Holfordism: Understanding Patrick, Optimum Nutrition, and the Nutritionist Industry

Patrick Holford has built up a very impressive and comprehensive empire; networks of web sites, charities, a college, educational trusts and of course, books, TV shows, supplements sales, and licensing deals. It is a very impressive achievement and it would be hard to argue that Patrick, and his philosophies, did not pretty much dominate the UK nutritionist scene. Some nutritionists might outsell him in book sales, but none have created such influence. Patrick has had his set-backs over the past 30 years, but now, mention ‘nutritional therapy’ in the UK and you will soon come across the name of Patrick Holford. The energy and drive required make this happen over the years is indeed remarkable.

It is a far reaching network. Even the bodies that set themselves up to govern the profession of ‘nutritional therapist’ are indebted to him. A list of the people involved with the British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT) will reveal many names whose qualifications are given as DipION, from the London college that Patrick set up many years ago. Patrick, himself, was awarded an honoury Fellowship of BANT. (One has to hypothetically wonder what would happen if one had cause to complain to BANT about something you felt was not right about Patrick. )

There are other celebrity media nutritionists out there too, but again, most stand in the shadow of Patrick. Columnist Dr John Briffa has attended training courses at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION), and now gives lectures there; the Food Doctor, Ian Marber MBant Dip ION (not a real doctor) gained his qualification at ION; and so did the Channel 4 Diet Doctors, Vicki Edgson Dip ION (not a real doctor) and Dr Wendy Denning (this time, a real doctor). Perhaps, the only major name missing is ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith.

The feat of building this nutritionist world is even more remarkable when one remembers that Patrick does not have a degree in nutrition, or indeed any statutorily recognised qualification in such matters. Patrick comes from a psychology background, but at some point, according to his own biography, he became interested in the nutritional impact on mental health. He then says that he studied the ideas of Linus Pauling and became fascinated with Pauling’s ideas on ‘molecular nutrition’.

Now, Pauling has a unique and outstanding position in science in that he is the only person ever to receive two unshared Nobel prizes. One is for quantum chemistry and the other, the Peace prize, was awarded for campaigning against atmospheric nuclear testing. Towards the latter part of Pauling’s career, he became convinced that Vitamin C was a miraculous substance that could transform our health. Out of these ideas came the concept of Orthomolecular Medicine and Orthomolecular Therapy. The core of this idea is that you can treat disease with large quantities of nutrients, far beyond that which you would find in the best of diets. Supplementation with gram level quantities of vitamins is what is required to achieve this health boost. Somehow, these large doses are seen as ‘optimum’ for the human body. Patrick calls this the medicine of tomorrow. It has been the medicine of tomorrow for quite a while now.

When one criticises the concepts of Orthomolecular Therapy, one is almost immediately reminded of Pauling’s god like status in science by its advocates. Who am I to question a double-Nobel laureate? However, it is equally as easy to be told that Pauling’s nutritional convictions should be a warning to us all not to take scientific authority as proof of a proposition. More than that, Pauling shows us that when an accomplished scientist talks about areas outside of the domain in which they have excelled, we should be just as suspicious of the claims made as of claims made by anyone else. Nobel Prizes do not infer omnipotence and infallibility.

Despite the allure of believing that mega-vitamin doses can help alleviate all sorts of health problems, the scientific research to back this up has been rather weak, an idea regularly now explored on HolfordWatch. This is not just because, as Patrick would claim, that vitamins are unpatentable and so of no interest to ‘Big Pharma’, rather that when the research is done, the results are invariably disappointing. This is a big shame. It was such a good idea.

In retrospect, there is no real surprise to this lack of success. Just because a mineral or chemical acts as an essential part of a diet at low concentrations, does not mean that it will take on therapeutic qualities at very high doses. It may just as well take on toxic qualities. Many vitamins and minerals are now well known to give nasty side-effects and even cause cancer at doses higher than the recommended allowances. This is because ‘naturalness’ and a continual low-level presence in the body does not guarantee tolerance at excessive ‘unnatural’ levels. Each mineral or vitamin has to be taken on its own merit, along with every other possible chemical, in the chance of becoming the next wonder drug or treatment. There is no magic in minerals, no panacea in Vitamin C, no matter how bewitching the idea.

Orthomolecular medicine has not died with Pauling. But, first it is right to note that Linus had every right to dream up fanciful new ideas. The creativity of science depends on wild hunches, dreams, flashes of insight and sometimes what is even seen as madness. But just because an idea is persuasive, alluring or even unconventional, does not mean that it is right. Science must discard those ideas that fail experimental tests, no matter how much we would wish them to be true. Starting out as a promising idea, orthomolecular medicine must now join the others in the ‘good ideas that failed’ cupboard, including the flat earth idea, n-rays and cold fusion.

