Enough. Patrick. Holford.

February 17th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in africa, bad science, matthias rath, nutritionists, patrick holford | 44 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 17, 2007
The Guardian

Look, I realise this is beginning to feel like one of those big containers where the Americans play Britney at you over and over again until you confess to crimes you haven’t committed. I’m totally ready to move on from nutritionists. But Patrick Holford yesterday found his way on to the letters page to repeat his mindboggling claim that vitamin C is better than the Aids drug AZT, and you can’t let that kind of thing lie.

Dealing with Holford is like playing Bad Science Bingo. He promotes fish oil supplements by Equazen, the company behind the Durham fish oil “trials”. He is feted by Tonight with Trevor McDonald, the people fisked by Ofcom for inappropriately promoting the Dore “cure” for dyslexia. He runs his own prominent, methodologically inept experiments on schoolchildren. He has a non-qualification (an honorary diploma conferred upon him by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition – which he founded – when he was director). And so on.

But the science is the thing: what is Holford’s evidence for this bizarre, repeated Aids claim? Firstly, he cites two small studies done on cells in a dish on a laboratory bench, using vitamin C and AZT. This is farcically weak evidence, blatantly unfit for purpose and – for students of irony in pseudoscientific literature – absurdly reductionist.

But his second piece of evidence is more worrying: a letter from Raxit Jariwalla (below), the man responsible for the research, who says Patrick is right about this vitamin being better than an Aids drug. Patrick brandishes this, and I find this almost as bizarre as his claims about HIV: because there are some people you do not befriend.

Matthias Rath is the multimillionaire vitamin salesman who aggressively sells his message to Aids victims in South Africa that Rath vitamin pills are better than medication. He has contributed in large part to a madness that has let perhaps hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessarily. Who is Holford’s saviour, Jariwalla? According to the Rath Foundation website, he is a “senior researcher” at the “Dr Rath Research Institute in California”.

Nice friends, Patrick. And he complains, conspiratorially, that there are no trials of vitamin C in HIV. Might you expect vitamin C to beat the drug AZT in a trial in humans? It has serious side effects, but AZT was the first and only HIV medication on the market for eight years, it stopped HIV from being an automatic death sentence, and it is still in routine use as part of “combination therapy”. It works, and it cuts HIV transmission, mother to baby, from 25% to 8%: which is good, since 25 million are dead already from Aids, 500,000 of them children, and at least 40 million people are HIV positive. Good nutrition is important, but vitamin C is unlikely to prove to be better than medication.

Aids is serious, and money is not the only barrier to getting hold of drugs. Nevirapine, a follow-up drug (with its own side effect problems, it goes without saying) in a single dose reduces maternal HIV transmission from 25% to 15%. It’s given away free for that purpose by the drug company but in many places, of course, medication is rejected by people who have been misled by vitamin-peddling anti-medication entrepreneurs.

This isn’t about diet and health. And it’s not about qualifications or money: it’s about whether the behaviour of some cells in a dish mean that it’s safe, responsible, proportionate and sane to make pronouncements about one of the biggest killers of the modern age that your innocent viewers will take seriously.

Holford is going on a speaking tour of South Africa next month. My blood runs cold at the thought. If McKeith is a danger to the public understanding of science, Holford, in this case, may be that danger realised: the last thing you knew he was on GMTV and Tonight with Trevor McDonald, chatting about stuff like tiredness. I don’t expect one of those TV producers, who have given Holford a platform, to give the matter a second thought. He makes good entertainment.

Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk

Here is Rath Foundation researcher Jariwalla’s letter:

January 16, 2007

To Whom It May Concern

Patrick Holford’s conclusion that ‘AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is proving less effective than vitamin C’, as interpreted from the results of our experiments, is correct. In two published studies [1, 2], in which we compared vitamin C to AZT in chronically and latently infected cells, our experiments consistently showed that AZT was less effective than vitamin C. I made this clear in my letter to the Guardian published on 20 January 2005 [letter + following column] and am surprised that the Guardian journalist continues to wrongly accuse Mr Holford as being ‘guilty of at least incompetence’ for making a conclusion which is scientifically valid.

