sources. It’s a fascinating and important project, here’s a good link, it deserves out support and nurturing (moving music please), and it’s our collective responsibility to help prevent it being inaccurate, or abusive, or anything not NPOV:

EDIT: Equazen! again…
6th Jan 2007 23:10
Oh, and hilariously Equazen are in on this one too. Small world, huh. They have sent out a big press release in which Holford says he thinks all the extraordinary benefits he produced in children in a rather bizarre Tonight With Trevor McDonald program last night (a revolutionary experiment etc etc) are because of the Equazen Eye-Q pills. Nothing to do with the placebo or hawthorne effects which he worked tirelessly to maximise. I think it’s very interesting that Holford thinks all the benefits were because of these expensive Equazen pills, and yet this view was not reflected at all in the program (they may have learnt their lesson).

EDIT: Holford under attack..
7th Jan 2007

Sheesh, all these edits. But it looks like there are some other people who think Holford is a bit dodge too:


Holford is now actively soliciting subscribers to his newsletter to edit his wikipedia page, with the inevitable consequences.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

85 Responses

  1. raygirvan said,

    January 6, 2007 at 1:59 am

    Interesting. But – pardon my French – fuck, you don’t want to get into disputing Wikipedia. The whole area of altmed there is infested with malignant litigious point-of-view-pushing wankbags.

  2. David Colquhoun said,

    January 6, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Ah lovely bit of investigation…

  3. j said,

    January 6, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    The striking thing about Holford’s PR isn’t just how sad it is – but how crap, too. Deleting a big chunk of a wikipedia article, then adding a really clumsy, badly written response to criticisms in the article…and doing so without declaring an interest, but using a user name that allows you to be traced… I wonder how much Clarke gets paid for this brilliance?

  4. Jut said,

    January 6, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I believe the Idea of his edit was to provide the references in such as way as to make it look like he *did* have plenty of scientific evidence to back up his claims, yet making them a complete messin order to deter joe blogs from actually tracking down and reading the papers himself.
    I just find it incredible how anyone takes this guy seriously. Someone who’s only qualification was given to him by his own institute

  5. Ithika said,

    January 6, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    I understood you weren’t actually allowed to edit your own wiki biography. Which is why people will often be seen making statements on their own Talk pages in the hope of some other user editing the main page.

  6. heathwel said,

    January 6, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Enjoyed the column, and keep up the good work. Friday’s Daily Mirror had the most preposterous 2 page feature on the school whose pupils’ performance has been (apparently) astonishing since PH got a hold of their lunch boxes and taught the mothers to cook….in fact, it was the diet that saved a school, doncha know? This was linked to a Trevor MacDonald programme which I didn’t see, but one imagines was not a report of a controlled set of interventions, carefully assessed and then peer reviewed…..the story is here:

    The bit that made me laugh was the way PH visits the school and says ‘I noticed a lot of hyperactivity at the school’ – this is a clinical condition, reached after careful assessment of an individual, and not one you ‘notice a lot of’ .

    Seems PH’s PR is doing ok in getting his client bigged-up on TV and the popular press.


  7. ACH said,

    January 6, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    How does Patrick Holford manage to have “Food for the Brain” registered as a charity?

  8. billgibson said,

    January 6, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    … and through the mystical power of, the criticism is back.

  9. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 6, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    nah, it was back before i even went to press (confused the newspaper bods (“but the criticism is there!”) until i sent in the history links above..)

  10. raygirvan said,

    January 6, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    > How does Patrick Holford manage to have “Food for the Brain” registered as a charity?

    Can’t say I understand it in any detail, but a charity in law is not necessarily what you or I would think of as a charity (in the sense of collecting money to help some obviously disadvantaged group).

    It’s basically a special kind of company structure that has to run according to a set of rules governing income, expenditure, accountability, etc – and, centrally, to demonstrate that its object is “public benefit”. And that can be very woolly: “advance education”, “promote health” and similar.

    You can read the Charities Commission entry here.

  11. stever said,

    January 6, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Theres no reason why he cant have a charity to be fair – regardless of what you might think of him and his work. The charitable aims listed are perfectly reasonable and clearly come within a charitable remit. (This from someone who works for a charity that aims to reduce harm caused by drugs by haveing them legalised and regulated)

    I have the same issue with him as with Mckieth. the advice is largely sensible – its the dressing up with a veneer of (largely absent) science credibility and then coining it as a media guru which is so galling.

  12. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 6, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    oh my god, holford is in the Equazen fish oil gang!

    This from their mailout:

    “Last night an exclusive interview with nutritionist and psychologist Patrick Holford was broadcast on Tonight with Trevor McDonald focusing on the successful Food for the Brain Schools Campaign and the positive results found so far.

    “I suspect the improvements in learning, attention and behaviour that we have seen in the first three months are largely due to the children taking the essential fatty acid supplement, eye q along with a multivitamin supplement since the changes in diet achieved in the first three months have been modest.” says Patrick Holford.”

    They must have been gutted he didnt manage to name check the product on the Tonight With Trevor McDonald TV programme showing the brilliant results from Holford’s genius intervention. They might be a bit shy of that kind of thing following their OFCOM drubbing over promoting the Dore Dyslexia program.

  13. Jut said,

    January 6, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    oh my christ, this just keeps getting worse and worse and it’s the same suspects all over again
    Tonight With Trevor McDonald reporting more bad science.

  14. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 6, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    its amazing what a small community it is, isnt it. all these recurring suspects. its the same with MMR, many of the most virulent anti-mmr journos were also hugely and pottily pro-CAM.

  15. raygirvan said,

    January 6, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    The charitable aims listed are perfectly reasonable and clearly come within a charitable remit.

    As described, yes, but that very fluffy statement of the aims (education … nutrition … research … etc) omits the crucial detail of its relationship with Patrick Holford’s nutritional agenda.

  16. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 6, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    God, it’s like bad science celebrity squares. Here’s the Equazen press release.

    eye q(TM): Featured on ITV’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald
    Posted on : Sat, 06 Jan 2007 08:10:00 GMT | Author : Equazen UK Ltd
    News Category : PressRelease

    LONDON, January 6 /PRNewswire/ —

    – The omega-3 supplement chosen by the Food for the Brain Schools Campaign

    On Friday 5th January 2007 an exclusive interview with nutritionist andpsychologist Patrick Holford was broadcast on ITV’s Tonight with TrevorMcDonald[1] to announce details of his latest initiative, the Food for theBrain Schools Campaign[2].

    As Chief Executive of the Food for the Brain Schools Campaign, PatrickHolford’s message is clear, namely dramatically improve the diet of allparticipating school children in an effort to improve academic results.

    Supported by the National Association of Head Teachers and most of theleading charities in mental health, the Food for the Brain Foundation issupported and advised by some of the leading researchers in psychology, brainchemistry, nutrition, education and psychiatry.

    Previous research has shown that supplementation with eye q(TM), theomega-3 fish oil and omega-6 evening primrose oil supplement used in thegroundbreaking Durham Schools trial[3], has played a significant role inhelping to improve children’s learning and behaviour.

    The Food for the Brain Schools Campaign is a unique experiment designedto investigate the combined effects of supplementation with eye q(TM), amultivitamin, an additive free diet low in sugar, alongside a structuredexercise routine of speed, agility and quickness (SAQ).

    The scientific evidence behind the eye q(TM) formulation has been widelypublicised. The school trials in Durham[4], Middlesbrough[5], Sure StartPeterlee[6] and Greenfield Community Arts College in Newton Aycliffe[7] mean hundreds of children have taken eye q(TM) under the supervision of education authorities. This makes eye q(TM) the most independently tested omega-3 and omega-6 formulation on the market for learning and behavioural conditions.