It is maybe the simple attractiveness of orthomolecular medicine that has meant it has survived beyond its natural lifetime. One can see the core of the syllabus of ION coming from the ideas of Pauling and his followers. Those that call themselves orthomolecular therapists follow the patterns of providing health questionnaires, hair mineral analysis, optimum target levels, and then prescribing many vitamin and mineral supplements, sometimes way beyond RDA levels, as well as large dietary changes. But, the science behind this methodology is heavily disputed. For example, I have written about the problems of Hair Mineral Analysis previously, a subject Patrick studied at postgraduate level, but failed to complete.

Patrick is the UK representative of the International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine. The Institute of Optimum Nutrition and its philosophy may be seen, at least in part, as a re-branding of these ideas for a British audience. But by clinging to these ideas, Patrick has cut the nutritionist industry he has created off from mainstream dietary thought. There is now a chasm between scientific nutritional studies, as typified by the work carried out largely by Registered Dieticians, and the work carried out by ‘alternative medicine’ nutritionists, as typified by your ION educated therapists. This is a conscious act; Patrick and BANT make it quite clear that Nutritional Therapy is a ‘complementary and alternative medicine’, and so is more aligned with homeopathy, reiki, magnet therapy and angel healing than science. By clinging to alluring ideas in the face of contrary evidence, nutritionist science has become more like a pseudoscience and their health claims and practice, quackery.

The whole concept of ‘optimum nutrition’ appears to be rather intellectually and philosophically lacking. We are all rather special apes. We have evolved from common ancestors with chimps, and our furry cousins appear to have quite broad diets of mostly plants, supplemented with occasional meat, not unlike what dieticians tell us we ought to be eating. But homo has taken this basic food pattern and exploited it to its full potential. Various waves of our ancestors spread out from Africa, through forests, grasslands, deserts, coasts, mountains and frozen wastelands. Our diets changed as our ancestors moved, with the diet changing must faster than our bodies evolved. The success of humans appears to be in some major part due the fact that we can cope with huge changes in dietary inputs and still maybe live to 40 or 50 years or so without medical intervention. We exist on a broad nutritional plateau of possibilities, not a supplement sustained ‘optimum’. Many species must exist within narrow nutritional windows; we, most obviously, do not. It would appear highly improbable that our current generation should suddenly be susceptible to small variations away from the nutritionists’ ‘optimum’. Of course, we can stray off that plateau into the McDiet lowlands – but Patrick is preaching to many of us most firmly rooted on top of it.

The whole concept of ‘100% health for life’ appears to deny how we can choose our level of health (to some extent) and that anything less than 100% is ‘bad’. A rugby player ends up battered at the end of the season, but willingly enters the next season for the life-enhancing benefits that the game brings. Parents may accept the inevitability of exhaustion of looking after a newborn, and many accept stressful jobs for the rewards that it may bring later in life. We trade health for other things we value. But more importantly, our bodies go through natural cycles of renewal and regeneration and our rhythms of health are a natural part of our lives. And when we do succumb to a virus, it is not because of some moral shortcoming in not keeping ourselves on that pinnacle of nutritional perfection, but rather because our immune systems have not encountered this particular cold virus before, and our body’s evolved defence mechanisms are kicking in. ‘100% health’ promises and ideal that is not meaningful, possible or even desirable for many of us.

As you might then expect, Nutritional Therapists have a strong streak of anti-science in their creed; the rejection of ‘the other lot’, the dieticians who are more cautious in their interpretation of data and a huge distrust of mainstream medicine, their drugs and practitioners. As with almost all people who call themselves complementary therapists, there is the inevitable tendency to disparage those they say they complement. Nutritionists also do tend to embrace the much quackier side of medicine, with many practitioners also offering highly dubious techniques from reflexology, homeopathy to naturopathy.

Moreover, I would contend that Nutritional Therapy is more than just another alternative medicine. In order to understand it, it is worth looking at its cult-like qualities as well. Whereas an alternative medicine like homeopathy is diffuse and widespread in its allegiances, Nutritional Therapy still very much has its recent founders and living gurus. With its god-like revealer, Pauling, and his messenger in Britain, Patrick, its special college, somewhat outside of the main education establishments, its rather closed synod, BANT, and not forgetting its holy scriptures, the New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Optimum Nutrition has more in common with scientology than science. And I mean this in more than just in a metaphorical way.

As the prophet of nutritional healing, Patrick is reaching out to the people of Britain, bringing them a message of hope that society’s ills can be cured by dietary changes and vitamin pills. The evils of the drug industry, the misery of disease and the side-effects of Big Pharma’s drugs can be side-stepped by just eating better and popping pills. He calls the children to come to him through the Food for the Brain programme, and then offers to rid them of the evils of ADHD and underachievement, by banning their loaves and feeding them fish transubstantiated into thousands of miraculous supplements.