Mr Holford has been familiar with our work all along but mistakenly cited the wrong paper in his book when concluding that AZT is less effective than vitamin C. After realizing that this citation was an honest mistake, Mr Holford has changed the reference in his soon to be published latest edition. This does not change the fact that the original interpretation made by Mr Holford is true since our work demonstrated it to be so and the citation of the wrong paper on his part was in reality an innocent error and not an act of ‘incompetence’ or a case of ‘bad science’.


Raxit Jariwalla, PhD

References cited:
1. Harakeh S and Jariwalla RJ, Comparative analysis of ascorbate and AZT effects on HIV production in persistently infected cell lines. J.
Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, 4: 393-401 (1994).
2. Harakeh S and Jariwalla RJ, Ascorbate effect on cytokine stimulation of HIV production. Supplement to Nutrition: Vol. 11: 684-87 (1995).

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44 Responses

  1. censored said,

    February 17, 2007 at 12:55 am

    Anyone got a few grand to spare for a similar trial? I’d like to test my theory that Tennants Special Brew will kill the AIDS virus just as effectively as AZT…

  2. regordane said,

    February 17, 2007 at 9:42 am

    AZT is a reverse transcriptase inhibitor. It prevents HIV genetic material (RNA) from being incorporated into the DNA of human cells – ie it prevents new cells from becoming infected with HIV. So you wouldn’t expect it to affect “HIV production in persistently [ie already] infected cell lines” as in the title of the Jariwalla paper.

  3. stever said,

    February 17, 2007 at 10:28 am

    *passes spade to holford*

  4. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 17, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Vitamin C accelerates cell death in certain tumour cell lines in vitro (the test-tube scenario, for Caitlin and other non-sciency bad sciencers!).

    From human oral supplement studies (including those of one Linus Pauling), Vitamin C is NOT effective at influencing cancer progression (although the ‘holistic’ dietary approach of the Mediterranean diet has tentative support for moderating the condition once established).

    Both facts are well proven, and well established. There is no controversy. But this means that taking Vitamin C in the gram doses as supplements recommended by Holford has absolutely no effect in containing those pesky rogue cells – whether cancerous or viral -and to imply otherwise, particularly to those with such diseases, is frankly immoral. At least the diarrhoea exacerbated by such high doses divert attention away from more generalised worrying).

    The reason for disparity between the test tube and the test person is our bowel. It’s very selective about uptake, moderating what gets through into our circulation and thus into our cells. That is not an oversight on Nature’s part. Most nutrients have active uptake pathways, which can enhance uptake (such as in pregnancy, or relative biochemical deficiency states), or reject excessive levels of nutrients that compromise cell health in excess (such as iron). A few nutrients have a bypass mechanism, hence the use of niacin, prescribable at pharmacological dose, to help manage the most extreme of the inherited hypercholesterolaemias.

    Plasma saturation of vitamin C is reached around an intake of 200mg/d, levelling out at around 200 micromol of plasma. Five-a-day (fruits and vegetables, not supplements) can achieve this.

    Intravenously administered Vitamin C can raise levels significantly above this but HAS NOT YET been demonstrated ‘for real’, using real cancer patients in Real Institutes run by medical researchers, not TV salesmen.

    There is a difference between physiological and pharmacological uses of vitamins, and we should tamper with our bodies natural defences carefully.

    I care less that poor Patrick fails to understand the science, ut more for the vulnerable patients blinded by the faux ‘researcher’ bit that convinces them to buy supplements, pay for useless tests, and feel cheated if the placebo effect fails to demonstrate the promised benefits.


  5. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 17, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Bang on. You can’t just go around coming out with claims that might, conceivably, end up being responsible for the deaths of lots of people without expecting some sort of backlash. There’s a world of difference here from exploiting the gullible middle-class worried-well.


