I have been disappointed with some of the content of the BBC’s Grow Your Own Drugs: in particular, its discussion of the use of turmeric and willow bark. I have therefore submitted two complaints to the BBC, and will explain my concerns in this post.
The programme suggests a daily dose of turmeric tea for arthritis treatment: arguing the curcumin in this may be beneficial. Sadly, though, this treatment is simply implausible: curcumin’s bioavailability is poor and (even if black pepper can improve bioavailability) it seems impossible that a daily cuppa would give enough of a dose to do anything particularly useful. I pointed this out to the BBC, and they responded to me:
While we appreciate your concerns, it’s always been the case that James Wong doesn’t believe that natural remedies are a replacement for conventional medicine, and he reminds viewers of this during the series. The programme’s website also explains this
While I am delighted that the BBC make clear that implausible treatments shouldn’t be used to replace actual medicine, it is nonetheless unhelpful for them to suggest implausible treatments in the first place. I have therefore asked them to consider my complaint again. Continue reading
I was disappointed to some new, rather bad nutrition content on the UK Government’s Science: So What? So Everything website: there is some unfortunate discussion of turmeric, ginger and cancer. Continue reading
There have been lots of exciting news stories about turmeric over the last few years: from claims that it might slow Alzheimer’s Disease, to reducing the incidence of leukaemia, or being a potent weapon against several cancers and cystic fibrosis. There are the usual claims that it has general anti-inflammatory effects and modulates the immune system although the mechanisms are presently unclear. There is a good overview about curcumin and some of its principal researchers in a recent Scientific American: Spice Healer. Continue reading
I’ve previously written about Holford’s failure to declare his competing interests when submitting a BMJ rapid response. I’m pleased to say that the BMJ have now posted a rapid response from me (as well as an excellent post from the dietician Catherine Collins). Cool – Holford Watch, as featured in the BMJ! OK, as featured in a rapid response on the BMJ website…
Anyway, I’ll reproduce my rapid response below:
Patrick Holford argues that he did not need to declare any competing interests in his first rapid response to this article because he does not “run an Indian restaurant [and therefore] didn’t feel there were any conflicts involved in recommending curry”. However, Holford does acknowledge that he owns shares in Health Products for Life (a company which sells Curcumin, extracted from tumeric).
In his first rapid response, Holford states that “1834 studies are cited in PubMed on turmeric or curcumin, thought to be the active ingredient in this spice, many of which demonstrate clear anti- inflammatory and immune enhancing properties, 648 of which relate specifically, and consistently, to it’s anti-cancer properties”. I would therefore argue that shares in a company that sells curcumin supplements are a competing interest – and should have been declared as such from the start.
I’ve previously blogged about Holford’s rapid response on the BMJ website failing to declare his ‘competing interests’. David Colquhoun responds to Holford, arguing that Holford “[b]eing the sole shareholder in Health Products for Life might be thought of by the sceptical as constituting a rather large financial interest in promotion of nutritional supplements”.
Rather than apologising, though, Holford has submitted a second rapid response which argues that “I was pointing out that the scientific data for turmeric – found in curry – having a beneficial effect was substantial…Since I don’t run an Indian restaurant I didn’t feel there were any conflicts involved in recommending curry.”
Sounds fair enough. Well, it would be, except Holford’s HealthProductsForLife sells curcumin (turmeric extract) supplements. Holford’s initial rapid response stated that “1834 studies are cited in PubMed on turmeric or curcumin, thought to be the active ingredient in this spice, many of which demonstrate clear anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing properties, 648 of which relate specifically, and consistently, to it’s anti-cancer properties.” HealthProductsForLife therefore sells the product which Holford claims has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing and anti-cancer properties’. Sounds like a competing interest to me.
One more thing to note – Holford also attacks Prof Colquhoun, arguing that Colquhoun “has so far not felt it relevant to mention his own competing interests and financial involvements with the pharmaceutical industry”. Now, this might lead one to believe that Colquhoun is hiding his interests in the evil pharmaceutical industry – in order to have a go at a poor nutritionist. However, Colquhoun didn’t declare any competing interests because, um, he doesn’t have any (unlike Holford). Colquhoun’s “research has never been funded by the drug industry, but always by the Medical Research Council or by the Wellcome Trust“. Oops.