“My right to be called a nutritionist” – Patrick Holford

February 16th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, patrick holford | 78 Comments »

From the letters page today:

My right to be called a nutrionist
Friday February 16, 2007
The Guardian

In Ben Goldacre’s column on January 6 he once again accuses me of “bad science” in reference to a statement in one of my books that “AZT is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C”. As he well knows, the author of the research – Dr Raxit Jariwalla – wrote to the Guardian (January 20 2005) the last time Goldacre made this claim, to confirm that my statement is correct on the basis of two studies on HIV-infected cells. 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 seems unconcerned about the way commercial interests distort scientific research.

Goldacre, who only left university in 1995, says I am unqualified to call myself a nutritionist. I have spent the last 30 years researching, teaching, writing and practising nutrition. I am not sure what else I can call myself. For the record, I did not confer my own diploma, as he states. The board 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 I ever been, on the board of trustees. ION offers a fully accredited foundation degree in nutritional therapy, upgradable 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 Goldacre’s qualifications for dismissing these professional standards or his patronising comment that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.

Patrick Holford

Oh, the Jariwalla he’s so excited about, incidentally, is here:


“Dr. Jariwalla is a senior researcher in nutrition and infectious diseases at the Dr. Rath Research Institute in California, USA.”

And you’ll remember who Rath is: the South African vitamin salesman who tells AIDS victims that his vitamin pills are better than medication.

This is quite a graduation for Holford from diet books and daytime telly. AIDS. Nice. 4 million dead already. He’s playing with the big boys now.

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! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

78 Responses

  1. j said,

    February 16, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    Has Holford been writing his own wikipedia entry again – see the (Holford’s) responses to criticisms – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Holford#ANSWERING_THE_NUTRITION_CRITICS

    Yep, I can think of a few things to call him.

  2. HypnoSynthesis said,

    February 16, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    When I saw Patrick Holford at the Vitality show a couple of years ago he claimed to have written the first ever book on the so-called Glycemic Index (GI) diet. I don’t know anything about the subject at all, but it seemed a bit odd. What do you guys reckon?

  3. Dr Aust said,

    February 16, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Do you think you’re getting to Patrick, Ben? The Wikipedia self-justification spree might suggest so.

    As to the VitaminC and HIV research, Patrick must be losing it if he thinks it is worth taking at fact value a piece of “research” that comes from an institute run by one of the world’s most flamboyant and legendary medical snake-oil salesmen – the vitamin messiah Matthias Rath – if you fancy a laugh see Rath’s terribly modest bio on:


    Mad, mad, mad, mad, mad.

  4. jdc325 said,

    February 16, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    ALLERGY WARNING: May contain nuts.

    I’ll get me coat…

  5. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 16, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    #52 HypnoSynthesis –

    another example of Patricks delusions. I heard him on the radio making the same bizarre claim that he ‘invented’ GI. Odd, that. His first GI book had so many inaccuracies that the Amazon comments were scathing. He raced it out after failing to spot the zeitgeist anti-Atkins movement, exploited by registered dietitians writing on the subject.

    Fast forward a few years to the Holford Low GL diet ™, and the same claim that he ‘invented’ it in promotional interviews.

    For the record, the concept of GI – a ranking system for determining the speed at which a food is digested and turned into glucose – was established by Professor David Jenkins, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Toronto in 1981. He originally envisaged it as a tool for stabilising the erratic swings in blood sugar common in insulin-dependent diabetes. High blood sugar contributes to the vascular damage and complications associated with diabetes, so improved blood sugar control helps reduce the risk of these. The concept was later extended by Professor Jennie Brand-Miller (another real nutritionist) of the University of Sydney. The GI concept has now been extended to weight management.