  6. ayupmeduck said,

    February 17, 2007 at 12:05 pm


    Thanks for the explaination. I dunno if I’m a “non-sciency” person, but my background is maths, physics & logic, so this chemistry/medical stuff is pretty challanging for me sometimes.

    Linus Pauling is of course always name dropped, even within a of a lot of the wilder claims about Vitamin C’s “magic powers”. On the other hand, at least to a non-medical person like myself, there does seem to be some avenues that haven’t been fully explored.

    For example, the paper that you link to www.annals.org/cgi/reprint/140/7/533.pdf is from 2004 and involved Mark Lavine. Lavine was involved in the oft quoted 2006 case as saying that intravenously administerd vitamin C intake should be reassessed www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/abstract/174/7/937. Was it reassessed?

  7. Mithent said,

    February 17, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I can find two articles on this subject on PubMed by Jariwalla et al, and one further one in which Lichtenstein BS states in the abstract that ‘Vitamin C […] can suppress HIV in vitro. However, this requires long-term administration, and its effect ceases upon termination of treatment.’ That was published before either of Jariwalla’s papers, it seems.

    There are a few other papers suggesting that Vitamin C used together with AZT mitigates its side effects on mitochondria, though.

  8. JunkkMale said,

    February 17, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    That’s Sir Trev McD… and you can’t buy a title that good without having made a serious contribution to, er… what?

    Dontcha just lay in bed at night feeling that little bit more secure in the knowledge that those tasked and/or paid to make sure our lives and those of our kids are safe, are in the hands of such a caring, competent bunch of folks.

    Next thing they’ll be doing is giving airtime to any bozo who can rack up ratings by claiming climate change will just make holidays in Bognor a better reason to get into sunscreen futures.

    As to Sir. T, well, let’s not go there. I doubt he will be.

  9. billgibson said,

    February 17, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Any Lawyers knocking around? Is this consiparcy to commit manslaughter/murder/gbh? Or could Holford claim not to have a duty of care to all these poor buggers he’s effectively killing?

    And if he’s reading this, sue me. I dare you.

  10. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 17, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    You’re right that Levine has called for reassessment of Vit C, but so far has found no takers. He is trying to foster interest in a review of 3 patients published last year in open-access CMAJ (bravo, CMAJ!)


    IMHO this is not due to a ‘lack of profit from vitamin research ‘ which the likes of Patrick/ Jerome attribute the cause (because such doses of Vit C given intravenously need a proper doc/nurse etc to administer, and a proper doc/researcher to interpret outcome and thus would require a drug company to produce a stable iv version which could be sold for a profit. And it would certainly be on a ‘prescription only ‘ basis which would prevent the Patricks of this world from using it ).

    Methinks this is predominantly due to researchers being concerned by the ‘once-bitten-twice-shy’ approach. It didn’t work last time when the Grand Master of Vitamin C tried it – possibly because of dodgy protocol, or a truly limited action of vitamin C in cancer cell annihilation, in combination with much poorer understanding of the diversity of cancer cell types at the time.

    This is the retrospective conclusion applied to other useless cancer therapies – such as Gerson (versions 1 and 2, pere et filles). In the 30’s Gerson claimed to have cured ‘incurable’ cancer patients at Gotham City Hospital (love the name, now gone from NY, NY) with vitamins, enemas, and calf-liver injections. In the 80’s, a team from BUPA (i think), went out to NY to evaluate the evidence, prompted by BUPA patients requesting this treatment be covered. Of the 20 or so remaining detailed records, it was evident that many ‘cancers’ were in fact more simple conditions such as stomach inflammation (gastritis), and that in some cases, histopathology reviewed with todays level of knowledge revealed cells wrongly attributed as ‘cancerous’ . If I recall correctly, one showed a ‘cancer of the pancreas’ to be merely inflamed cells associated with acute pancreatitis, not cancerous.

