The Myths of Patrick Holford

Bertrand Russel said,

What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires — desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

Myths are at the heart of what this site is about. Why do people prefer myths to reality? Why do myths persist in the face of obvious alternatives? It is therefore with great delight that I discovered two new sites about myths last week.

In a cosmic coincidence that would even make the hairs on the back of the neck of Rupert Sheldrake stand up, the first site to appear was called, and the a day or two later another site called Spooky.

The first site appears to cover much the same ground as HolfordWatch but is not so much a blog but a brief description of problems seen in Holfords work. The second site is far more interesting. It points to one of Patrick Holford’s sites and looks like it is attempting to correct the myths that he sees are out there about him.

But what is immediately obvious, is that the myths Patrick is trying to dispel bear no resemblance to any of the criticisms made against him – with the odd exception. Let’s look at them in turn…

Myth: Patrick Holford has no qualifications
No one has ever accused Patrick of having no qualifications. What critics have said is that he has no relevant qualifications. Patrick has a 2:2 in Psychology and failed to complete a Masters degree. Upon this he has built a nutritionist empire.

Myth: Patrick awarded his own qualification in nutrition
It is well known that Patrick’s only Nutrition qualification came from the very institution he set up – the Institute of Optimum Nutrition. On Patrick’s site, he says, “Patrick was awarded his Diploma in Nutrition in 1998 by the Board of Trustees”. Patrick says he ran ION from 1984 to 1998, so this award looks very much like a goodbye thank-you gift. All OK. But thanks to DCScience, we can see Patrick’s recent CV says that he gained his DipION in 1995. DCScience points out more discrepancies on the CV.

UPADTE (16/1/08): I have just realised that it is not just the CV that says that the DipION was awarded in 1995. Patrick’s online ‘About Me’ page says it too. It looks like the myths page is out of step with the rest of the story. What is even more intruiging is that HolfordWatch report that a book called ‘Dirty Medicine’ by Martin Walker reports that Patrick’s DipION was being talked about as far back as 1989. Now, by the look of Walker’s book, you might want to take anything in there with a pinch of salt. More myths just could well be created.

Myth: Anyone can call themselves a nutritional therapist
Patrick says that “The term ‘nutritional therapist’ is regulated by the voluntary professional organisation the British Association of Nutritional Therapy (BANT).” However, he fails to make clear that BANT are not a statutory body and have no authority to stop anyone calling themselves a nutritional therapist. You can read more about this on HolfordWatch.

Myth: Only dieticians and doctors are qualified to give diet advice
Again, he says, “The DipION foundation degree is a three year course which provides considerably more qualification to advise an individual about their nutritional needs than either a medical training or a dietetic training.” This would be a hard claim to justify. Much of the DipION training is based on highly disputed views on nutrition that HolfordWatch explores regularly. If you are ill in hospital, it is the advice of dietician you will be given, not someone with a diploma from Patrick’s college. Unlike a nutritional therapist, you can also be sure that a dietician will be struck off and loose their job if they give bad advice. They will not be able to practice again. Nutritional Therapists do not come with such a guarantee.

Myth: Patrick Holford is Dr Patrick Holford
No critic has accused Patrick of misusing the title ‘Dr’. Some fawning journalist might have given him this title. However, this little bit of ‘mythbusting’ allows Patrick to remind us that he is now Professor Patrick Holford. This was quite a controversial appointment by the University of Teesside due to his mundane academic qualifications and minor published academic record. He has been asked by the University to describe himself as a Visiting Professor at the University of Teesside, in the School of Social Sciences and Law and to make sure he does not associate himself with nutrition or mental health, like he does here. You can read what the real Professor of Nutrition at Teesside has to think about this at DCScience.

Myth: Patrick Holford owns a vitamin company and/or is a vitamin salesman
This is quite an extraordinary one. He says, “Patrick Holford neither owns, nor has shares in any vitamin company”, but fails to mention some huge facts. Patrick has always been associated with Vitamin sales. This year Patrick saw the entire issued share capital of Health Products for Life sold to NeutraHealth (BioCare) for £464,000. £200,000 of this is deferred until later this year depending on performance, no doubt. Patrick was appointed Head of Science and Education for the vitamin sales company. Patrick has failed to disclose interests before about his interests in vitamin sales. Patrick may not work at the check out of Holland and Barrett, but just about everything he does is promoting in some way supplements and vitamins, whether it is books, web sites, talks and TV appearances. Have a look at Bioharmony, a South African vitamin company, and see how Patrick Holford is definately not a vitamin salesman.

Myth: Patrick believes that vitamin C cures AIDS
Patrick claims he has never said this and this has been done to death. See Bad Science for the gory details. But just to remind you what Patrick really said, ‘AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is proving less effective than vitamin C’.

Myth: Patrick recommends eating oily fish three times a day!
Well, I have never claimed he does. It would be a rather dull diet.

True: Patrick opposes fortification of food with folic acid
That may well be. But his companies have sold much higher doses of folic acid in supplement form. It took a HolfordWatch post to ensure Health Products for Life provided appropriate warnings on their web site.