The Food for the Brain charity is on a messianic message to liberate the sub-optimally nourished children of Britain and to transform their brains into supplement-popping nutritionist consumers. Although Patrick talks quite rightly about the need for good diet, supplements are very much there at the front of their schools projects, being promoted and dished out for free, getting you hooked. The Orthomolecular programme is influencing thoughts here. My message is not one of impropriety as people can buy supplements anywhere, but when Patrick has so comprehensively covered the nutritionist space in the UK, and if the schools programme is successful, then many more fish oil pills will be popped, books will be bought, hair analyses performed and nutritionists consulted. That web of business will invariably fall back into the walled garden of BANT practitioners and so naturally help Patrick’s disciples.

It is not the messages around eating well that is wrong. If Patrick helps kids eat their greens then great. It is the message that ‘Food is better medicine than drugs’ (the name of a book he has co-authored) and the implication that supplements are even better than food is the one we should be critical of. It medicalises the food we eat. It turns eating into a health obsession. It confounds nutrition with medicine, the healthy with the sick, and drugs with profit motives. It adds to the neuroses we have about food, rather than diminishing them. Rather than being taught to enjoy food and celebrate its diversity and its pleasures, we are being taught to fetishise what we put in our mouths.

So, we have two worlds in the UK. Worlds with very different views on how food and diet affects our health and how we can manipulate diet to improve our health.

The first world is typically populated by scientists and dieticians. They take an evidence-based approach to understanding food and are cautious in coming to conclusion where there is insufficient data. They work in clinical practice, in hospitals, universities and on an NHS wage. They advise on good, affordable and understandable diets, and treat patients who are sick and need careful advice on their road back to health. They concentrate on the overall diet and not on an obsession with nutrients. They are regulated under law, have transparent and meaningful governing bodies. They are accountable for their actions and can be struck off if they fail in their duties. They promote their work in science journals. They share their canteens with nurses, surgeons, medical students and doctors.

The second world is populated by lawyers, accountants and journalists that have undertaken a career change. Younger students enter independent nutrition colleges and need little scientific training to do so. If they don’t get training, they add ‘Dr’ to their name anyway and get a contact with Channel 4. They selectively pick evidence that suits their alternative philosophies and learn to be suspicious, if not downright hostile, to science and medicine. They work in private practice and sell food supplements, questionable allergy tests and hair mineral analyses. They confuse allergy and intolerance, and fetish on vitamins and minerals, whilst advising clients to remove whole food groups from their diets. They sell their business to the worried well and poke around in their poo. They are not statutorily regulated and so lack that accountability. They promote their work in newspapers and magazines. They share their Richmond bistro with reflexologists, personal trainers, homeopaths and TV producers.

Does this divide matter? Surely, if the end result is that people eat better, then who cares how we got there? It is important to ask though if we do end up at the same point. Does Nutritional Therapy provide health benefits? Having stepped outside of the scientific mainstream then this is more difficult to answer than it should be. People like Patrick complain that as vitamins are not patentable then the incentives to do the research are not there. This rather sidesteps the moral incentives to be sure that what you preach is true. Much science is done for its own sake if it is felt to be worthwhile. What more worthwhile cause is there than easy routes to health through nutrition? The sale of food supplements in Britain is worth over £200 million annually. Some of Britain’s biggest companies are involved, such as Boots. Holland and Barret is owned by one the largest pharmaceutical companies in the US. Surely 1% of these sales would provide a very good start to a research fund. This would be much less, pound for pound, than ‘Big Pharma’ spends on research. Patrick could be instrumental in corralling ‘Big Nutripharma’ into similar activities.

But I think it it gets worse. With the Nutritional Therapists emphasis on cutting out whole food groups and on cramming useless supplements, diets could indeed worsen under their advice. Patrick has been recently criticised for Food for the Brain approaches that could have damaged an autistic child. Furthermore, with Patrick’s interest in mental health there is the a real risk of harm if such advice leads to sub-optimum control of the illness. Mental health problems wreck lives, destroy families and kill. There is no scope for wishful thinking not backed up by sound evidence. The very nature of mental health problems means that it can be difficult to carefully manage a therapy with a patient. Adding groundless nutritional advice into the mix, and instilling distrust of mental health professionals, cannot be good for patients.

So, could we have imagined a different history, where Patrick came back from his Paulingian epiphany and put his undeniable talents and energy into a more science-based programme on nutritional health? Would we have a more unified and positive approach to dietary information in the UK? Somehow, I doubt it. There may always be a tempting hole for someone to fill, where people will believe that a multivitamin is a shortcut to eternal health. Parallels with Holford exist in other countries. Germany has Matthias Rath who claims to have also been inspired by Pauling, who has rebranded Orthomolecular medicine as ‘cellular medicine’, sells loads of supplements, but, whereas Patrick tends to focus on mental health, Rath focuses on HIV and cancer for his nutrient panaceas. His advocacy of vitamin C as an AIDS cure in South Africa has met with, what can I say, severe criticism. Tens of millions of people have the HIV virus in South Africa and there is a large HIV denialist movement that extends up the highest reaches of government. There is no room for equivocation here and Patrick’s own mixed messages on Vitamin C being better than AZT, could have the most serious consequences.