    So why should Vitamin C work again? And is it ethical to compare Vitamin C treatment vs the current ‘gold standard’ medical management (evidenced by RCTs) in a living individual with hopes and family dependent on the outcome?

    This is the TRUE and poisonous legacy of the nutritional nutters – given freedom to rant the ridiculous, they contaminate the research potential of the future. It would take a brave scientist the gall to pursue the vitamin question. Rath/ Gerson/ Pauling – and yes, even Holford have polluted the potential for research in this area.

  11. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 17, 2007 at 1:22 pm



    …and i meant to conclude by saying I hope Levine is successful in finding sponsorship for a grant to evaluate Vitamin C. He is such a bona fide researcher that his outcomes would be definitive on the subject.

    But for the layperson, don’t think that this would be a benign treatment. Using a fish analergy for Vitamin C (both topical with the alternatives) its a little like comparing Bobby the friendly goldfish with a piranha, or a great white….

  12. pv said,

    February 17, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Holford’s going on a speaking tour of South Africa. Is that Holford-speak for a sales promotional trip, perhaps.

  13. jackpt said,

    February 17, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Good article, it’s time people realised that some health claims that are superficially harmless (eat your greens) can lead to serious consequences when taken to their logical conclusions. It’s theme that’s repeated elsewhere with many claims that have superficial authority, from minor conspiracy theorists to ill-founded political statements.

    Entertainment wise recently there seems to have been a little shift in the United States, since programmes like Mythbusters (good within the confines of the format) and Dr Know (good for the budget), which have shown that programmes don’t have to have new age/uncritical overtones in order to be successful. There’s also House MD, which while as implausible as many medical dramas, is also extremely anti-new age/sceptical, and is also a huge success (financially and critically).

    Hopefully shows like that will produce what Patrick Holford calls a ‘paradigm shift’, and the media will wake up to the fact that there doesn’t have to be ignorance foisted on an audience in order for something to sell. Although Braniac is what happened when the British media saw Mythbusters… So maybe not. Maybe they’ll remake House MD, but with crystals, Reiki, and homoeopathy. Or Dr Know, but with Gillian McKeith.

  14. j said,

    February 17, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    “Holford’s going on a speaking tour of South Africa. Is that Holford-speak for a sales promotional trip, perhaps.”

    Maybe he’s trying to gain some political influence/reputation? Sadly, there’s some in the SA government who’d support Holford’s idea of a paradigm shift (from an inadequate provision of effective HIV/AIDS treatments to a more widespread, cheaper provision of quack nutritional therapy?)

    I’m guessing Holford will focus on a limited range of his ‘research’ while over there. For example, I doubt his claim that tap water is unfit for human consumption would get much sympathy in a country where there’s an ongoing struggle to widen access to safe drinking water…

  15. JQH said,

    February 17, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve just emailed the Treatment Action Campaign about Holford, in case they haven’t already heard what sort of person he is. I do hope they can organise a suitable reception for him and a presence at his talks!

  16. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 17, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    they already know about him i think. and they’re rather snowed under with their own crazed anti-medication campaigners (eg childishly complaining about them to the international criminal court!).

    i dont want to sound at all censorious, but i do rather think that it’s our duty to deal with our own “vitamin c is better than azt” people, especially when we’re actively exporting them. i’m not surprised that there is someone like holford with these worrying views around, i really think people who give “vitamin c is better than AZT” campaigners like him a platform are the real problem, TWTM, GMTV, glossy mags etc.

    i can’t help noticing that a lot of holford’s rhetoric against his critics, eg calling me the “pro-drug lobby” is strongly reminiscent of the south african vitamin businessmen and anti AIDS medication campaigners.

    oh, the the guardian article has gone out on the NIH aids mailing list, i’ve just been told, which is good.

  17. ACH said,

    February 17, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    What’s the terrence Higgin’s Trust’s take on this?

