Holford on Kim Hill’s Radio New Zealand show

We were concerned to hear Patrick Holford featuring in a truly disappointing interview on Kim Hill’s Saturday morning radio show: he was given over 50 minutes, almost unchallenged, to assert a whole manner of dubious claims. Patrick Holford – introduced as a “British nutritionist” – was allowed to share his wisdom on such things as addiction, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer. I can’t deal with this all here – you really need to listen to the show in its entirety to fully appreciate how often it hits you round the head with the stupid stick – but I will note a few low/highlights. I should also say that we did e-mail the show before broadcast to raise some concerns; however, they chose to give Holford the opportunity to share his wisdom with their listeners, almost unchallenged.

Holford starts with a discussion of his beliefs on addiction. Suffice to say that this draws on much of the same material that was published in the Economist, and later led this august publication to issue a clarification. Holford’s interpretation of the research remains as poor as expected. I wonder if Radio New Zealand will also live up to its responsibility to correct this misinformation.

Holford asserts that he was misquoted when he was criticised for overplaying the efficacy of vitamin C for treating HIV/AIDS (about 20mins in). He then goes on to report on studies where vitamin C “inactivated the [HIV] virus very substantially” and “vitamin C was leagues ahead [of AZT] in terms of its effects”. We know that these studies – the “trials on t cells” Holford talks about – were only in vitro studies. I am not sure that Kim Hill’s listeners would have picked that up, though.

Holford’s stance on his claim that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C” appears to be very much je ne regrette rien. Oddly, Holford also demands “large-scale proper human trials” on this issue (he is, charmingly, clear that someone else should pay for this). I am not sure if Holford is aware that there have been (smaller) human trials on vitamin C: for example, Allard et al (which used it alongside vitamin D) which failed to show statistically significant benefits. There may still be reason for further research – it is possible that there is some benefit, and Allard et al did note a non-significant trend – but such trials make it hard to believe that vitamin C is any kind of miracle cure for AIDS.

Shortly after this discussion (about 23mins in) Holford discusses the use of vitamin C in treating terminal cancer patients: arguing that, when Pauling treated terminal patients with vitamin C, 20% did not die. Pauling’s research on this was seriously flawed and has been heavily criticised but, as Holford notes, there has been more recent research (I assume he means Levine et al) which does suggest that vitamin C may have some utility in treating cancer*. However, Holford very much overplays the benefits of vitamin C – readers may note a theme here – and focuses excessively on Pauling’s old and flawed research. One should also note (Holford and Hill do not mention this in the interview) that vitamin C can act as a pro-oxidant and supplements may interfere with therapeutic interventions*.

Orac offers an excellent summary of Pauling and Levine’s research:

vitamin C probably has some antitumor activity for some tumors, but as I contemplate the evidence for this effect the word “underwhelming” comes to mind…the attraction to vitamin C still lives on despite unimpressive evidence. Naturally, the authors of the phase I trial suggest using vitamin C in combination with chemotherapy, which is a perfectly reasonable approach for drugs that don’t show any objective evidence of activity as a single agent. However, this will not be easy, given that the sheer mass and volume of ascorbate that must be administered and the very high concentrations that are required even in the best case scenario could easily interfere with other chemotherapeutic agents.

Vitamin C may be useful as part of a chemotherapy programme*, but unfortunately the evidence does not suggest that it will work on its own to cure cancer.

Holford also argues that nutrition allows the prevention and/or amelioration of Alzheimer’s. Plugging his book on Alzheimer’s, Holford notes that he “worked with a very good group at Oxford University”. He then talks about the role of Homocysteine, and about high doses of vitamin B12 preventing Alzheimer’s. Holford then talks about the

fundamental discovery of the great Linus Pauling: that…naturally-occurring substances (nutrients) in very large amounts do have the ability to reverse disease processes.

Please bear in mind that this is a 53 minute interview. I have referred to under 10 minutes of it here, and the rest of the audio really is that bad (although, at least, Kim cuts Holford off when he starts going into rather too much detail about loose bowels). You really do need to listen to the whole thing: this is truly a stunning artefact of the ‘alternative’ nutrition industry.

* This issue is complex. Don’t take medical advice from the Internet – speak to your oncologist if you are considering this.