    If Patrick REALLY had ‘invented’ GI in 1981 along with Professor Jenkins, perhaps that accounts for part of his 7 year absence (1977-1984 from his current cv?
    www.pat rickh olford.c om/c ontent.as p?id_Content=1279

  6. pv said,

    February 16, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    This is classic. The man is presenting himself a victim of big bad Ben. That’s rich coming from someone whose livelihood derives from exploiting the victims of nutritional fear and ignorance.

    Btw, Ben, when Holford says AZT is less effective that vitamin C in the treatment of HIV and Aids, he is accusing the pharmaceutical industry of profiting at the expense of those infected with HIV or suffering from Aids. Which is a shameful thing to do. If he was so confident of his claim there’s nothing to stop him doing his own trials – except perhaps the fear of gigantic lawsuits in the almost certain event he will fail.
    His ridiculous behaviour, along with that of TAPL, is surely not untypical of someone whose business is (even remotely) threatened when their credibility is exposed as a sham. In my view it’s all about show business and money, fame and fortune, and has precious little, as far as the “media” nutritionists are concerned, to do with science or medicine. This is why, when you take them to task over the science, they can only defend themselves by prevarication and personal attacks.

  7. hinschelwood said,

    February 17, 2007 at 7:59 am

    I loved reading his letter in the Guardian. My instant reaction was that he had confirmed Ben’s criticism in every aspect. You didn’t even need to know what Ben had written to see that he was a self-justifying crank.

  8. amoebic vodka said,

    February 17, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    The paper itself suggests in the discussion that the effect of vitamin C in the in vitro experiments is possibly down to the toxic products when vitamin C is oxidised. While those may hang around in a petri dish, they won’t in blood – that pesky homeostatis again.

    By the way, the ascorbate was buffered, so they weren’t bathing the cells in acid.

  9. drbunny said,

    February 17, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Im amused that Patrick Holford states in his BMJ response he has “no conflicts of interest” while describing himself as a ‘media nutritionist’ and mentioning he is founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition

    Obiously the same shoddy approach to veracity as to science…

  10. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 17, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    drbunny – you forgot to add his constant reference back to the book ‘Food is Better than Medicine’ , alluded to on the BMJ letters page, but not mentioned as a conflict of interest. Guess it doesn’t count if he didn’t put the Amazon reference page alongside, or offered a ‘money off coupon’.

    Funny that Jerome Burns, co-author, who submitted a similar letter virtually simultaneously to the BMJ referred to his authorship in the same book.

    Perhaps Patrick has problems with selective memory loss. Not a good advert for the pill-for-every-ill Optimum Nutrition approach.

  11. j said,

    February 18, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Sorry to keep banging on about the bloke, but it looks like the Guardian cut his letter a bit. The last paragraph is on his website and he challenges Ben Goldacre to a debate.

    “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.”

  12. Mojo said,

    February 18, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Debates are not necessarily the appropriate forum for this sort of debate. A glib opponent can make a good impression despite the facts being against them by using what are effectively “soundbites”, and if they do introduce pieces of “research” into the debate it is impossible to check their facts before responding. In addition to which they can bring in large numbers of supporters who are unlikely to be swayed by whatever evidence is presented by the other side.

    Hovind got away with this sort of thing for years.

  13. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 18, 2007 at 11:32 pm


    his thing about the debate is absurd, he asked, i accepted. i’ve written to remind him, suggesting he takes this pathetic ad hominem slur down, forwarded the whole email correspondence, he just ignores it, like a child, in my opinion.

    if he doesnt take it down in the next couple of days i’m going to post the whole email correspondence, i dont think he comes out of it looking too good frankly. again. i mean really.

    just written to him again.

    with the best will in the world i see absolutely no value in him making factually false allegations.

  14. Mojo said,

    February 19, 2007 at 10:41 am

    The factually false allegations will be enough to convince his followers that he has somehow “won”.

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 19, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    i might have to think seriously about what to do about this. patrick’s style is clearly to have public and presonal spats, which i think is rather undignified, as is the law. it is very bizarre behaviour though.