  18. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 17, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    mm good question. i tend not to go out and get other peoples views because, well, its not my style, and i think things should stand on the facts, play the ball and not the man, and play it yourself, etc. but might be worth asking i guess. i did ask the association of dietitians in south africa and they expressed concern about holford, they’re discussing it at their next meeting, but i didnt put that in the story, because, you know, you know whats wrong with what he’s said, it doesnt get any more wrong just because some people in south africa think its wrong too. that kind of fake media kerfuffle always feels a bit weak to me.

  19. j said,

    February 17, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    “i dont want to sound at all censorious, but i do rather think that it’s our duty to deal with our own “vitamin c is better than azt” people, especially when we’re actively exporting them.”

    I can see the logic to this. TAC etc. have plenty of homegrown deniers to deal with, and I’d imagine that Holford’s going to be trading on the ‘prestige’ of his UK reputation when he goes to SA.

    Hm, anyone interested in starting a ‘stop patrick holford’ blog – basically aiming to fisk his public statements and media appearances…something along similar lines to screwloosechange.blogspot.com/ or christopherhitchenswatch.blogspot.com/

    Holford makes a lot of credible/sciency sounding statements, that don’t stand up to scrutiny – so might be a good target for this. And the guy seems to be developing a persecution complex – may as well give him a better reason to feel persecuted 😉

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 17, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    dont know how techy you are, i would say that if you do that, you should make sure you archive offline, he’s obviously very keen to shut up any examination of his work (not to mention abuse people personally). don’t do it anonymously either, is my feeling on these things.

  21. Michael Harman said,

    February 17, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    Indeed, Ben, he threw a hissy fit of spectacular proportions over you only a few days ago. Is there a prize available for the best outraged complaining? There ought to be – he’d be an automatic candidate.

  22. j said,

    February 17, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    thanks. Have started a thread on the activism forum – badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?p=29814#29814

    Technically, I could set up a blog – the issue is more writing content for the thing. I’m sadly anal about backing up – a couple of past experiences have taught me to be pretty careful about this…

    Anyway, will see what response the thread gets.

  23. JQH said,

    February 18, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Ben, fair point at 16.

    I’m well aware that South Africa has its home-grown crazies. And yes we in the UK should do something about Holford and other nutty nutritionists but if his income does dry up here, he’s more likely to go elswhere to inflict his ludicrous ideas, so if TAC and others are forewarned about him, so much the better.

    On a tangent, he bases his VitC bollocks on a lab bench experiment. How does he equate that with his claims to be “holistic”, I wonder.

  24. WindyBoy said,

    February 19, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Now I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, so I put this to the floor – is there a point at which such clear conflict of interest, on a subject that impacts on the vitalilty (mortality?) of so many people, becomes a crime? Could he be charged with reckless endangerment (or some other charge I heard on TV)?

  25. alancasey said,

    February 19, 2007 at 9:27 am

    Patrick’s advise on nutrition is based on good principles, the real pity is that he is also a salesman of suppliments and some other bizzar products.

    If his only motivation was to encourage people to eat well and help them with their lifestyle chalenges, then I have no doubt he would be very sucessful and worthy of much praise. And he has helped many people with this.

    I have been to one of his Health Weekend Workshops and they are very good, based on his Optimum Nutrition Bible he delivers the key messages very well. These are not science conventions and nobody is trying to convince anyone to give up on conventional medcine. Diet alone can reduce blood pressure and other lifestyle disease indicators to levles which no longer require medcine.
    Its a real pity that he also convinces people that his suppliments are part of their quest, as there is no real science behind these claims.

    To get a more scientifically balanced view of nutrition I read (studied) The China Study. I only wish I had read this book before Patricks Bible, it’s obvious Patrick did, his bible echoes parts of the message in this study, but adds nothing to it except confusion and misinformation.

    Patrick is presenting selective information from other scientists to promote his own interests, his followers should read what the scientists have to say for themselves.