Modern medicine is founded on the depersonalisation of illness. It rejects the subjective and seeks dispassionate views. Its undeniable success in doubling life expectancy, eradicating diseases, transplanting organs, and showing us that smoking is bad has been achieved by what looks like treating people as numbers, data and, at times, test subjects. By an ironic twist, this apparent scientific coldness allows us to strikingly transcend the inhumanity of sickness and disease. However, the perception of indifference and distance may be the very thing that makes Patrick’s message of nutritional health answers so alluring, and allows the nutritional therapy business to survive. People want to feel their health fears have personal meaning and are controllable.

The impact of Patrick’s nutritional army is a confused public that hear contradictory evidence daily in the newspapers. It results in unnecessary worry, in meaningless expense, and forms a distrust of authorities that could actually offer sound advice.

We are being dis-served at our dinner table by the nutrionist dogma.

62 Comments on Holfordism: Understanding Patrick, Optimum Nutrition, and the Nutritionist Industry

  1. Great article. Loved the messianic bits — fish being transubstantiated into supplements etc. Truth in jest…


  2. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

    One of my greatest irritations with nutritional therapy is the number of times that scientific research is mis-cited in support of tests, vitamins, minerals etc. E.g., – it’s a small example but I was recently reading the Holford as guru wisdom on homocysteine tests. Holford (or his researcher) misread the BHF statistics and overstated the number of premature deaths per year from heart attack/stroke. Irritating and sloppy but these things happen. However, it got worse when he dragged in, “Autopsies performed on mummified Egyptians who died in 3000 BC show signs of deposits in the arteries but no actual blockages that would result in a stroke or heart attack”. Yeah, right – the life expectancy of Egyptians then was ? The Egyptian who could afford elaborate funeral rites and services was representative of the age? He also cites Wald’s work without addressing any of the follow-up correspondence that has been in process on this issue for years.

    I wouldn’t know where to begin to point out the problems with this article. It probably took Holford little time and effort to put together this article but it takes a lot of trawling around to check his assertions and contradict them.

    Regards – Shinga

  3. But you have to remember that Patrick can only ‘translate’ clinical nutrition in a very basic, amateur way, which is why he gets it so wrong, so often.

    Take his simple approach to defining risk of a blood clot breaking off from an artery wall to cause a heart attack, or a stroke –

    “Autopsies performed on mummified Egyptians who died in 3000 BC show signs of deposits in the arteries but no actual blockages that would result in a stroke or heart attack”

    er, Patrick, medical science has moved on in the last 15 years. Of course, those with angina or mini-stroke (TIA) have symptoms due to the increasing ‘furring’ up of their arteries with atheroma plaques, that gradually increase in size, creating bloodstream chicanese and turbulent blood flow that can increase red cell clumping to start a thrombus.

    BUT, a large number of fatal events take place when the plaque blocks no more than 20% of the artery – and the person has no symptoms whatsoever. In these cases, ‘irritation’ of the artery wall due to inflammation associated with infection (highly likely in the Egyptian period where the infections would be rife and antibiotics 5k years from development) or other inflammatory states – such as RA – ‘destabilise’ the developing plaque, increasing its risk of erupting plaque debris Vesuvius- style into the bloodstream – with the debris causing blockage and the fatal event.

    Never mind Patrick. You try very hard. |Easily misunderstanding.

    By the way, that’s assuming of course that the examining today of our 5000 year old ancestors still generates tissue samples equivalent to that found at angiography today. But heh, we can imagine the preservation is as good. A great imagination is a necessary prerequisite to being a ‘leading clinical nutritionist’….

  4. Great article, very thoughfully and logically argued.

    As I was reading, I thought of the irony of mega doses of supplemts versul homeopathy’s dilutions.

    I am now contemplating setting up a whole new area of nutriquack. “Homeopathic nutrition”. I shall use all the arguments of the supplement pushers, but tack on the mantra of the homeopath and point out that if huge doses have this effect, think how much better my sugar pills will be. I will laugh all the way to the bank…..or would, if only I could ditch those pesky ethics.

  5. It always amazes me how alternative medicine advocates can hold two contradictory world views in their head at the same time – without embarresment. Homeopathy and Herbalism being classic incompatible belief systems. It amazes me too how Patrick can so shamelessley align himself with the alternative world – and yet attempt a scientific discourse to explain his thinking.

  6. It always amazes me how alternative medicine advocates can hold two contradictory world views in their head at the same time

  7. sorry…meant to add:

    -this same pattern is occuring more commonly in veterinary medicine as well. There is seems to be an increase in “alternative continuing” ed and “nutritional” seminars with a lot of contradictory “logic”

  8. I’m never going to have a legitimate reason to post this stuff, so here goes. The following may answer questions as to the comparability of present-day histological specimens and those used in some of the key egyptian mummy autopsy papers (there’s a phrase that I never expected to use in my life).