    The preliminary results from Chineham Park Primary School in Basingstokefeatured on ITV’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald are extremely encouraging.

    Between September to December 2006, Connors parent rating scores on signsof Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) showed an 18% improvementwhilst teachers recorded a 9% improvement[8]. Parents noticed a reduction inaggression, temper tantrums, impulsivity, and hyperactivity within the home,whilst teachers reported improved concentration levels in the classroom[9]. Onself tests children showed less difficulty with learning, increased attentionlevels and less hyperactivity and impulsivity.

    All the pupils at Chineham Park Primary School are taking part in thisunique project, where the Head teacher is hoping to improve SATS results. Afocus group of nine pupils were chosen to complete the Test of Variables ofAttention -Visual (TOVA)[10]. Tested at baseline, then three months later, thechildrens’ attention and impulse control levels were recorded. Based onpre-test scores, seven of the children tested had a score that would havesuggested signs of ADHD while three had scores that were within the normalrange. Post test scores indicated that out of the nine tested, only fourremained within the ADHD classification and five had scores within the normalrange.

    These results reveal an improvement in impulsivity and concentrationwhich suggests that the children were able to better manage their ownbehaviour. Considerable improvements in reading and writing skills were alsoobserved.

    “I suspect the improvements in learning, attention and behaviour that wehave seen in the first three months at Chineham Park Primary School arelargely due to the children taking the essential fatty acid supplement, eye q(TM) along with a multivitamin supplement since the changes in diet achievedin the first three months have been modest.” says Nutritionist PatrickHolford from the Food for the Brain Foundation.

    “Fish oils can be contaminated with pollutants such as PCBs and mercury.It is best to choose a brand that guarantees its purity and quality. Qualityis important when choosing an essential fatty acid supplement and that’s why the Food for the Brain Schools Campaign has chosen Equazen’s eye q(TM) products,” continues Patrick Holford.

    The eye q(TM) formulation is unique and uses hi-EPA marine fish oil andvirgin evening primrose oil. It is available in Boots, Superdrug, Sainsburys,Holland and Barrett and independent health food stores and pharmacies, pricedfrom GBP7.99. Contact +44-(0)870-241-5621 or

    Notes to editors:

    Teachers and case studies who are taking part in the Chineham Park Schoolwill be available for interview.

    Patrick Holford, Nutritionist and Psychologist.

    Chief Executive of The Food for the Brain Schools Campaign

    The T.O.V.A. is a computerized Continuous Performance Test (CPT),individually administered which was devised to assess normal and clinicalpopulation’s attention and impulse control. The test measures inattention(omissions); impulse control (commissions) and response times. Timevariability is also measured. The test has accepted reliability and validityand is frequently used in research. The test also provides an ADHD score.Although not used for the diagnosis of ADHD it does give an indication ofwhether an individual’s score lies within or outside normal limits.

    The fish oil in eye q(TM) is pressed from the flesh of sardines andpilchards harvested for their high levels of EPA. Special care is taken toleave the oil in its most natural bio-available form, so the fatty acids areeasily absorbed. The oil is of a pharmaceutical grade, made from fishharvested from southern oceans known to have very low pollution levels. Eachbatch is independently tested and always found to be in full compliance withthe stringent European Community and World Health Organisation guidelines forlevels of PCB’s and dioxins.

    ITV’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald was produced independently by ITV, andno press statement should be construed as an endorsement by ITV of eye q (TM)or Equazen.

    Press enquiries: Fatima Ouanssaidi +44-(0)207-243-7103 / +44-(0)7980-212-872

  17. j said,

    January 6, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Sadly, decided to look at the Food for the Brain website. Brilliant, bleeding edge science, providing real science-cy evidence of how valuable snake oi- sorry, supplements can be in treating serious illness. The page on depression is particularly good – I never knew that you could get an accurate diagnosis with a short online questionnaire ( The page on dyslexia also taught me that “A high concentration of essential fats is needed in the eyes before they can manage the very rapid movements associated with vision.” ( Wow, what do dyslexics do in REM sleep until they start taking fish oil…

    The site doesn’t have the normal ‘this isn’t medical advice, see a real dr’ disclaimer, either :(

  18. Andrej Bauer said,

    January 6, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    What I want to know is why there isn’t any criciticm about dr. Goldrace on his Wikipedia page. He must have sinned, too.

  19. Jut said,

    January 7, 2007 at 12:41 am

    So Equazen are STILL trying to pass off the Durham trials as experimental evidence. Sigh.

  20. arctral said,

    January 7, 2007 at 1:40 am

    If Holford is the “second most famous of the [nutritionist] bunch”, does that make him the Number 2 of the Number 2 brigade? Just asking.

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 7, 2007 at 2:45 am

    Blimey. On the money. Anybody want to buy my Holford dossier? It’s big.

    Doctors warn against food fad dangers
    Nutrition experts ‘massively concerned’ over unqualified and unregulated diet gurus
    By Sophie Goodchild and Jonathan Owen
    Published: 07 January 2007

    People are making themselves ill by following the advice of untrained and unqualified diet doctors, according to the British Dietetic Association (BDA).

    It says it is a “massive concern” that people are relying on supplements that have no proven health benefits or following extreme diets in the mistaken belief that they are intolerant to certain types of food.

    Experts are warning that the “Gillian McKeith effect” is having a negative impact on the nation’s health. Ms McKeith has achieved huge popularity with Channel 4’s You Are What You Eat, but this has encouraged others to set themselves up as diet and lifestyle gurus although many have no training. Anyone can call himself a nutritionist, unlike dieticians who need a degree and a state-registered licence.

    Those under fire include Patrick Holford, who has built up a diet empire based on his alternative approaches to nutrition. Experts are calling for the GMTV nutritionist to be investigated by his professional body over advice he gave to a young autistic girl.

    Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, told The Independent on Sunday that she is extremely concerned about the case and plans to write to the British Association for Nutritional Therapy. This follows a seven-month experiment Mr Holford carried out on children at a school in Merton, south London. Ms Collins said the girl’s weight dropped dramatically after her parents were told to remove soya milk and cow’s milk from her diet, claims that have been denied by Mr Holford.

    “The tests that were carried out were misleading, and this child suffered sleep problems and her weight dropped as a result of the advice [Mr Holford] gave. It’s extremely worrying when it involves children with special educational needs,” said Ms Collins, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a dietician.

    Mr Holford denied that his advice had adversely affected the health of children and dismissed the criticism as “professional jealousy”. “This girl hasn’t suffered. She’s got better and is behaving better. Her parents are delighted with the results. It’s only Catherine Collins who is not,” said Mr Holford, who runs the Institute of Optimum Nutrition and has an MSc in experimental psychology but no NHS-recognised qualification in nutrition.

    The BDA says it has identified cases where patients are admitted to hospital because they have abandoned a normal diet on the basis of dubious dietary advice. In one case a 29-year-old woman was placed on an extreme diet after visiting a clinic when in fact she had a form of mental illness.

    A spokeswoman for the Health Professions Council, which sets training standards in healthcare, said: “We are concerned that people are not consulting their doctors properly. It is a real loophole that we can only regulate dieticians and not diet therapists.”


  22. jackpt said,

    January 7, 2007 at 3:05 am

    The case referenced by The Independent article is shameful. Just imagined if the advice was given by a real doctor!. The press would be up in arms and camping outside the GMC. Of course, there is no GMC for nutritionists, so the press will probably just wander to the nearest bar and forget about the story.