  26. ACH said,

    February 19, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    That dietary changes can reduce blood pressure, IHD and cholesterol is not new and is nothing to do with “the optimum nutrition bible”. There is a plethora of rigorously conducted epidemiological studies demonstrating this. It is also well known that in some cases (particularly familial hypercholesterolaemia) diet alone is just not -and never will be – enough to reduce risk for heart disease.

    the key messages though are still, eat less salt and saturated fat, eat your greens, and if you add in “run about a bit” that is it. It is NOT rocket science, or indeed anything to do with “optimum nutrition” which focusses less on the simple messages and more on the sales of esoteric (and expensive) supplements, and trying to blind people with pseudoscience, whereas the plain science message is straightforward.

    If no-one from Patrick Holford’s organisation is trying to get anyone to give up on conventional medicine, why is he pushing a book called “Food is better Medicine Than Drugs” and why is he vociferoulsy stating that Vitamin C is more effective against HIV/AIDS than AZT. That is not just scientifically wrong, but morally reprehensible, and hardly “based on good principles”

  27. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 19, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    yup, as i keep saying, the idea that food and nutrients are beneificial is not in question, its the truth about nutritionists that is.

  28. bltp said,

    February 19, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    One thig that always annoys me is that when Patrick Holford appears on the radio etc he makes great play of his impartiality and lack of sponsorship. Apart from the fact he is using the BBC etc to promote his foundation etc in a away that a gp or a NHS nutritonal experts isn’t, he always directs people to his website where they are only a few clicks way for ads/links for all sorts of products whether these are paid for ads or that he’s just being helpful advertising things he likes is not clear. I just think he should be totally clear about his links and that he and similar “experts” should be better policed in the media partiucular as they are so regularly on our screens.

  29. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 19, 2007 at 7:22 pm


    of course Patricks ‘Health Weekends’ appear useful:

    1. You’ve paid for it, so immediately it has more ‘value’ than a ‘free’ consultation with your GP/ hospital clinician/ dietitian/ physio etc

    2. Patrick has a bona fide degree in experimental psychology. It is his only bona fide qualification in a sciencey subject. He is a psychologist. So if he didn’t give you weekend payers a good, persuasive going-over to his beliefs one would be surprised.

    3. But of course, unless he’s changed the format, you then have to buy the ‘Optimum Nutrition Bible’ to find out the tantalising summary that he just runs out of time to discuss (ker-ching!!!). And if you have a real medical condition, the other books are always there on sale at the back of the hall to buy – say NO to cancer (ker-ching!!), say NO to arthritis (ker-ching!!!).
    Plus ‘personalised’ recommendations regarding the quality of your supplements – do make sure its the Biocare or Natures Health range, the Equazen fish oil capsules, and a Yorktest TM ‘intolerance’ test, for all you with symptoms that don’t fit the simple approach to diet. Oh, and remember to snack on Nairns oatcakes for a Holford Low GL TM snack.
    common theme emerging? Patrick has tie-ins and promotions with all the above.

    4. So what you are getting is a smidge of good healthy eating, a load of inaccurate hyperbole (Whats YOUR ‘H’ value? actually, who cares? Predicts your risk but doesn’t influence outcome if lowered), and you go away thinking that diet is omnipotent in treating all disease (Food is better Medicine Than Drugs – kerching!!!!). A very dangerous approach to nutrition, as many dietitians who are trained and well versed in clinical therapeutic dietetics would attest.

    Patrick continues to persuade the masses with his ‘Bible’. I wonder if there’s a Qu’ran version for his African mission? Doubt it. Even Patrick lacks the chutzpah to insult a more assertive religious community than his current WASP audience of believers.

  30. j said,

    February 19, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Alan- iirc the China study had its own methodological problems; however, most who have believed it to be accurate have drawn rather more radical conclusions than Holford, haven’t they? It often seems to be used as a ‘justification’ for veganism. Of course, one can’t know Holford’s motivation – however, if the Optimum Nutrition Bible *had* told readers to give up all animal products, I doubt it would have been so popular.