    The histological examination of mummified material: offers many fine related links to paper of the same area and topic
    Preparation of large histological sections of mummified tissues

    Degenerative vascular disease in the Egyptian mummy

    More recently, there is a good overview of arterial disease in antiquity

    I could tell you about the British Library’s collection of books on diseases in the egyptian mummy but the voices are telling me that it is time to dust my matchbook collection.

    Regards – Shinga

  9. “Many vitamins and minerals are now well known to give nasty side-effects and even cause cancer at doses higher than the recommended allowances. “

    please can someone point me towards a study that proves that vitamis supplements cause cancer. Thanks

  10. “Many vitamins and minerals are now well known to give nasty side-effects and even cause cancer at doses higher than the recommended allowances. “

    No studies? …. didn’t think so. Anyone want to mention the 10,000+ deaths THIS YEAR attributed to perscription drugs?

  11. I have been a Nutritional Therapist almost as long as Patrick and I have treated hundreds of people successfully with both diet and high dose multivitamins and minerals – people whose health has been restored after the medical profession had given up on them – and what's more I am very proud to say so and to be in this very creditable profession. For those of you doubters who obviously know nothing of the work we do, I suggest you look into it more closely for yourselves i.e. the Nutritional Therapy Council website or BANT( which, by the way is the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) to see how much more credibility and regulation we are gaining with Government bodies. At last, this work is beginning to be recognised as a viable adjunct and often alternative, to pharmaceutical drugs, which ALL have side effects.

    • Good to see some know about nutrition here! I’ve healed myself of asthma, colds, flu and done so for years with a couple of vitamins and things like apple cider vinegar, honey and cinnamon. I know that will drive those here nutso lol 🙂 Also gone organic, which helps as well. Nothing is “perfect” but, I like better ways than drugs.

  12. Nutritional Medicine has helped my family and my friends with several illnesses.
    You are what you eat.And don't think you stay healthy from what you get in the supermarket

    Times are changing: codex alumentarius

  13. "And don't think you stay healthy from what you get in the supermarket"

    A classic example of the thoroughly irresponsible side of nutritional therapists. You make my case for me.

  14. Wow! Whoever wrote this article is one angry and uninformed dude! The food and supplements one comsumes can eradicate Type 2 diabetes, cure multiple sclerosis and help with depression and anxiety attacks. And these are just examples that I have experienced firsthand. I believe in free speech but it's really a shame that people like this get a forum to voice their narcissistic views and ill-informed rants.

  15. Come on then brave Anonymous (did you read my comments policy?). Let's see your evidence that "supplements can eradicate Type 2 diabetes, cure multiple sclerosis and help with depression and anxiety attacks"

    Your best references for each claim please. Let's see who is an uninformed dude. Can't wait.

  16. Ok. I'm really not here to fight. I just want to know why you cannot accept that there are alternative therapies besides drugs that can change your life? To me it's a no-brainer. Whatever can acheive optimal health in one's life works. To deny it does a disservice to those in need. I and my family members are living proof. My diabetic father was helped, a prominent Canadian citizen with multiple sclerosis was helped and I, Robyn Poirier, was helped with my anxiey attacks thanks to a severe diet change. I did not read your "anonymous" poilcy beforehand. My bad. But don't knock it till you try it. I am starting my sister-in-law with an orthomolecular practitioner because she has muscular dystrophy and she's slowly dying. Not one allopathic doctor has been able to help her and until you're desperate and have no one else to turn to for help, you should have no judgment.

  17. Anonymous – the answer is in my first response to you – evidence.

    Of course I believe in alternatives to drugs – medicine is full of alternatives to drugs – everything from counselling to surgery – and yes, diet plays an important role in health.

    But – and here is the big but – when dealing with ill people then treatments should be backed by good evidence and sound reasoning. The orthomolecular approach lacks these – as I take care to describe. Undoubtedly peopl feel attracted to such approaches as they are superficially appealling – and this what the nutritionist industry (worth billions) exploits to the full.

    I am sorryo to hear about yout Sister-I-L. There are still many conditions or which medicine cannot cure – that does not mean that alternatives have the answers – if they did, they would cease to be alternative medicine and just be medicine. I fear your use of the derogatory term 'allopath' creates a false dichotomy in the your worldview that may lead to some bad decisions.

  18. I have no problem with allopathic medicine. Trust me, if I get sick I'm exhausting all avenues! But I think it's dangerous for the medical community to be the only option for people. It's not complete and it's fallible, and doctors never (almost never) recommend alternative treatments as a complementary option to their treatments. I agree there is not much data to support orthomolecular practices, food therapy or energy work. But why not? Do you agree that money should be available for research into these alternative therapies?

  19. It is all very confusing for a pragmatic, busy, person who just wants to be healthy and fit whilst entering older age and still enjoy good meals and fine wines, travel, friendship, cultural stuff. I thought I
    still had enough mind and remnants of education left to make choices based on a fairly level headed assessment…. So why is itnall so confusing?

  20. Lynnie the Pooh:

    “It is all very confusing for a pragmatic, busy, person”

    Don’t take yourself so seriously. It really isn’t, and we can all make time for taking care of ourselves. If you don’t, you’re going to get ill.