  23. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 7, 2007 at 10:24 am

    So Equazen missed out on the free publicity of the TWTMcD ‘incisive’ media reporting of Holfords unique style of nutrition on the programme? How sad. No mention of which brand of vitamin and mineral was being given, but no doubt it would have been from Higher Nature, Patricks favourite brand.

    never mind, some Patrick product placement (PPP) was managed, The pristine white aprons used to teach the parents ‘how to cook’ had the ‘Food For the Brain’ logo in at least 30 point across the front, perfectly mid abdomen so no nasty creases obscuring the logo (PPP1)

    Nairns should also be pleased with the free advertising (PPP2). Patricks endorsement is carried on all their oatcakes, and lo! a close shot of every parents Nairns carrier bags at the cooking event, full of Nairns goodies.

    perhaps even TWTMcD didn’t have the gall to push the ‘supplement’ angle so beloved of Patrick, under his ‘food lacks all the nutrients you need – even if you follow a balanced diet’.

  24. j said,

    January 7, 2007 at 11:36 am

    re. Holford’s MSc – the Inde article refers to one, but he only lists a BSc on his CV. Did he not finish his MSc, then?

  25. jdd_london said,

    January 7, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    So according to the ITV release Holford is not only a nutritionist but also a ‘psychologist. Well, if he just has an undergraduate degree psychology that doesn’t make you a psychologist. A few more years study and accreditation to the British Psychological Society them maybe he could claims this.

  26. Dr Aust said,

    January 7, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    As ACH pointed out over on the forums:

    – supporters of Patrick Holford’s “Food for the Brain” initiative who have donated “time, money and resources” include both Equazen and our old Durham friend Dr Madeleine “Mad for the Media” Portwood

    BTW, here’s another one for the “all the snake-oilers know each other”: Among the minor recipients of cash from the failed anti-MMR legal case is retired Pharmacy lecturer Paul Shattock, long-time Andrew Wakefield ally and head of the Autism Research Unit at the University of Sunderland:

    According to the website, they have a collaboration with that nice Dr Portwood in Durham to see if fatty acid supplements can help people with autism.

  27. motmot said,

    January 7, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Actually, jdd_london, I’m afraid it seems the BPS only comes into it if the titles “Clinical Psychologist” or “Chartered Psychologist” are being claimed:

    Incidentally, there’s no Wikipedia article on The Nutritional Therapy Council. Anyone care to have a punt at it? I’ve put some of my thoughts up at

  28. j said,

    January 8, 2007 at 10:45 am

    by the way, re. the inde. article and the kid who lost weight, here’s what another Holford project suggests for adhd:

    “According to research, children with ADHD are seven times more likely to have food allergies than other children. Foods most likely to cause allergic reactions include food colourings, flavourings, synthetic additives, wheat, dairy products, corn, yeast, soya, citrus, chocolate, peanuts, eggs and foods containing salicylates….To test if food allergy is contributing to your child’s symptoms, eliminate any suspect foods for two weeks and then observe carefully as you introduce foods one by one. [Also, in order to] improve glucose tolerance, remove all forms of refined sugar and foods containing refined sugar” (

    Now, I’m not a qualified nutritionist. However, I’d guess that that type of diet would cause a fair bit of weight loss if a kid tried it…

  29. Kells said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:02 am

    Equzen fail to mention in their press release that they donate money to The Food for the Braiin Foundation which is giving them such a great plug. Mmmm did they forget? Have they not taken their fish oil supplements?

  30. wewillfixit said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:06 am

    The allergy part of it is a pretty standard way to test for a food allergy – and what my GP told me to do for my baby when I wean him (he almost certainly has an allergy to a protein in cow’s milk) – keep him off the foods you suspect may be affecting him, then introduce one food for a period of time, while changing nothing else in his diet and see if he seems to react.

    It’s also what my brother was advised to do when he had CFS and suspected he had developed a food allergy. It turned out it was gluten in his case.

    I think it is called the elimination-challenge test.

  31. bainesy said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:33 am

    ‘“I suspect the improvements in learning, attention and behaviour that wehave seen in the first three months at Chineham Park Primary School arelargely due to the children taking the essential fatty acid supplement, eye q(TM) along with a multivitamin supplement since the changes in diet achievedin the first three months have been modest.” says Nutritionist PatrickHolford from the Food for the Brain Foundation.’

    Another explanation for the improvements might be this apparent concurrent “experiment” at the school – was there any attempt to isolate the two trials?

  32. j said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:44 am

    WeWillFixIt- that’s interesting. I’d heard of (known people who’ve tried) elimination diets to deal with potential allergies/sensitivities, but this seems more radical than most I’ve seen. I thought the norm was to eliminate a few foods that are likely problems (e.g. dairy and gluten), often for less than two weeks, rather than cutting out so many foods at once? Or is a more radical elimination diet common?

  33. wewillfixit said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:51 am

    You only eliminate the foods you suspect are causing the problems – not ALL potentially allergenic foods. Although because my brother hadn’t much of an idea what it might be, he did have a pretty basic diet for a couple of weeks.

    With my son, I have a pretty good idea exactly what he will react to, as he already seems to react to it slightly in my breastmilk, and it is what his brother reacts to, and apparently my mam says it made me sick as a child too. So there’s not much I have to eliminate there. Also makes it easier that I am doing it at weaning stage when it is easier to introduce foods one at a time anyway.

  34. j said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:57 am

    That’s interesting – I guess that could lead to a basic diet for a while if you didn’t know the likely causes of problems.

  35. used to be jdc said,

    January 8, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    “If one person writes in to genuinely doubt me, then I will campaign tirelessly to get the space a careful appraisal of his work would require.”

    I don’t doubt you for a moment, but I for one would love to see your Holford dossier. If you aren’t going to publish it in the Guardian, would you consider posting it somewhere on the BS site?

  36. Twm said,

    January 8, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    There are various allergy test which can quickly diagnose certain allergies from blood and skin test etc
    There is a good overall description of the approaches here:

    For mysterious allergies – where strong indication of allergic reactions are present but no obvious cause, you will probably be put on limited diet of rice, pears and other fairly easy going foods to see if the symptoms die down . if so, then different types of food are gradually introduced and sustained for a few days.
    It’s not particularly fun, especially if you are a foodie.

    One of the problems with eliminating suspect foods is the placebo effect (i’m not sure that’s the right word here though). But if the patient really believes that a food is causing an allergy then removing it can have a big effect/perception.

    I personally believe (with only anecdotal evidence) that the placebo effect is fairly strong with anything to do with digestion.
    If you tell someone to give up bread for a week to see if they feel less bloated, I’m sure the answer will be yes.

  37. Dr Aust said,

    January 8, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    Talking of placebo effect, the only definitive way to be sure someone has a food allergy is a double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge – for instance, the thing you are allergic to is “disguised” in something else with a distinctive taste, compared with the disguising taste alone. Neither you or the tester know which is which.

    When done like this, the incidence of “is detectably allergic to” compared to “reports themself to be definitely allergic to ” is about one in ten, even with things which are widely touted as “common food allergens” by the woo fraternity, like “dairy products”

    Beware of dodgy food allergy test touters.

  38. pv said,

    January 8, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Ben wrote: “God, it’s like bad science celebrity squares…”

    But, in fact, it is show business. Making money through publicity and celebrity. It’s all on the same level as big brother, celebrity big brother, and all the other celebrity tv tripe. It’s as unreal and untruthful as “reality” tv, for which there is a huge market apparently.