    You say “Patrick is presenting selective information from other scientists to promote his own interests, his followers should read what the scientists have to say for themselves.” I certainly agree with that – he’s also written on GI/GL, and I don’t know why people buy writing by him on this, as there’s plenty of public domain info on the science behind these ideas.

  31. pv said,

    February 19, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    8:45 pm

    “I don’t know why people buy writing by him on this, as there’s plenty of public domain info on the science behind these ideas.”

    Laziness? Celebrity worship?

  32. j said,

    February 20, 2007 at 12:34 am

    “Laziness? Celebrity worship?”

    quite possible, I’m sure 🙁

  33. alancasey said,

    February 20, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Thanks evidencebasedeating and J, you’re absolutely right.
    I do have a science background, I have a primary degree in Physics, so I have been questioning this whole topic since I read the Optimum Nutrition Bible, and I find the subject facinating.

    At his workshop it is obvious he is there to promote different books and products, and I have never eaten so many Nairns oatcackes in all my life. But he is very convincing.

    One thing it seems that the Celebrity Nutritionist is able to use to their marketing advantage is that information given to the public by government bodies is confusing and inaccurate. The various food industries provide information that promotes their products, dairy, fish, poultry, etc. and there are obviously protecting their interests and doing so with government suppport. (Just like the tobacco industry did)
    The food pyramid, food labelling and information also confuse people.
    I’m not saying they are wrong, just that they dont give people the information they need. So when Patrick or the Poo Lady come along and tell people what foods are good for them and what eating habbits are bad, the see these peole as their saviours.

    We really need better education on this subject.
    Celebrity nutritionists brainwash people into eating better and buying their products
    Food companies brainwash people into eating processed junk food to make them a profit.

  34. j said,

    February 21, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    “I’m not saying they are wrong, just that they dont give people the information they need. So when Patrick or the Poo Lady come along and tell people what foods are good for them and what eating habbits are bad, the see these peole as their saviours.

    We really need better education on this subject.”

    Alan- I can see what you’re getting at, but I’m not sure it’s education in nutrition that we need. Things like the food pyramid are pretty straightforward, and straightforward, evidence-based nutritional advice could easily fit on a page or two of A4 (eat your greens…eat appropriate amounts of protein and fat…if you’re gaining too much weight eat less or do more exercise, and vice versa if you’re losing too much weight…oh yeah, and get some exercise) Obviously there are other issues – but nothing that would make the average person need anything like a book in order to eat well.

    I can see why education on how to cook ‘healthy’ meals might be useful, and I think that making good, fresh food easily and cheaply available, along with space and facilities for exercise, would be a good idea. Lots of people would no doubt still choose to eat loads of junk, do no exercise, smoke, drink too much alcohol, etc. – but, beyond a basic level, I don’t know that education would help combat this.

    “Celebrity nutritionists brainwash people into eating better and buying their products
    Food companies brainwash people into eating processed junk food to make them a profit. ”

    Again, I can see what you’re getting at. I’m not at all keen on large food companies, supermarkets, etc. However, it’s worth remembering that Holford and McKeith *do* both advocate dangerous and useless procedues (e.g. chelation therapy and colonic irrigation, respectively). Some of what they flog *is* also pretty much junk food – e.g. McKeith sells pretty calorific ‘living food’ bars that contain a load of fructose and a little bit of ‘good’ fat and protein.

  35. flatey said,

    February 22, 2007 at 9:52 am

    I have just received a SuperPhd (which far outranks any other flavour of doctorate) from the director of the ‘Really good research institute and university place) in Southampton.

    That the director happens to be my teddy bear Bunky is completely irrelevant.

    You people need to catch up with the world, now that the eminent world leader Robert Mugabe has lifted the ban on witchcraft, the rest of the world is sure to follow.

    If a Witch (or crone in the case of McKeith) or Wizard (why am I thinking of Ron Wood rather than Harry Potter?) tells you that something is a cure, they’re probably right. They know magic, you don’t.