    “who just wants to be healthy and fit whilst entering older age”

    Admirable sentiments.

    “and still enjoy good meals and fine wines”

    Do that in moderation.


    Do as you budget allows.

    “friendship, cultural stuff.”

    Do as much as you can.

    “I thought I still had enough mind and remnants of education left to make choices based on a fairly level headed assessment….”

    But you’re making it too complicated. Everyone knows the common sense rules of living healthily. What ever can you be prioritising over eating a healthy and varied diet and getting some exercise? If your genes dictate that you’re going to die of this or that then that’s what’ll happen.

    “So why is itnall[sic] so confusing?”

    See, it really isn’t… Just beware of bullshit. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

  21. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with the author….I strongly believe in holistic approach – meaning good diet, supplements etc. I don’t trust doctors and drugs – “thanks” to them I developed life-threatening disease….which I successfully control (eating well and supplement myself).
    I was on an event organized by Metropolitan Uni – there was a lecture about the malnutrition – do you know what I found out – people (with malnutrition) should be given more calories from sugar, full fat milk, grated cheese (in soups, sauces) etc. along with the supplements (prescribed) in a form of milk shake or juice (the ingredients: sugar, glucose syrup, some synthetic vitamins, milk powder etc. – do you think its good approach? They don’t care how good the food is for you, the most important is CALORIES! I was considering to study Dietetics but after this lecture I thought – WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? This is the academic Nutrition- ‘CURING’ symptoms – but who is going to look at the cause????

  22. Oh dear god this is such a ridiculous article. I used to get offended by these sites but I just think this is ridiculous. How can you not believe that nutrition has an impact on human health? It can both worsen and improve it. Why is there such a sudden increase in diseases that were rare 100 years ago? There is nothing intelligent about you. You’ve been brainwashed by mainstream ‘teaching’ that is corrupt and unscientific in nature. The amount of studies that have been suppressed is incredible, some of the only ones that get through are backed by drugs companies. HAHA, thank you for the good laugh I had reading this.

    • You really need to actually read my post. No-one is claiming that nutrition does not have an impact on health. What is being argued here is that Holford makes many mroe claims than can be reliably evidenced and that popping vitamin pills is not ‘nutrition’.

      And can you say why we now live much longer than 100 years ago even though some diseases are more prevelant. Hint: many of these diseases are diseases of old age. Have a think about it.

  23. As a person with a Masters of Human Nutrition from a reputable Australian University I find my teeth gently grinding whenever the dietican v nutritionist debate flares up. I cannot call myself a dietician for obvious reasons associated with scope of practice but the nutritional advice I give patients in my capacity as a dual registered health professional (physiotherapy and nursing) is very sound. I used to refer to myself as a nutritionist but now I guess I will just have to dismiss my qualifications and simply claim that I have ‘some knowledge of dietary requirements’.

  24. I have treated myself with food and supplements for years – mental health – perimenopaus – depression anxiety – I also gone to the gp when I needed it and taken antibiotics – but so many treatments offered just don’t help or the side effects are either unknown (daily antibiotics for rosacea / citalopram while pregnant used to be ok) or unbearable as with many SSRIs – I’m planning to study at ION and consider myself a very careful level headed person who would never put anyone in danger – I want to use the knowledge to complement traditional medicine and provide an alternative for non life threatening conditions. It saddens me that the chasm is so huge between the 2 sides of the debate and I wish they could meet meet in the middle. If the alternative therapies/suppliments are not researched and universally regulated there will be room for charlatans – but they are not all charlatans. There are inconsistencies and corruption on both sides of the fence but until traditional medicine can look at these alternatives more seriously I would generally choose alternative treatments. BTW someone mentioned herbalists as quacks – I see one at Whipps Cross hospital in London – a highly qualified doctor. I like quack watch but feel it goes too far and tars everyone with the same brush which is just inaccurate. The billion dollar industry wouldn’t exist if it didn’t help so many people.

    • Apple Pie and Cow Pie cannot ‘meet in the middle’. You end up with shitty apple pie.
      Truth and falsity cannot compromise either. Nor can science and nonsense.

      Wishful thinking cannot make Cow Pie turn into Apple Pie either. Your desire for ‘natural alternatives’ to work has no bearing on whether they do or not.

  25. Its not a desire – it’s my own personal experience – – it would be a hell of a lot easier if a doctor could fix all these problems – why do you think this is of so much interest to people? you are over looking my point which is that I have had experiences with ‘science’ which have almost harmed my unborn child (thankfully he was one who escaped the hole in the heart caused in some by citalopram) – anti bionics for the rest of your life for rosacea? does that seem sensible to you? of course it isn’t – -it’s lazy – they don’t even know yet if I would build up a tolerance – I don’t fancy being the guinipig on that one thanks – many minor conditions are helped with diet and food – I cut out dairy and my rosacea calmed – talk to a doctor about that they think it’s ridiculous and won’t give you the time of day – that’s what I mean to meet in the middle – but you just dig your heels in if you like – it’s absurd to me that people can be so black and white – we are right and you are wrong – it’s just not the way the world is –

  26. For what it’s worth, I shall point out that your subjective interpretations of your own personal experiences are not a reliable way of determining cause and effect in health and medicine. So much error is based on this false belief.