Filed under addiction, Alzheimer's, patrick holford

10 responses to “Holford on Kim Hill’s Radio New Zealand show

  1. For vitamin C – findings indicate that an anti oxidant can be pro-oxidant and it is unwise to take supplements without consulting oncologist as they can interfere with therapeutic interventions. Some nice nuances here in an NYT discussion.

    Dr Dave Gorski has also commented on some of the more recent research concerning vitamin C and cancer.

  2. Goodness, the man is dim. Or deluded. Or just high on his own “genius”.

    I had always thought that part of Cher Patrique’s achievement was his savvy-ness at not signing up to the complete loony fringes of nutritionism – or at least not making it too obvious. But his sticking to this tired line on Vitamin C for cancer, HIV etc. etc. suggests to me that he has lost the plot – perhaps it is all that “Feelin’ the love” from audiences of adoring acolytes, or of the Worried Well when he takes the show on the road.

    Anyway, you would have thought that, after the Matthias Rath South African vitamins-for-HIV scam, he might have ratcheted down the pitch for vitamins as a cure-all a notch or two. But clearly not.

    And all the more reason, of course, for radio and TV shows not to be giving the man a free ride to promote his codswallop.

  3. PS Was Patrick there in person, or down a phone line? If the former, is he touring the Antipodes? I am having nasty hallucinations of a smirking PH doing a kind of Nutritionista global tour travelogue, somewhat along the lines of Billy Connolly’s various efforts. Though without the jokes.

  4. How very helpful for Patrick Holford to have had all that free publicity from The Economist and now NZ radio.

    The Brain Bio Centre is the outpatient treatment clinic for the Food for the Brain charity. The clinic specialises in the ‘optimum nutrition’ approach to mental health problems and has recently launched an addictions recovery service. Those with former addictions often suffer from abstinence symptoms including: cravings, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, poor memory, mood swings, depression, difficulty concentrating or focusing, stress and hypersensitivity to sound or noise. A comprehensive assessment of biochemical imbalances that can contribute to abstinence symptoms for those in recovery is available, plus advice to correct these imbalances as a means to restore health.
    The Brain Bio Centre team, which includes nutritional therapists and consultant psychiatrists, work with any person who is in recovery from alcohol, heroin, amphetamines, cannabis and benzodiazepines. Nutritional assistance is also available to those quitting smoking, caffeine and sugar.

  5. I’d guess from the way it sounded that Holford was there in person – but it is just a guess.

  6. nodrande

    I have just listened to the show but could not get to the end due annoyance. Holford is simplifying a subject so much to sell his supps it is unbelievable.

  7. Oh dear. I have also just tried to listen to the show. I gave up because of the bile rising.

  8. In starting up this jolly new Optimum Nutrition venture Patrick is, of course, following the pattern laid down many years ago by his supposed mentor Carl Pfeiffer, who founded the “Princeton Brain Bio Centre” (nothing to do with Princeton University) in the early 70s as a “nutritional and holistic private mental health clinic”.

    Pfeiffer died in 1988, and the clinic reportedly shut down in the early 90s, but something akin to it is back in operation, now called “Earth House”. To quote from their website:

    “Earth House is a model residential treatment center for young adults suffering from major mental disorders such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder…

    …Many [residents] have a history of suicide attempts, and a history of substance abuse is common.

    I suppose we should be grateful Patrick has not set up his own residential holistic treatment centre.

    • Wulfstan

      Maybe the next announcement will be that some addle-pated person of influence in an NHS Trust has consented to allow this method to be used in a detox facility.

      Isn’t there a post or comment that reveals that getting contracts for this and other mental health interventions from the NHS is in the business plan for Food for the Brain?

      • Post:
        Start extract—
        How 2 QUIT not only offers advice for individuals but also has a section that touts for more business: CALLING ALL TREATMENT CENTRES. They make a request of people who are not interested in an evidence base (OK, we inserted that last part but it is implicit):

        If you work in an addiction treatment centre and would like to find out how to bring the latest nutritional approaches into your treatment centre send your details to us.

        Because that is just what the NHS and private addiction centres need, more wibble and less analysis/implementation of what does work for people with addictions.
        —End extract

        And yes – the business plan for the FFTB is very revealing in those terms.

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