  39. rog.d said,

    January 8, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    FYI, email received from Equazen:

    Tonight with Trevor McDonald
    6th January 2007

    Last night an exclusive interview with nutritionist and psychologist Patrick
    Holford was broadcast on Tonight with Trevor McDonald focusing on the successful
    Food for the Brain Schools Campaign and the positive results found so far.

    Involving two primary schools, the main aim of this nutrition campaign was
    to dramatically improve the school children’s diet over six months to see
    how this could affect their school performance.

    Previously, research has shown that individual dietary changes such as supplementation
    with eye q, multivitamins, low sugar, additive-free diets have helped improve
    children’s learning and behaviour, substantially, but this campaign is unique
    in attempting to investigate the overall effects of these changes implemented
    together, plus a daily structured exercise routine.

    Supported by the National Association of Head Teachers and most of the leading
    charities in mental health, this is the brainchild of Patrick Holford who
    formed the Food for the Brain charity, with the support and advice of some
    of the leading experts in psychology, brain chemistry, nutrition, education
    and psychiatry.

    The preliminary results from one of the schools taking part, Chineham Park
    School in Basingstoke, are encouraging:

    From September to December 2006 significant change was observed for overall
    ADHD symptoms with parents rating an 18% improvement and teachers a 9% improvement.

    In assessments, children showed less difficulty with emotion and learning,
    better attention and less hyperactivity and impulsivity.

    Although these results are not from a statistical analysis, they do reveal
    an improvement on impulsivity, suggesting that the children are better able
    to manage their own behaviour.

    “I suspect the improvements in learning, attention and behaviour that we
    have seen in the first three months are largely due to the children taking
    the essential fatty acid supplement, eye q along with a multivitamin supplement
    since the changes in diet achieved in the first three months have been modest.”
    says Patrick Holford.

    In combining healthy dietary and lifestyle changes, and showing positive
    change, this campaign has been key in spreading the nation’s awareness that
    what we feed our children does indeed affect their minds. We’ll keep you
    updated as the campaign progresses.

  40. Dead Badger said,

    January 8, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Slight tangent: as a six-year-old, smitten with constant ear infections, I was diagnosed as being allergic to dairy produce and wheat using a technique known as “applied kinesiology”. It involves the patsy-sorry, “patient”-holding a vial of the suspected allergen in one hand, and holding out their other arm. The “doctor” presses down on the extended arm. Should the patient be sensitive to the sample, their energy flow is disrupted, and they are unable to resist the force of the “doctor”.

    Of course, being six years old I was unable to resist the pressure of a fully grown moron at the best of times, let alone when there was an unusual variance in my warp coils. So what we did was I sat on my mother’s lap, holding a vial. My mother held out her arm, and the “doctor” pressed on that. After a bit of wilful idiocy, he went in a back room and came out to diagnose me with the two most common childhood allergies; dairy and wheat. He was half right. Oh, and guess what’s a really common symptom of dairy allergies? Ear infections. To this day I can’t convince my mother that this guy was not a genius, but a money-grubbing quack with an oscilloscope and a Dummies’ Guide to Diagnosis.

    I guess my point is that elimination diets are positively respectable next to this sort of thing. No, it’s hardly ideal if they’re not blinded, but it’s remarkably difficult to construct a blinded diet and sustain it over the timeframes needed to challenge potential allergens. My dairy symptoms tend to take a week to become fully noticeable, and about the same time to wear off, for example. Simple elimination diets shouldn’t be sniffed at for being less than perfect; in most cases they’re the only practical option.

  41. Registered Dietitian said,

    January 9, 2007 at 1:28 am

    Hi, good work as always Ben,
    re: posts 26 on – elimination diets and ADHD
    I’ve got some experience working in this area, and elimination diets are ok for this – but as stated above, if you cut out all these ‘common culprits’ stated on PH’s website, it’s v hard to maintain a nutritious diet for a growing child.
    This is why it’s best not to try elimination diets without the support of a paediatric dietitian, or at least seek the support of one if the decision is made to cut out some foods long term.
    Unfortunately, I have seen many cases of underweight children, and children with vitamin and mineral deficiencies as a result of cutting out food groups – sometimes on the advice of alternative therapists, but also on the advice of NHS doctors, who then did not ensure alternative sources of nutrients were added to the child’s diet. The blood and skin tests which are used in the NHS to help diagnose the more serious life-threatening allergies are not particularly helpful in identifying intolerances, and the tests available privately are completely unreliable.
    If you are interested I have some info on diet on behaviour on my website
    Zoe Connor RD

  42. raygirvan said,

    January 9, 2007 at 2:02 am

    “applied kinesiology”

    Yeah, there are some very dodgy tests around. I’m very suspicious of the IgG ELISA tests, on not much evidence except they seem popular with woo practitioners. What’s the deal on those?

  43. wewillfixit said,

    January 9, 2007 at 7:25 am

    How reliable are skin prick tests? I asked about having one done for my son, and the GP told me they are not that reliable and that the elimination diet would be a better way to go for us. Previously I had been under the impression that they were pretty reliable and I was wary about using elimination challenge for the reasons of observer bias. It is especially difficult when you are looking out for an increase in symptoms already present (he seems to vomit no matter what I eat, it just seems a lot more severe when I have milk cream or yoghurt) as well as new symptoms which are more delayed – eczema rash reappearing.

  44. Ken Zetie said,

    January 9, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Talking of nutritionists I see the Evening Standard had a typically uncritical piece of journalism yesterday, a 2 page spread on Gilian McKeith. In it she is allowed to make the claim that all of her work is backed up scientifically and that she is some kind of genius who turned down places at Ivy League universities becuase they didn’t do holistic medicine. She comes over as an evangelist, talking about having visions of being famous. I’m sure the DSM IV checklists would come up with a decent psychosis or two to explain her behaviour…

    In essence the whole thing is a 2 page ad for her new TV series. SIgh.


  45. apothecary said,

    January 9, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Re applied kidology – sorry, kinesiology – that reminds me of a simple “magic” trick. someone holds their hand out, elbow flexed. You press down on their hand , ask them to resist – they can quite easily. Ask them to hold a “magic penny” with fingers flexed round it – its much easier to push their hand down. I think its something to do with the mechanics of the muscles/tendons in the arm when the fingers are flexed. It certainly works (my trial n= 3 ). I’m sure I saw the explanation on telly. Am I talking rubbish, or could a friendly physio/orthopod/magician etc confim?

  46. BrickWall said,

    January 9, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    One of the most difficult issues re food intolerance or allergy cetainly is identification and for all the reasons already stated this affects any serious attempts to determine if intolerance to foodstuffs is real or not just as much as it affects individuals who are feeling constantly lousy and desperately trying to get through a day without a mad rush to the toilet.

    I personally convinced myself I was intolerant to dairy when I’d been ill for two terms of University and then had run out of money towards the end of term so hadn’t eaten at all for some days before going home. When I got home I had then started to feel better than I had for months until I drank some milk and was then violently ill.

    Of course there is no way of me knowing if this was the cause or not as I can’t be a control experiment for myself (maybe I was allergic to having cash in my pocket!!). However I then removed dairy from my diet for a number of years and felt a whole lot better, have reintroduced it slowly and occassionally I seem to be affected by “stronger” dairy like cream, or runny cheeses. But bearing in mind all the other crap I eat its hard to know what’s going on!

