Patrick Holford’s latest blog post advises readers that:
If you are suffering as a result of recession, and under the immense stress of real or pending debt; if you are confused about how countries can pump billions of currency into the banking system, or go bust; if you have effectively become enslaved, working harder and harder, to cover your own costs; then you might be interested in knowing how money is made – why all money is debt – how the ultimate control over people, the modern day equivalent of salvery, is achieved through money. If so, I would strongly recommend you see the film Zeitgeist Addendum.
For an holistic understanding of health and illness (I refuse to write about ‘wellness’) it certainly is important to understand the complexities of human societies. Recession – and its consequences, such as rising unemployment and financial uncertainty – can have significant health impacts. This is a serious topic, and it is therefore unfortunate that Holford’s expertise here is on a par with his knowledge of the field of nutrition: Zeitgeist Addendum is an unfortunate choice of video to recommend. Wikipedia on Zeitgeist Movie and Addendum gives a flavour of the horrors of the Addendum. The Irish Times was one of the few papers to review the Movie: Zeitgeist: the nonsense.
These are surreal perversions of genuine issues and debates, and they tarnish all criticism of faith, the Bush administration and globalisation – there are more than enough factual injustices in this world to be going around without having to invent fictional ones.
One really wishes Zeitgeist was a masterful pastiche of 21st-century paranoia, a hilarious mockumentary to rival Spinal Tap. But it’s just deluded, disingenuous and manipulative nonsense.
Sadly, practice does not make perfect and Zeitgeist Addendum is not an improvement.
Rather than offering an holistic account of the effects of recession on public health, Holford simply recommends a conspiracy theory video. Of course, a single credulous reference to a largely worthless source does not make a Holford text: Holford shows how much he cares by bringing his own special touch, over-extrapolating from this film to fit his own special agenda:
Think about health for a minute. We’ve had over 50 years of modern medicine. We spend over $600 billion a year on prescription drugs. Are we healthier? It is clear the whole world is suffering from an ever-increasing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and associated conditions from breast cancer to Alzheimer’s. Is this the sign of a more or less healthy population?
One could offer the glib answer ‘more healthy’ for more people. Many of the diseases mentioned are a result of ageing: as people get older, certain illnesses become more likely. To misquote Woody Allen: getting old is the worst thing in the world, until you consider the alternative. On a more sophisticated level, one might follow Fogel to argue that there have been significant improvements in human health in our recent history. Interestingly, some of the other diseases are those associated with prosperity, something that is relatively new in many countries and something to which it seems that we need to adapt.
As for the “whole world”, some of those countries are still waiting for a decent system of primary health care. The most substantial health problem for the “whole world” is probably malaria.
Let us never forget that that 50 years which Holford affects to disdain encompasses eliminating smallpox as a public health scourge in a truly collaborative world-wide effort (pdf). The vaccination programme means that more children are growing up without preventable disabilities that were too frequently the consequences of those illnesses, such as blindness, deafness, or a susceptibility to respiratory illnesses.
However, without considering such details, Holford continues:
Then what? The sicker you get the more drugs you need. The more drugs you take the sicker you get. Now you’re enslaved, and in debt, to the healthcare system, either paying for it yourself or paying for it through taxes.
We should remember that many of these sicknesses come as people get older. Again, getting old and depending on well-managed therapeutic intererventions is – very often – better than the alternative as long as there is quality of life.
Of course, we are very much in favour of evidence-based medicine – often, a very effective weapon against the pill-pushing and disease-mongering of big pharma. Drugs often bring problematic side-effects, and where effective non-drug treatments are available then that is to be welcomed. Patients should be empowered to work with their healthcare practitioners in order to assess the evidence and choose the best course/s of treatment. Sadly, this is not what Holford recommends in his blog post:
The sole purpose of my books, and the 100% Health Club is to inform you so you stay healthy in the first place, and to empower you to be a master of your health so you don’t need drugs.
Holford asks that readers subscribe to his 100% Health Club (and we are familiar with the standard of advice), buy his books that contain distortions of research literature, and so forth. He recommends, ironically, considering a number of drugs – from secretin to kava kava – although we are not convinced that Holford has adequately assessed the evidence of their efficacy and safety for their intended uses. Holford also recommends taking a wide range of vitamins, minerals and fats in pill form and in what are often unevidenced doses: far more than one could get from food. Holford often claims drug-like therapeutic effects for these pills.
Sadly, then, instead of addressing the complex links between recession, health and illness Holford uses a crude conspiracy film to launch into an attack on medicine. As an alternative to medicine, he recommends his own approach: a combination of drugs and nutrients which very often either lack evidence of working for the suggested purpose, or have been shown not to work. Instead of working to free people from enslavement to pills and to particular reductionist concepts of healthcare, Holford advises that they turn to different pills (often, with pictures of his face on the bottles). NHS treatment is free, or nearly free, at the point of need in Britain; the pills Holford recommends tend to be expensive.
I suppose that keeping the pill sales strong may help Holford (and the pharmaceutical company that is the largest shareholder in Neutrahealth, who own the Biocare company that sellers Holford’s pills) avoid the worst consequences of recession. This is a million miles away from the holistic approach merited by the current interesting times, but an interesting use of paranoia as a marketing tool.