    The postman always leaves after the dog barks. The dog’s interpretation of its own experience is that its barking causes the postman to go away. As sure as night follows day. We know that is not true as we are aware of confounding factors, such as the postman’s desire to complete their deliveries. Just because a health improvement follows an intervention, does not mean that the improvement was caused by the intervention. There are always confounding factors. That is why trials are so important to medicine. If you are to do your course, I hope you will judge all you are told through this simple lens.

  27. my experiences with dairy exclusion are not subjective – I had to simplify for the purposes of this post – they were under the guidance of Alex Laird BSc MCPP – at whipps cross hospital – who put me on an exclusion diet – the only person in the NHS I have ever seen to suggest such a thing – modern medicine is fallible on many levels – the scientists don’t even under why SSRIs work – so what do you expect people to do? the good old days of believing everything you are told by the doctor have gone – people question and if things don’t work for them they look for alternatives. I wish there were more trials but until then people will fend for themselves – it’s views like these here that poo poo notions of nutrition and supplementation that are harmful to any significant progress.

    • I would suggest that you do not appreciate what ‘subjective’ means. You (and others) have interpreted your experience as a result of a simple uncontrolled test. It is impossible to understand cause and effect as a result of such an experience. I see you have also included the letters after a name as if that is meant to impress. I hope during your course you demand evidence rather than credentials as a way of getting at the truth.

      The motto of the Royal Society is ‘Nullius in verba’ – from their website, “it is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.”

      Again, something that will stand you in good stead to take on board. I see Alex Laird is described as a herbalist and aromatherapist. A couple more red flags, but let’s keep things simple for now.

  28. not to impress no – but to prove to you that some people on the side of science can meet in the middle which is where we started – she has a science grounding but is able to look further afield – yes I will be seeking evidence of course wherever I can find it – at some point you guys are going to have accept alternatives work for a lot of people and most people who use and promote them are not stark raving mad or quacks – yes I’ve interpreted the results of simple uncontrolled test – eat cheese – get spots – don’t eat cheese – don’t get spots! – what would you do? carry on eating cheese? just cos you didn’t read it in the Lancet? anyway best get off and feed my children a well balanced meal 🙂

  29. Where were the references in your article?
    It’s mostly a philosophical exposition.
    If we look rigourously at a tiny slice of the orthomolecular pie, the Cochrane Collaboration review of vitamin D3 supplementation, we find the NNT is roughly similar to that for statins.
    This despite including various irrational dosing regimes (very high dose depot, very low dose).

    Similarly, if we look at modern research into vitamin C and cancer, it’s not exactly contradicting Pauling

    This is not to say that Holford necessarily has a clue about how to exploit these effects beyond drowning us in a sea of supplements – his recent attack on Tim Noakes for using real food instead shows that he’s behind the science; indeed it’s full of long-refuted arguments such as high protein intakes damaging kidneys.


    • You are desperately cherry picking. No-one is saying that vitamins do not play roles in health. But the Vitamin D review you cite has nothing to do with orthomolecular concepts. Similarly, the vitamin C page you quoted is about very early stage results. The Orthomolecularists and other nutri-quacks promote High Dose Vitamin C as if it is safe and effective – and the evidence there is not good.

  30. I started taking vitamin C for asthma that worked, then for colds, flu and allergies. From one who has always been susceptible, I’m happy to find it so effective. I also take omega 3s and D. Supplementing vitamins to a wholefood organic diet has helped me personally. Fortunately I didn’t nor do listen to conventional thought on it.

    • If you think you take ‘take vitamin C’ and then just declare that ‘it works’ then you really do not understand how you can tell if a treatment is effective or not. Perhaps you need to listen a little bit more to ‘conventional thought’ about how we can tell if treatments are effective. Let’s start with a question: how do you know what would have happened to your health had you not taken the vitamins?

  31. I would still be on asthma medications for one. I would have countless debilitating colds, probably flu sessions, for another. I only know now the beginning of symptoms 99% of the time. I find I need more supplementation in cold weather.

    I wouldn’t have continued trying Vitamin C if it didn’t work initially. I’m really not that stupid:) I understand what a placebo is as well, and I continued only to make sure it wasn’t! from the very beginning. Sorry to say it’s dismissed so easily by conventional medicine.

    • I am not interested in speculation as to what you think your health might be like had you not taken your vitamins. I am asking how you know. That is, what reliable knowledge do you have based on evidence and reason?

