I’ve previously criticised a Times article, which quoted Holford as an authority on nutrition mental health, and included some distinctly fishy claims. I’ve now had a positive, helpful response from the writer of the article. I’ve reproduced this correspondence below (edited slightly to remove personal details etc).
Schopen, Fay wrote:
> Hello Jon,
> Thanks for this – I rather agree with you. I had a very long
> conversation with Holford, & those were the only comments I felt able to
> use. I am inclined to treat his claims sceptically. He made other
> claims that I could not substantiate at all – ie that omega supplements
> worked better than anti-depressants. I think his info should be treated
> with caution, yes.
> – But the fact that the article says:
> “he says that six studies have suggested that omega-3 supplements are
> effective in reducing depression, details of which can be found on his
> Food for the Brain website.” means I am saying that Holford claims
> that, not that I or the Times also believes that to be true. He’s
> entitled to his point of view, after all. He sent me details of 9
> studies, 6 of which he says show positive results, & he explained to me
> what he thought they meant. But yes, I did not re-check them thoroughly
> , as you pointed out in your blog, and yes, I can see why you think
> Holford is a misleading person to quote.
> A little more investigation on my part & I probably would have
> re-written the paragraph to make clear that the evidence from these
> studies is woolly at best. Personally, I believe the jury is definitely
> still out.
> – When he says “It’s hard to do a randomised mackerel trial” he means
> that yes, as you said, but you can do randomised placebo controlled
> trials of omega supplements.
> Could you try posting your comment again? I’d like it to appear with the
> article – if you have problems ie if it doesn’t show up again after 24
> hours, please do get back to me & I’ll look into it.
> I’m actually off to New York at the end of the month to do am Masters in
> scientific journalism, so perhaps I’ll do better next time…
> all the best – & I look forward to receiving my kippers.
> Fay Schopen
> The Times
> Public Agenda/Career
> —–Original Message—–
> From: JonHW
> Sent: 10 August 2007 12:54
> To: Schopen, Fay
> Subject: Re: Food for Thought article
> Thanks for getting back to me, Fay. I did try to leave a comment at the
> bottom of the article (two days ago) but it hasn’t appeared. This is
> what I tried to post:
> Lots of good advice in the article, but Patrick Holford’s contribution
> rather lets the article down. In particular:
> – Mr Holford “says that six studies have suggested that omega-3
> supplements are effective in reducing depression, details of which can
> be found on his Food for the Brain [FFTB] website.” However, this is
> incorrect. Searching the FFTB website’s ‘evidence’ database for ‘omega
> and nutrition’ finds twenty studies. However, having looked through all
> of these, I found that only two of these studies focus on omega 3 fats
> and nutrition (one of which is studying bipolar depression). The
> evidence re. omega 3 and depression is actually rather mixed, and it is
> unfortunate that it is misrepresented in this Times article.
> – Mr Holford claims that “It’s hard to do a randomised mackerel trial”.
> However, using fish oil pills (which Mr Holford recommends, and has had
> a financial interest in selling) does allow one to carry out randomised,
> double-blind placebo controlled trials.
> Not sure why my comment hasn’t appeared – it’s not profane, libellous
> etc. At any rate – while I can see why the Times would want to cover the
> debate around nutritional issues – I don’t think that quoting inaccurate
> statements unchallenged us unhelpful. This is especially the case when –
> as with Holford and FFTB’s advocacy of omega 3, and a range of more
> dubious ‘treatments’, for depression – they are misrepresenting the
> available evidence re. treatments that, by their very nature, are
> targeted at vulnerable people. Bear in mind that Holford has had
> competing financial interests in selling a range of supplements,
> including omega 3.
It’s particularly interesting to hear that Holford made a number of less substantiated claims to the Times: Fay filtered most of these out, and the slightly dodgy Holford claims that the Times did reproduce were actually his most convincing points. Still not very convincing points, though.
Anyway, I’m pleased to confirm that a nice shipment of kippers is currently on its way the the Times’ offices. I think it has been delayed in the postal strike – so it may have an interesting smell by the time it gets there – but I’m sure it’s the thought that counts.