    Incidentally a friend of mine followed the Chinese herbal medicine route for reducing his blood pressure and his blood pressure has indeed come under safe levels, which is great for him. But as I pointed out to him he’s spent a hell of a lot of money to reduce his blood pressure but still bloody smokes!!!

  47. mrstrellis said,

    January 9, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    The elimination diet worked for me as a baby (and the skin test was useless): my father told me that after every new food was introduced, he’d follow it with a tablespoon of peas. The peas acted as a marker because if I was allergic to the new food, it would come straight out again along with the peas. Lovely.

    Bear in mind this was [cough] years ago, before you could buy faffy Free From stuff at Sainsbury’s and before all the cool kids had allergies. My parents used to have to buy goat’s milk at the farm gate – very rural.

  48. Delster said,

    January 10, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    “The scientific evidence behind the eye q(TM) formulation has been widely publicised. ”

    actually no it hasn’t… they simply state their results and don;t provide the actual scientific data / methodology for peer review.

    “The Food for the Brain Schools Campaign is a unique experiment designed to investigate the combined effects of supplementation with eye q(TM), amultivitamin, an additive free diet low in sugar, alongside a structured exercise routine of speed, agility and quickness (SAQ).”

    A unique experiment with no control group which is being conducted at the same time as another exercise (thanks Bainsey post 29) and that also makes no mention (from what i read on this page) of the exercise element of it’s own trial. A decent amount of speed, agility and quickness exercise will, in and of itself, reduce agression and improve reaction times. (2 of the main tested elements)

    Also it was measured using C.P.T. (post 15 press release) the problem with continous tests is that you get better at them by experience (need another control group guys!)

    As for it being unique, in many way’s is seems just like what Jamie Oliver did with improved food and no supplements.

    If i was a science teacher and a student came to me with this as their experimental methodology i’d throw it out the window…. and possibly the student too.

    post 40 wewillfixit. i had skin prick tests done for hayfever and they are great for that kind of allergy. how effective they are one digestive system allergies i don’t know i’m afraid.

    Post 42 apothocary…. i used to do Akido (martial art) which involves joint locks and holds etc. . By flexing certain joints you prevent muscle groups from being able to place effective leverage hence enabling you to manipulate the “victim” however you want.

  49. stever said,

    January 10, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    bainsey – 29 – thats a very good point. good spot.

  50. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 10, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    hahahahahahahaaaa according to the Telegraph he’s Professor Patrick Holford!

    Diet and exercise ‘transformed our children’

    By Graeme Paton, Education Correspondent
    Last Updated: 1:47am GMT 10/01/2007

    The behaviour of children with special needs improves “significantly” with a good diet and regular exercise, a study has found.

    Parents and teachers noticed a marked reduction in youngsters’ hyperactivity, anger and restlessness after a seven-month regime of multi-vitamins, healthy food and physical training, said nutritionists and psychiatrists.

    Experts who monitored the progress of pupils at a special school in Merton, south London, said the improvements established “without doubt” a link between nutrition and brain power.

    It follows moves by the Government last year, under pressure from Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, to ban meals with high levels of fat and salt.

    Ministers imposed new standards, which came into force in September, requiring that pupils get at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal and restricting deep-fried food.

    But academics behind Food For The Brain, a charity promoting the link between nutrition and mental health, which was behind the Merton study, said pupils should be subject to a more systematic health regime.

    Prof Patrick Holford, the chief executive of the group, which is associated to a number of organisations including the Alzheimer’s Research Unit and the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “No one doubts that children should be eating healthily, but by forcing it upon them without a more thorough sea change in their lives you are naturally going to spark rebellion.

    “We have tried to create a more complete package, by improving their nutrition, changing their food and fitness regime — all with the support of their parents.

    “It has had a marked effect on their lives and hopefully they can see that.”

    The charity placed children from Cricket Green special school on a diet last April.

    Ninety of the 120 pupils, who suffer from a range of moderate learning difficulties, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Downs Syndrome, did the seven-month course.

    Pupils, aged five to 16, took two supplements every day. One was an essential fats mixture made up of two elements: Omega 3, which is rich in fish oils, and evening primrose oil. Pupils also took a multi-vitamin two to four times a day. Pasta, vegetables and fruit replaced fatty or sugary food.

    Children were also placed on a training regime used by leading football clubs, including Arsenal.

    They went through daily exercises such as running between marks and tip-toeing through a ladder. After seven months teachers and parents were asked to complete questionnaires, rating children by 13 different indicators, including anxiety, hyperactivity and their liability to be over-emotional.

    They were asked to rate each child on a four-point scale. On all scales there were marked improvements.

    Teachers saw the biggest changes in anxiety and shyness, with staff noticing a 10 per cent reduction in seriously inhibiting behaviour.

    Among parents, improvements were more marked. They noticed a 25 per cent reduction in children complaining of psychosomatic problems.

    Gemma Weller, nine, suffers from ADHD and has cerebral palsy, which impairs movement. Her mother, Karen Coombes, said she had extreme and violent tantrums.

    Yesterday, Miss Coombes said: “Her behaviour has improved a lot. She is much more confident.

    “She’ll put herself forward, rather than me having to push her forward, she’s a lot happier and her reading and writing has improved dramatically.

    “For the first time this Christmas she was writing her own Christmas cards.”

    Celia Dawson, the head teacher, said: “I would not say this is has been a panacea for all the difficulties that pupils at this school experience, but without doubt most of the children are a lot calmer.”

  51. Dr Aust said,

    January 10, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    And he appears also, by implication, to be an academic.


    If you don’t feel like expending those years getting a PhD, working in a University or hospital or institute doing research, publishing, teaching and all that Professor-y sort of stuff….

    …simply open your own Institute of Nutri-flannel and give yourself a Professorship.

    Which gives me an idea…..

    Incidentally, I hate to labour this, but in much of Europe claiming an academic or professional title you don’t have is illegal, mainly because you are assumed to be doing it to deceive the gullible. Wonder what could have given them that idea?

  52. pv said,

    January 10, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    “Incidentally, I hate to labour this, but in much of Europe claiming an academic or professional title you don’t have is illegal, mainly because you are assumed to be doing it to deceive the gullible.”

    Cultural priorities? In the UK I believe that kind of person is recognised as an entrepreneur, and only one step short of sainthood.

  53. Registered Dietitian said,

    January 11, 2007 at 9:01 am

    no 40 – wewillfixit Your GP is probably right. The medical and dietetic professions haven’t really made their minds up on how useful the skin prick tests and RAST IgE tests commonly done in NHS clinics are. Having extensively read up on it i came to the conclusion they weren’t useful for delayed food allergy/intolerances – because you can have strong positive reactions for foods you are ok with and negative reactions for foods you definately react to. They are useful for children who have had strong immediate reactions to foods to see if their risk of reaction has been reduced, and so they might be safe to retry the offending food. However, as i said, other professionals may disagree with me. The best thing is elimination, and them reintroduction. If you are not sure if you felt better on cutting out the food, and didn’t feel worse on reintroducing it, you probably aren’t reacting to the food. Note that some people report feeling worse for a few days after the elimination, but then feel much better – this is supposed to be like a cold turkey response. It is all a really grey area.

  54. Dr Aust said,

    January 11, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    “As for it being unique, in many ways ts seems just like what Jamie Oliver did with improved food and no supplements.”