  32. My experience is what I rely on most of all. And, fortunately for me, it contradicts what conventional study and treatments are or aren’t. I did “believe” there was no cure to the common cold, til I found one. Vitamin C is a powerful antiviral for one. Stopping cold symptoms from the early signs is the thing I found important to do in order to be more effective. I’ve also added a few things to my “cold remedy” in the last few years actually, that I find work even better. Apple cider vinegar and honey along with the added C. Omega 3s also help most anything from advancing into a serious infection. There are studies compiled that support it at U of Michigan. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2929001

    • The problem is that you have not experienced the counterfactual when you did not take the Vitamin C. So you cannot rely on your experience to tell you what your health would be like should not be a vitamin pill popper. You are assuming what it would be like and therein lies your error.

      Perhaps you could answer a similar and related question: why do treatments require double-blinded randomised controlled trials to establish efficacy?

      • Ok, I have a question for you. What have conventionals found to cure the common cold, flu, asthma and allergies? Why deny or criticize what others say work, if you really don’t have an answer either? The blind/double blind studies are not so accurate imo as they do not take into consideration the individual’s whole health. For instance, 200 mg of C will not work for me. I take 500 mg with wild rosehips and working better than ascorbic acid alone. The dose and substance is the key to seeing what works for the individual, not a group, but, there are studies I did give you…


      • If I am studying if a vitamin can shorten a cold, what measurables would you include in the study and why are double blind trials incapable of making those measurements? Your answer makes no sense.

        To answer your question: just because real medicine does not have all the answers does not mean that other people can just make stuff up.

  33. The studies are not capable of making those measurements because, it would be an individual’s need of how much is effective. In general it’s found that when given Vit C everyday, there were less reported colds/flu than the group that had a placebo. That’s great but, it should be considered the individual’s health for those who may need even more not less. Limiting it to certain doses, and one size fits all, is the mistake in double blind studies.

    • Think this through: how do you know how much an individual needs? And if you do know that why can you not give each person the ‘right’ amount in a trial? Trials need not adopt a one size fits all approach if the therapy means individualisation? SO why cannot trials work?

      • I don’t nor can I know what an individual needs. That’s the point. I can only find out what I need, and at the time I need it. Again, the studies may show in general that taken each day may decrease colds/flu in a group. It doesn’t help me or the individual if it’s not enough for their condition and when they need it. Kind of asking the impossible actually.

      • Again, you have completely failed to address the question. How do you then find out how much you need at the time you need it?

  34. Well, “making stuff up” is not what I am interested in either. That’s why I try things for myself to see. Just because things work that conventionals say don’t, doesn’t make it true either.

    • But you are failing completely to explain how you know what you are asserting. As soon as you are pressed on this you just re-assert what you believe.

      Let me tell you straight – you do not know what you think you do. You are deluding yourself. No kind way of saying this.

  35. Well, then I ‘deluded’ myself out of countless colds, flu and asthma attacks! I’m good with that 🙂 Honestly, I don’t expect anyone to take my word on anything. Just that the criticisms and arguments from conventionals are rather puzzling.

    And, here’s one. Rather than trying IV Vitamin C for a man dying of influenza in one case, conventionals determined he should simply be left to die. His family had to have a lawyer to force the hospital to give the treatment, and, he lived! …


    • An anecdote.

      You have still not told me how you know how much Vit C to give.

      Worth also noting that the illness you have claimed to have successfully treated are self-limiting. How do you know you were successful and not that you just witnessed the natural course of your illness?

      • The best I can say is, I take 500 mg with wild rosehips 2 times daily (especially in winter), and at the time of a symptom of a cold/flu/allergy, I begin taking more. If the symptoms continue, I take it again, and so on. At the time I also add apple cider vinegar and honey. There’s no “set” prescription of dose as there can’t be for the individual. That seems to be a difficult thing to accept in conventional medicine I suppose, though it seems it’s applied when it comes to antibiotics and other drugs. Just make them stronger if one doesn’t work, try something else. Isn’t that true?

      • Just to add to your second question, normally my colds lasted 9 days at the least. So when symptoms are stopped within minutes to a few hours at the most, I’d call it a cure of whatever/whichever viral attack it may have been. It’s occurred for years now, and going without a 9 day long cold is rather amazing to me anyway, knowing how susceptible I am. You may say “well your immune system changed”. Yes, it’s gotten better thanks to Vit C. 🙂

  36. O and I did experience the “counterfactual” to Vitamin C for years before I started experimenting with it, and, they were long multi-time a year colds and asthma attacks that needed inhalers and steroids to control. I know what a cold is, what the flu is, though the last time I had the flu was right after a flu vaccine! interesting enough 🙂

  37. An anecdote is an unpublished story, the facts of that case were recorded by qualified – and skeptical doctors – and are well reported; there’s no meaningful possibility of fraud or error.
    It was also the subject of a precedent-setting constitutional law case, which is as far from an anecdote as you can get.

    • Indeed an anecdote is an unpublished story. But being that we cannot draw any conclusions from it.

      But if you say it is well documented in a “precedent-setting constitutional law case” you will be able to give reference to a judgement or some such other reliable record.

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