True: Two ASA rulings were upheld against 100% Health
Absolutely true. Patrick claims this is a blow against his freedom of speech. The ASA thought it was because he was making untruthful and unsubstantiated claims.

Myth: Pharmaceutical companies are looking after your health
This is perhaps the one area where Patrick’s critics might find some common ground, but probably not in the way he thinks. Pharmaceutical companies are like all other companies. They are obliged by legislation to maximise a return to their shareholders above all other considerations. This may create unpleasant side effects in some of their activities. But in this, they are no different from any other publicly listed company. It is just that somehow we hold them to unreasonable higher standards because they are involved in health. It is our democratic laws that create these so called monsters. However, within such companies, I am sure there are thousands of people who do care deeply about creating better drugs for people that will improve and even save their lives, and will be working on modest wages with little recognition. Patrick, like many alternative medicine advocates, likes to conflate the misdeeds of pharmaceutical corporations with the programme of evidence-based medicine. In this he is spreading the biggest myths that we cannot trust our health care workers and the drugs that have proven to be effective. Patrick has co-authored a book called “Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs”. He is wrong and this is a myth. Food is food and drugs are drugs. Yes, diet can contribute to health, but vitamin pills and supplements are a very minor part of the answer to a good, long and healthy life.

Here we see Patrick’s greatest mythologising: a reductionist and nutritional answer to life’s most difficult issues. Poverty cannot be corrected with fish oil pills. Mental health issues need good medical care, not just a bag of vitamins. HIV is not going to be tackled with Vitamin C, no matter how much we wish this to be true.

I think I shall end with another Bertrand Russell quote about myths,

There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths.

Nutritionism is the comforting myth of our age. I wish Patrick would help dispel that myth.

26 Comments on The Myths of Patrick Holford

  1. An excellent precis of the issue, Canard Noir.
    I’ll raise you two Winston Churchills for your Bertrand Russel quotes:

    “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on”

    “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”

    • [This comment has been edited as it makes several irresponsibly dangerous claims and mentions specific trader’s businesses. These names have been removed.]

      These are no myths. I have seen people healed of schizophrenia after 15 years of psychiatry on mega doses of vitamins. There are many companies online that sell supplements for mental illness and work. The Youtube videos for the company [redacted] prove they work. This particular vitamin company fought in the Supreme Court of Canada to sell vitamins to people with mental illness and won and that is also on the news and the footage of that is on youtube – the news broadcasts.

      IF you believe that nutrition doesn’t work, you can also look at [redacted]’ videos and websites – A medical doctor that reversed her own Multiple Sclerosis with extreme diet changes that included eating a huge amount of greens and nutrient dense foods like organ meat. THat diet is free online. The video is called Minding your Mitochondria.

      I reversed my seasonal allergies, chronic Urinary Tract Infections, by using a raw food diet for three months and juicing. THis is after seeing doctors who just kept giving me pills and antibiotics which made the problem worse. Then I went to a holistic nutritionist and he cured my “unexplained infertility” – so my gynaecologist says, using a homeopathic remedy that can stimulate hormonal production because i wasn’t producing any progesterone or estrogen. I have been getting progesterone supplements and suppositories by this gynaecologist for a year and no results. Not even absorbing it. Then I went to the holistic nutritionist/homeopath and he told me flat out that I had severe adrenal fatigue, which caused hormonal production to shut down. Then i went back the doctor and told her what he said and she said that sound correct and both doctors (holistic and regular) said it would take 2 years for my adrenal glands to heal using diets, and supplements.

      Doctors only know how to treat symptoms with drugs that make you worse and give you side effects. If you prevent illness by eating the right diet and taking supplements, you will not regret it.

      I have developed a passion for learning more about holistic nutrition since seeing so many people been cured by it – people with severe depression, schizophrenia and and bipolar. I have also seen real results in my own body, so there is no going back now. I only go to doctors to get tests done and now go to my homeopath/holistic nutritionist who has a university degree in the medical sciences and then got a diploma in both holistic nutrition and homeopathy.

      • Medical journals publish studies that are biased because they research is funded by pharmaceutical companies and lie about their studies and skew the studies in order to get them approved. Now they are being sued and people are dying. The public is finally waking up and realizing how corrupt the medical industry is. To say that people won’t get bad reactions on any treatment is ridiculous. You here about alternative treatments that didn’t work, but there are way more drugs out there that also never worked to cure cancer or what not. Thousands of people die every year from pharmaceutical reactions. I only believe what i have seen and experienced and I know that vitamins and nutrition work to prevent illness and to reverse illness. They are being targeted by this quackery site, which is obviously run by someone who is a doctor or works for the pharmaceutical industry to debunk anything that works. I come to this site because I know if this site says negative things, i know the stuff works. Whoever is running this site has an agenda and when i email them, they do not even reply.

  2. What I found disappointing is that he has not yet decided to tell us exactly what he was up to between 1979 and 1984.

    Possibly we’ll find out in a Hollywood movie after he wins his Nobel prize

  3. What’s the reference for that ‘triffic Bertrand Russell? (Want to quote it at people myself, albeit in a somewhat different context).