    The difference being, of course, that the Cheeky Chappie is not styling himself as an “expert” (let along a Professor), surrounding the commons sense with a mystique of pseudo-science, plugging magic pills or branded supplements, and offering you salvation at a price (£ 40 / hr upwards for most alt-nutrition types, I suspect)…

  55. j said,

    January 11, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    interesting info about different allergy/sensitivity tests – thanks :)

    re. ‘Prof.’ Holford – to be fair, do we know whether he’s decided to promote himself to Prof., or if the Telegraph just made it up?

    btw, re. the independent article – it looks like Holford and Collins have disagreed previously – see

  56. stever said,

    January 11, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    hahaha Prof Holford!

    oh what a tangled web etc.

  57. andy705 said,

    January 11, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Holford is dangerous! People who are suffering look to anyone for answers to get a little relief, he offers them his advice but packages it like it is some new cutting edge area of research stifled by the evil medical establishment. I do not blame him so much as the irresponsible television producers who book him. What I do not understand is how he gained sufficient money/credibility to establish an Institute?

  58. David Mingay said,

    January 11, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Looks like he’s been passing himself off as a Professor for a while. This was quoted on (of all places) as having orginally appeared in The Guardian (of all places), and it even has the “Prof” criticising someone else’s diet!

    Bestselling diet criticised
    Source: The Guardian
    Date: 29/12/2005
    Today in the Guardian, it is reported that the journal Nature has criticised the Total Wellbeing Diet for marketing itself as “scientifically proven” and branded it a “recipe for trouble” due to health fears in the long term. The controversy lies on the book’s emphasis on eating lean red meat, after Prof Patrick Holford of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition warned that the diet may be dangerous in the long term and could result in higher levels of breast and prostate cancer, along with stressed kidneys and reduced bone mass from over-consumption.

  59. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 11, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    £40ph Dr Aust ? (post 51). Try £80-120ph plus the lucrative vitamin and mineral sales on top (“just tell the supplement company I recommend that I have devised this very special package of supplements for you” = 20% back-commission for nutritionist) plus commission on dodgy intolerance-but-we-will-infer-this-is-an-allergy test (a snip at £100-250,depending on how persuasive the nutritionist).

    And when it doesn’t work – well, another raft of tests – Candida sensitivity, Homocysteine levels (what is your ‘H level’?), stool parasites with another range of supplements (yeast ‘probiotics’, B group vitamins, blah blah).

    It’s basically a marathon exercise of marathon expenditure – as long as your finances hold out, you can go on indefinitely.. yet when you finally submit, having failed to achieve the “100% improvement ” you had been promised – then the blame is on YOU. Only YOU have failed to complete the diet/ take the supplements/ change your diet paying attention to the dietary minutae for the nth time, because rest assured, had you fully paid attention, then your health would have been completely and utterly improved whilst your nutritionist/ therapist/ gardener/ whatever undertakes another lecture tour funded by fellow believers who are travelling down exactly the same path – just haven’t reached your state of realisation yet……

  60. Crispy Duck said,

    January 12, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Browsing the Holford site, I came across this glowing example of bad science:

    (Caution: string stomach required).

    I think Dr Ben has had trouble with the ‘electrosmog’ nutters before, so I guess it’s no surprise that Holford is involved, even plugging an ‘Electrosmog detector’. Some highlights:

    “Much like the colour spectrum, there is also a spectrum of different kinds of electric radiation, going from high frequency to low frequency. At the high-frequency end, there are gamma rays in deep space, then x-rays, ultraviolet radiation (UV), visible light, infrared, microwaves (the stuff that cooks your dinner and powers your mobile phone), radio waves, then finally extremely low frequencies (ELFs) that radiate from your computer and other similar electrical devices.”

    “So, what is EMR (electro-magnetic radiation)? Anything that radiates – from the sun to your radio – has a certain amount of electricity. This travels as a frequency, and from this traveling electricity emanates a magnetic field. While electric radiation is measured in Volts and Watts, magnetic radiation is measured in microTesla (µT).”

    “The reason this [the pulsed signal from a mobile] may be such bad news is that the light-sensitive cells in your brain can’t tell the difference between light and microwave signals. Lights turn off melatonin production in the pineal gland.”

    “If you stand three feet away from a microwave oven when it’s on, you’ll be exposed to 2 µT, but that’s only short-term exposure. However, that doesn’t take into account what it’s doing to the food.”

    I’m particularly concerned about the ELFs radiating from my computer.

  61. apothecary said,

    January 12, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Re 54. Surely that’s why we have a National Elf Service

  62. bootboy said,

    January 12, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    No 54: that’s shockingly poor stuff. Whoever wrote it obviously made some attempt to understand the concept of electro-magnetic radiation though, just failed miserably – “traveling electricity”. Jeepers creepers. Why bother with all those power cables at all, you can just suck electrons out of the ether from the sun, a nearby radio or a microwave oven. I mean there’s no particular reason for them to get this stuff wrong, I assume that it’s not intentional and they’re just morons.

    The second bit about the “light sensitive cells in your brain” is, on the other hand obviously cynical and made up. The only light sensitive cells in the brain are the retina and they can certainly tell the difference between microwaves and visible light.

  63. Andrew Clegg said,

    January 12, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    The link on the side of that page to an article called “Are vaccinations necessary?” scares me more.

    Sadly I can’t be arsed filling in an enormous reg. form in order to read past the intro and get mired in yet more nonsense — maybe someone with more dedication than me can check it out and see if it really is as sinister as the first paragraph you get for free suggests?

    Hands off our herd immunity you freak!


  64. Dr Aust said,

    January 14, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Anyone still reading this thread?

    Don’t suppose anyone but me is sad enough to read the “Work” Section of the Saturday Guardian (the same day, of course, as the Bad Science column). Anyway, imagine my astonishment when I read the following:


    Tricks of the trade

    What’s the best way to detox?

    David Nicolson and Dilys Gannon-Bone
    Saturday January 13, 2007
    The Guardian

    David Nicolson Director of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition ( NB !)

    If you are in good health I would kick off with a one-day fast, just drinking water and herb tea. This is a fairly stringent approach, and you shouldn’t fast unless you’re under the supervision of a doctor or nutritional therapist. ( !! – Dr Aust)

    On the second day I would introduce simple organic foods – preferably grown in this country – such as apples, pears and plums.

    The next day I would add wholegrains, such as brown rice with some steamed vegetables. The day after that I’d introduce some protein and essential fats, such as almonds, walnuts and brazils. On the fifth day I’d introduce some oily fish such as salmon or mackerel.

    By the time you finish your energy levels will be so much better. Detox is nothing more than just returning to a natural diet. We have stone-age bodies, so the body’s priority is to store as much energy as it can. If you go without food, your body slows the metabolism down and tends to burn muscle rather than fat. So, it’s important that you keep exercising; this will keep your metabolism up and your body will burn fat.

    When you fast, your body releases toxins into the bloodstream on the way to the liver, so expect to feel a bit headachey and drowsy. Be brave and carry on.


    Dilys Gannon-Bone Naturopath

    You don’t need to go on a long detox programme. You can detox in a day by having vegetable juices and by eating a warm vegetable soup at night. The body requires nourishment. Detoxification comes from the nutrition that you take in on a daily basis.

    We get toxicity from the environment in which we live. We also get it from eating an awful lot of toxic substances such as processed food. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a strict fast of just lemon juice or water, although it’s probably fine for a day.

    People who work under stress should not necessarily go on fasts. Their adrenal systems may not be able to cope. They should cut out processed food and cut down on alcohol and coffee. Long fasts can upset the adrenal system. It’s better to work on a regular cleansing programme in which you just take liquids one day a week.