  16. Tristan said,

    February 19, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    undignified it may be, but that doesn’t stop it being fun!

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 19, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    i’ve written to him very politely again.

    i have to say i find this completely baffling, i have no personal beef with patrick holford. it’s a very unpleasant way to distract attention from discussing the science of HIV AIDS and vitamins.

  18. j said,

    February 19, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    you mean when you accepted the offer of a debate Holford didn’t even have any excuses about how the dog ate his debating notes 😉 he just didn’t answer your e-mails? Anyway, as Mojo said, I guess that factually false allegations will be enough to convince Holford’s supporters that he ‘won’ this debate which hasn’t took place.

    I guess if the allegations are demonstrably factually false, that’d be libel wouldn’t it (though I’m not a lawyer). Again, though, people don’t exactly tend to come out of libel cases looking dignified…

  19. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 19, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    i’ve had abusive mails from his supporters calling me a chicken. it’s incredibly bizarre. i started out here in all good faith to address the science but my opinion of this man is plummeting, i tell you. plummeting.

  20. j said,

    February 19, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Nah, it’s great. Holford’s insistance on his serious authority as a health professional is accompanied by accusations that you’re a chicken. I mean, what better way is there to ensure that Holford’s taken seriously 😉

  21. Tristan said,

    February 19, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Just wait for the email from Holford saying: “My dad’s harder than your dad”.

    That would just about match the maturity of his behaviour so far.

  22. Tristan said,

    February 19, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    I’ve just noticed his website has the slogan: “100% health for life”

    Now, surely that would only work if you were perfectly healthy, then died suddenly in a car crash or something. I mean, how else are you going to die whilst avoiding ill health?

  23. pv said,

    February 19, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Ben, seriously, Mr Holford’s actions/inactions here smack of a bit of showbiz manipulation, not someone interested in the science of anything. I would avoid a public debate with him like the plague because, unless one is permitted to stick solely to the facts of the matter, it would be a disaster.
    I think one has to remember that Mr Holford has got to where he is because he has remained largely unchallenged. To the media (newspapers, tv et al) people like him bring in the audiences, which pleases the advertisers. But in all likelihood he, like TAPL, doesn’t have an answer to any scientific criticism because the “science” such as it is is something to invent where necessary, to hide behind and to impress his scientifically illiterate public.
    Now he has been challenged. His credibility is on the line, and his credibility is his route to extracting dollars from clients. So what does he do? He can’t defend the science so he does what every showbiz person does, he gets his lawyers onto the case. In fact, the more I think about it the more his offer of a debate seems like a smokescreen and he probably never had any intention of debating in the first place. Maybe the plan all along has been to make a drama out of it and to try and make Dr Goldacre look bad without ever debating anything. Why else would he ignore your emails? It all fits.

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 19, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    he is mr showbiz. with some papers off pubmed, that he doesnt understand, as props.

  25. gadgeezer said,

    February 20, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Presumably, most of H’s followers are taking fish oil supplements. If BG is getting abusive emails, does this mean that they *don’t* soothe the temper or even out emotional peaks and troughs? At the very least, I hope that all of the emails display immaculate spelling and grammar (as implied by the Food for Brains work).

  26. j said,

    February 20, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    And of course Holford takes (at least, says he takes) a range of supplements, and helpfully publishes his regime on his website. OK, so it’s an unblinded trial with only 1 subject but, in the spirit of high quality nutritional research, we could see what inferences can be drawn from this about the effects of supplements 😉

  27. Mojo said,

    February 28, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Re #61: “Sorry to keep banging on about the bloke, but it looks like the Guardian cut his letter a bit. The last paragraph is on his website and he challenges Ben Goldacre to a debate. ”

    Looks like he’s removed the offending paragraph from his website. It now has the same text as the letter as published in the Grauniad:

    w.pat rickholford.co m/con tent.asp?id_Content=1751

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