  4. a bit off topic but relating to Patrick Holford’s statements about milk: is there any data on e.g. cancer rates in pastoral/nomad populations for whom milk is a staple for adults and children? I’m thinking of groups like the Masai. Obviously there are many lifestyle, environmental and dietary factors to consider when looking at such populations but it would be interesting to know if they suffer any health problems directly related to their high milk consumption.

  5. You seem very ignorant, always blaming people as quack. do you know what? the real quack is you, the big phama is responsible for killing millions of people and you don’t point your finger at them but you seem to be good at pointing your dirty finger on people who cures. this is just pure jealously nothing more. Perhaps you are on the big pharma payroll. I spoke to a MD yesterday and she said she has not taken any pharma drugs since she was 15 because of the junk they contain, Now she is a quack too right? anyone who burns, poison and cut people are the saviour, and anyone who cures is a quack, you should be ashamed of yourself. if you have cancer or any members of your family has cancer, would you really give them chemo?

    • You are right Lawin. I have been cured of so many things using nutrients and eating an organic raw food diet and nutrient dense diet. I have gotten off pharmaceuticals and cured so many illnesses that specialist doctors could not cure.

      • Elizabeth, you are so right . If I had trusted what a rheumatologist told me 18 years ago , I would be in a wheelchair now . …. But at 66 , I run a busy Health food shop. None of this would have been possible without quite extreme dietary changes and supplements . I have personally changed hundreds of people’s lives,and always recommend that my customers read Patrick Holfords ‘100 per cent Health ‘ . Amazing amount of information, and he is simply saying what Alfred Vogel was saying 40 years ago . ‘Take responsibility for your own health’ .

      • Angie, How do you know you would have been in a wheelchair? You never know – you might have been running marathons had you follwed his/her advice, as opposed to working in a health food shop. And how do you know the ‘extreme’ dietry changes and supplements were the cause of our improving health? Maybe it was just changes to diet (assuming you’re talking about things like cutting down on sugar).

        Maybe you have a vested interest in ‘believing’ supplements are beneficial as you earn your living selling them. As far as I am aware, the actual evidence is that, for most people, supplements are a complete waste of time. Some evidence suggests they may even be detrimental.

      • Have you ever wondered why you had so many illnesses in the first place?

        Is it possible your crank diet may have contributed to this litany of woe.

        Why not entertain us with a list of the illnesses doctors were apparently unable to cure and which nutrient dense grub cured them.

  6. I looked into doing the diploma course at ION college in Richmond, London and was very disappointed to find that when giving client consultations, all the products recommended are from Patrick Holford’s or other college directors companies. The nutritional consult also makes a small percentage of each sale of the products, thereby making sure that everyone in the chain benefits and promotes each product or service. For example, hair or stool analysis was encouraged and sent away to a company owned by the very director/lecturer of the ION college, who was the main speaker at the open day. This was promoted as knowing results could be trusted etc.

    I already had a 2:1 BA (hons) degree, so was able to access what was on offer from having previously been to many uni open days and successfully completed a degree at a recognised uni. I attended the ION college open day, where the nutritional “guru” Patrick Holford gives a 5-10 minute presentation near to the end of the open day, in a last bid to encourage us to sign up for the course, on the day. But instead of me being sucked in, as many of the house wife’s were (at least 75% were mums looking for a way to develop a career around their childcare and seemed to be in awe of speakers/lecturers/Patrick Holford), I went away disgusted with the way the nutritional consultation industry was run and wanted no part in it. I already had a career and a professional wage, so was not looking to make a fast buck off the backs of poor or ill people. Regardless of a client been unemployed and having no obvious way to pay £50+ a month on supplements, out popped the usual line “no price is too high, for health”.

    I had in the bank the £18k for the 3 year part time course, price at 2006/7, so money to fund the course was not an issue for me. But just so they didn’t put off the mums without funds, they had payment plans all set up for students to pay monthly, whilst promoting how much they could earn once qualified. I felt sorry for many of the students who signed up for the course, because most would not be able to make a decent living as a independent consultant. As one mum said to me, it’s seems a better and more respected option than Party Plan! However once qualified it’s likely than many consultants may have to turn to the nutritional Party Plan schemes, because unless they work for ION, only a handful will be able to make a living wage.

  7. I must say am rather disappointed by this website. Each to his own, but frankly I don’t give a stuff what the man did between 1979 and 1984. I dont give a monkey’s behind whether he is a Dr. or Prof. or a ordinary Joe from the backstreets if India. He is helping people to pull finger and help themselves. Does he really annoy you so much that you had to create a website to slag him off? I always assumed that if you don’t like what someone says, that you could ignore them….. Really guys, give the man some credit.

  8. You are right about alternative medicine. I have had rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer and two heart attacks and am now 81. If it weren’t for “alternative” remedies I would be dead. An example is:- instead of taking statins for high cholesterol, you can take plant sterols (a natural remedy) with no side effects.

  9. All that aside.. his advice and supplements are the only thing in years that has worked for my friend with bad ME…! And she has tried all “conventional” routes..

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