    Colonic hydrotherapy also helps. People think they’re going to have a hosepipe shoved up their backside but nothing goes into the body that is going to upset it. Warm water goes into the colon and gradually the waste material is drawn away, so there’s no smell or nastiness. You really feel fantastically light and cleansed after it.

    I have fantastic energy, I work about a 12-hour day and I’m 72. My motto is: “Those who do not find some time every day for health must sacrifice a lot of time one day for illness.”

    Interviews by Melissa Viney


    I love the idea of only fasting under the supervision of a “qualified nutritionist”, as advised by the director of the Holford Institute of Nutri-Tosh. The bit about “released toxins” during fasting is a hoot, as is the stuff about your adrenals. And our old friend (?) colonic irrigation makes a come-back in the second one.

    Dontcha just love the meejah’s need to fill space with any old bollocks?

  65. askakeyboardninja said,

    January 15, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Anyone still reading this thread?

    yep me


    i’m beginning to think that a diet of pop tarts would have more nutritional value than anything the Holford Institute recommends

  66. used to be jdc said,

    January 15, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Re the link @ #60 – there is a link on the left of that page that refers to the BS column Ben wrote on Holford.

  67. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 15, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Hmm. So Mr Holfords ‘award’ of an Hon Diploma from his own institute was awarded by the trustees,not him. so who are his trustees? not listed on the website, but assuming they’re the same as FFTB franchise, find them here

    1 teaching rep
    1 prof of hospitality management
    1 business manager with good brand development
    1 lawyer
    2 ION ‘graduates’
    .. and a couple of others.

    guess that demonstrates their knowledge in imparting ‘honorary diploma’s’. Just imagine if medical degrees were awarded similarly…….

  68. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 16, 2007 at 1:12 am

    more doctoring

    seems that the link in post #21 regarding dodgy diet gurus and Food for the Brain ‘trial that is not research’ seems mysteriously to have fallen off the Indy’s website into the Internet equivalent of a black hole. Thank goodness for Bens posting of the full text…
    How fortunate for Mr Holford. His peeved comments about the dietitian being ‘professionally jealous’ of his self-styled qualification/ dietary interventions/ ‘whatever ‘is now removed from public scrutiny, whilst he can continue to undermine the dietitian (called Catherine Collins) on his website. Er – just how professional is that Mr Holford. And The Independent. It is. ….Really??

    In Response To The Article Titled ‘Doctors Warn Against Food Fad Dangers’

    The following letter has been sent to the editor of the Independent on Sunday for publication:

    Dear Sir

    Re: IoS, 7th January 2007 – Doctors Warn Against Food Fad Dangers

    I write in response to the article titled ‘Doctors warn against food fad dangers’ in last Sunday’s paper.

    This was a British Dietetic Association-led article expressing concern about people adopting ‘faddie diets’ and it took, as an example, commentary from Catherine Collins about one child in a large school project in which I am involved. She was quoted as being “extremely concerned” about the weight loss of an autistic child.

    I wish to object strongly to the comments made, which were incorrect and misleading to the reader, and would like to set the record straight with the true facts of this particular case.

    In the article Catherine Collins claims that the autistic child ‘suffered sleep problems and her weight dropped as a result of the advice Mr Holford gave’ and that ‘her parents were told to remove soya milk and cow’s milk from her diet’. In fact, before we even started this project, the child had been diagnosed by her doctors as milk allergic and was already on a dairy-free diet, additionally refusing to have soya milk. She was also a very poor and fussy eater and was sleeping very little, waking up throughout the night. Consequently, Ms Collins is utterly wrong to claim I restricted the girl’s diet by elminating cow’s and soya milk.

    Since the project started we have expanded the foods she’ll eat, improved her diet and given her supplements. As a result of our intervention she is now less hyperactive, sleeping much better, has reduced her asthma and consequently her need for asthma medication.

    Behaviour-wise she has, on independent behavioural tests, made significant improvements in her ADHD, social difficulties, shyness and anxiety. Her mother is extremely pleased with the results. “Before she woke up a lot in the night. Now she sleeps the whole night without waking.” she says. “She is behaving better and has calmed down a lot. She is more confident and independent. Her asthma has improved a lot. She doesn’t real cough or wheeze anymore. Her health is better. She hasn’t had a cold for a long time. I’m not worried about her weight. I think the Eye Q essential fats and the other supplements helped. I don’t give her Weetabix anymore. I’ve noticed she gets very hyperactive.” Her psychiatrist actually called us to find out what specifically we had been doing to bring about these obvious improvements.

    The temporary weight loss may have occurred when we agreed, with her dietician, to put her on a gluten-free diet following an IgG food intolerance test which identified that she was gluten sensitive. Unfortunately she wouldn’t eat the gluten-free options so we put her back on pasta, for example, which she would eat. Wheat gluten and dairy allergy is quite common in autistic children. She has since regained the weight she lost.

    Catherine Collins, the accusing dietician, is not the girl’s dietician and, as far as we know, has never met her, nor is in any way involved with the school or with this project and therefore is really not in a position to have an informed opinion. The results of the project, which is proving highly successful, can be found on our website.

    Yours sincerely

    Patrick Holford – Food for the Brain Foundation

  69. Dr Aust said,

    January 16, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Well, of course the Nutri-balls fraternity’s income depends on their “public credibility” – i.e. that their buddies in Meejah-land keep booking them on TV, and treating them as authorities.. So they will of course try to refute, or gag, criticism. A letter to the paper is fair right of response – better that than the threatening lawyers’ letters some people have got when they diss Ms McKeith.

    What annoys me is that the criticism always comes just from courageous individual dieticians, doctors or scientists – it takes guts to speak out when you are aware that people like TAPL are quick to get on the phone to M’Learned Friends – and not the medical or scientific establishment. It should be the British Dietetic Association or similar professional body that should be speaking out about things like the Durham Nonsense, or the fatuous Woo and fleecing of the public promoted by the Nutri-balls gang. Not just the odd individual.

    I suspect the professional bodies keep shtum for a range of reasons: “giving them the oxygen of publicity”, not wanting to “come out” as slagging media-darling types, It’ll all just go away, “some of the advice is sensible” etc. etc. But I think all the professional associations and learned societies are far too craven about this.

    What would be so hard about a factual statement from the Brit Dietetic Association pointing out that, while parts of the advice given by Holford, McK et al.might be sound, many also promote, or are associated with, loads of thoroughly discredited nonsense, they have no proper qualifications or real professional accreditation in the field they profess to be expert in etc etc.

  70. stever said,

    January 17, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    holford says this:

    “In Ben Goldacre’s column on Saturday he once again reiterates a statement in one of my books that ‘AZT is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C’. What he fails to mention is that the author of the research I referred to – Dr Raxit Jariwalla – wrote to the Guardian (20/1/05) the last time Goldacre made this claim to confirm that my statement is correct on the basis of two studies on HIV infected cells, thus he is guilty, once again in misleading readers. The real crime here is that no full scale human trials have been funded on vitamin C to follow up Jariwalla’s important finding because it is non-patentable and hence not profitable.

    Goldacre, who only left university in 1995, further accuses me of being unqualified to call myself a nutritionist. I have spent the last thirty years researching, teaching, writing and practising nutrition. I am not sure what else I can call myself. I did not confer my own diploma, as he states. The Board of Trustees of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), which is an educational trust that I founded in 1984, awarded me an honorary diploma. I am not, nor have ever been on the Board of Trustees. ION offers a fully accredited Foundation Degree in Nutritional Therapy, upgradeable to a BSc with a further year’s extra study. The British Association of Nutritional Therapy, which is the self-regulating organisation that represents this profession, made me an Honorary Fellow. I am unclear about his qualifications for dismissing these professional standards or his patronising comment that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.