    My research institute has conducted laboratory trials on the effect of vitamin C on cells.
    Our conclusion is that if you pour enough kettle descaler on anything it will eventually kill it, which effectively backs up ‘Doctor’ Holfords results.

  36. Mojo said,

    February 22, 2007 at 10:32 am

    “Some of what they flog *is* also pretty much junk food – e.g. McKeith sells pretty calorific ‘living food’ bars that contain a load of fructose and a little bit of ‘good’ fat and protein.”

    Don’t forget the “Living Food Love Bar”, which listed “unconditional love and light” among its ingredients.


  37. used to be jdc said,

    February 22, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    #36 – I might check the 1996 food labelling regs after lunch…

  38. Mojo said,

    February 22, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    #38 – I’m not sure if the claim is still there; from what I’ve seen on the web recently it looks as if it isn’t.

    And I’m certainly not buying one to make sure!

  39. JLF said,

    February 22, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    This is interesting!

    According to Dr Briffa, Ben should be turning his attention to the British Dietetic Association! www.drbriffa.com/blog/2007/02/14/why-chocolate-can-be-a-really-healthy-valentines-day-treat/ (see his last comment). Any comment Ben?

  40. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 22, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    Dr Briffa, who has a ‘ special interest in nutritional and naturally-oriented medicine’ (que??) and is ‘one of the UK’s top private doctors’ (according to Tatler, 2005 & 2006 – www.tatler.co.uk/) …. gives lectures and seminars at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, London.

    Oh, and also gives ‘lectures and seminars staged by nutritional supplement companies including BioCare, Nutri and Solgar’.

    so says his CV – www.drbriffa.com/about

    what a small, Holfordesque world we inhabit!!

  41. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 22, 2007 at 11:51 pm


    the more pertinent post from Dr Briffa is here:


    – how come all these ‘meeja nutritionists’ are considering Bens measured comments ‘open season’? Looks like its open season on dietitians as well.

    ps – theres an interesting comment already posted. just in case it ‘disappears’ as in the usual Holfordesque comedy/ tradegy, i hope the author won’t mind it being noted for posterity below

    allan collins says:
    dear Dr Briffa
    you seem to have problems understanding the literature on dietary advice and its potential to treat or modify illnesses. You appear to mock the concept that reducing total and LDL cholesterol reduces cardiovascular risk (refs 2 and 19), yet have missed the point completely by using references on the use of DRUG effectiveness to minimise risk – these were not studies of diet and disease prevention alone. There are around 500 papers on the latter. What a pity you missed them all.

    Your low fat/ high carb recommendation for CVD prevention is about 10 years out of date. Perhaps you should read the recommendations which post-date this statement heart.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/91/suppl_5/v1. Even if you INSIST you are right, then your ‘high carb’ exhortations is nicely contradicted by your concerns about glycaemic index and glycaemic load on metabolic syndrome, diabetes management etc etc. If you check the free access PubMed on the subject you’ll find a lot more useful and more up to date research in this field.
    finally, I see that you seem to think that the BDA have some ulterior motive in not informing you of their industry partners. Could you elaborate? Are you suggesting that the BDA give out dietary recommendations based on how much money they receive from companies? If thats your belief, I think you need to explain a bit further.

  42. Dr Aust said,

    February 23, 2007 at 10:04 am

    For more on Dr Briffa see posts 113 and 114 on this recent thread:


    .. his list of connections is an eye-opener. You might get the impression of a small circle of media-friendly / savvy nutri-gurus, peddling their pseudoscience via the “natural health” columns and TV shows for a credulous but ever-fatter population, and all puffing one another. How cosy.

  43. evidencebasedeating said,

    March 29, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    “There is such a thing as fod and such a thing as poison.

    But the damage done by those who pass off poison as food is far less than that done by those who generation after generation convince people that food is poison”

    Paul Goodman (1911-1972)

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