    Both ION and I have previously invited Goldacre to debate the science behind any nutritional claims he wants to take issue with. So far he has not accepted the challenge, seeming to prefer to use his column to defame health professionals with a non-drug approach, rather than expose the numerous examples of distorted and poor quality research used to support the use of drugs whose side effects kill more than 10,000 people a year in the UK.”

    you could do a point by point rebuttal of all the silliness in this letter but i dont suppose its really worth it. The last point is especially ludicrous.

    Id be interested to know if ben has actually had any invites to debates from Holford.

    NB. on the same page we are offered:

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  71. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 17, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    yeh it’s pretty funny isnt it, especially where Holford says:

    “Both ION and I have previously invited Goldacre to debate the science behind any nutritional claims he wants to take issue with. So far he has not accepted the challenge”

    he offered

    and i said yes.

    as far i can tell from searching my emails he never got back to me.

    i’ve asked him to confirm that i chickened out as he says – since all the evidence i can find says i was up for it – but he hasn’t even replied.

    what a total loser.

  72. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 18, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Holfords website fails to mention the email alert inviting paranoid parents to complete the FREE!!!! online questionnaire about your childs diet and if you’re quick enough you’ll be one of the 5000 to receive a FREE!!!! pack of Equazen.

    first the Optimum Nutrition Bible…..

    then the feeding of the 5000 – er, with something fishy!

    The Bible allegories just keep on coming.
    next ?

    the nature of the beast suggests a big PR puff! EXPERT NUTRITIONIST has DATA on the BIGGEST SURVEY OF OUR KIDS DYSFUNCTIONAL STATE caused by POOR DIET, and contributing to POOR RESULTS.

    Guess it’l be launched around Easter – just in time to get the GCSE brigade rushing for the supplements….. watch this space!

  73. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 18, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    ahahahah i bet you’re right, it is a data collection exercise. that’s so so funny.

  74. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    i’ve emailed holford, his PR, the “Institute for Optimum Nutritioni” front desk, and three leading people from the ION, to ask about this invitation that i’ve failed to take up.

    at least two days later and not one single one of them has replied to me.


  75. used to be jdc said,

    January 22, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Maybe they’re just really busy. *cough*

  76. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 24, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    hahahahahhahaaaaaaa the abuse from holford’s fans is trickling in

    I see from Patrick Holford’s site that you have refused to debate him. It is obvious that you don’t know what you are talking about with nutrition, Patrick Holford is one of the world’s leading experts and he has very clearly shown the flaws in your so-called science. Now that it has been proved that you are wrong I have no doubt you will never debate him. You are nothing but a coward.

    this is the most childish thing anyone has ever done, i’ve been through all my past emails with holford, i’ve been through my past emails with ION, i’ve found one thread, he suggested a debate, i said yes, he never got back to me.

    i have tried to find out what he’s on about here. i’ve emailed him and his PR, twice, and all the ION people I can think of,,,,, it’s a week later now, not one single one of them has had the gumption to reply.

    absolutely bizarre.

  77. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 24, 2007 at 12:55 pm


    i must say, i’d never really given much thought to the “Institute for Optimum Nutrition” before this, but what seems to me like complicity, ignoring emails etc, has certainly alerted me to the possibility that they may be a little different to most other “” institutions. i honestly can’t think of a proper college or university that would just ignore emails for a week like that. like i say, absolutely bizarre.

  78. Barnacle Bill said,

    January 24, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Holford? Is that Holford in the photo? It looks more like that ex footballer who markets crisps and commentates on football matches.

  79. Dr Aust said,

    January 24, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    Have you considered threatening them with M’learned Friends to get them to take down their “he refused to debate us” line from their website, Ben, since it is clearly untrue? Aren’t they impugning your reputation, and so on?

    Or how about this – do a Michael Moore, turn up at the IoN with a film crew some day when you know Paddy baby is in and ask him to debate, on camera, including why he is saying you wouldn’t debate him. Then send the film to Tonight with Trevor McDonald.

    Seem to remember Brian Deer once tried to “doorstep” Andrew Wakefield at a conference, but apart from that I can’t think of any obvious examples of putting BadSciencers on the spot. . Madeleine Portwood of Durham “fame” is another one crying out to be doorstepped, since she has “gone dark” every time Ben has tried to ask her anything

  80. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 24, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Whatever makes you consider ION supporters,and the ‘therapists’ to be in any way scientific – or even knowledgeable to the variances of nutritional theory? If they truly had any grounded knowledge in the subject and the current level of (bona fide) evidence they wouldn’t be Patrick supporters, being able to deconstruct his sweeping inaccurate statements on nutrition immediately.

    Lets examine a current example- this time int he the HOLFORD (TM) LOW GL DIET – Patrick states that if you want to ‘optimise’ GL – you need HCA supplements – er, NO, Patrick – you don’t. But don’t let excellent research by Dr Stephen Heymsfield, a REAL world renowned leading clinical nutritionist specialising in energy expenditure (at, and oodles of other similar references) get in the way of your pseudomedical recommendations. Its surprising that Patrick relies so much on pills for his ‘Optimum Nutrition’ – seeing as another recent book vilifies the ‘Big Pharma’ pill-popping approach to dealing with modern illnesses…
    Nay, Patricks supporters are usually middle aged, affluent and educated (but not in nutrition) females, usually with some tragic experiences of life/ health/ other, trauma who have suddenly seen the light and paid the (therapist/ supplement company) price and have been taken in with the Lineker Looks – and the fact he is always pictured about to eat some tempting food (funny how you never see a picture of him actually taking a bite out of that damned strawberry – perhaps its just too toxic – and better leave it to the supplements for nutritional benefit).

    Think blonded females with borderline eating disorders and gym bunny tendencies, with little darlings just desperate to get into a selected entry school, and you’ve got the genre of Patricks People. Guess they aren’t drawn to your serious Oxbridge Ninja medical status, Ben. Damned if they can make their pretty little brain cells ponder the big (nutritional) science arguments….

  81. used to be jdc said,

    January 25, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Ignorant people and stupid people are taken in by Holford. I’m both ignorant and stupid and consequently I was taken in quite easily. Plus if you want to believe in something it is very easy to convince yourself it’s true (just ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit your point of view).

  82. pv said,

    January 25, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Smacks of desperation by Mr Holford and his “people”. Is he so afraid his reputation and business will go down the toilet if he is exposed? Doesn’t seem unlikely to me because so much of his success, along with that of the obnoxious McTeeth, is based on his being in favour with the meeja. And if anyone is fickle, the meeja certainly is (are)!
    As the the recent Big Brother debacle has shown, things are not so secure in the vacuous world of media celebrity. If things get too uncomfortable, if he finds himself and his nutritional expertise to be exposed for the sham is appears to be, might he not find himself slightly out of favour and occupying the ejector seat on the media gravy train?

  83. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 2, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    listen to the evidence!
    BBC R4 Womans Hour today concluded a series of articles promoting nutritional myths given daily by Suzi Grant, a ‘nutritional therapist’ and ‘BANT’ accredited member. A showcase piece of how little nutritional therapists know.

  84. used to be jdc said,

    February 9, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Ben – he hasn’t got time to debate you, he’s too busy selling £19 tickets for seminars.
    Apparently, “There have been some fascinating quantum leaps in our understanding of how to maximise mental performance over the last year”.

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