Category Archives: intolerance

Patrick Holford, YorkTest and a Migraine Study

Former Visiting Professor Patrick Holford but still Head of Science and Education at Biocare has an enthusiasm for interventions that we wish we might share but, too frequently, when we examine the studies on which he relies, the results do not support his claims or the scope of his optimism.

In a recent newsletter, Patrick Holford was rather excited about a recent study: Randomised controlled trial of food elimination diet based on IgG antibodies for the prevention of migraine like headaches. For reasons that may become clear, he neglected to mention the full title of the paper.

Last month a study published in the Nutrition Journal showed that 85% of people affected by debilitating migraines had their symptoms reduced, and quality of life improved, when their food triggers were discovered and avoided. Having a hidden food allergy is one of five common causes of migraines.

This recent study tested migraine sufferers for food allergy using YorkTest’s FoodScan test. Eighty four of the volunteers were put on their food allergy free diet, while 83 were given a sham ‘allergy’ diet based on fake test results. At the end of four weeks those on the real allergy free diets had had 23% less migraines than those on the sham diet.

You might be a little surprised that Holford was quite so excited by this result after 4 weeks of assessment that the newsletter was subject-lined, “Relieve your migraine without painkillers” and headlined, “What’s causing migraines?”. Holfordwatch consulted the original study and can not agree that Holford provides a useful interpretation of its outcome.[1] According to the reported results, it seems as if even the study’s authors might quibble with Holford’s optimism:

The results indicated a small decrease in the number of migraine like headaches over 12 weeks, although this difference was not statistically significant (IRR 1.15 95% CI 0.94 to 1.41, p = 0.18). At the 4 week assessment, use of the ELISA test with subsequent diet elimination advice significantly reduced the number of migraine like headaches (IRR 1.23 95%CI 1.01 to 1.50, p = 0.04). The disability and impact on daily life of migraines were not significantly different between the true and sham diet groups. [Emphasis added.]

There are many other problems with this paper (eg, the participants are effectively self-selected from a group that is pre-disposed to believe that food intolerance influences migraine; there is no clinical verification of the migraine-like headaches description; respected experts in allergy and immunology caution against the notion that Yorktest’s IgG Food Intolerance test is diagnostic of food intolerance or clinically relevant; the number of study drop-outs compromises the power of the study effect). The study lacks scientific rigour to the extent that the only surprise is that a journal reviewer changed his opinion between 1st and 2nd review:

This paper has strong deficiencies in respect to the study design, recruitment, compliance, and no medical control and assessment of the subjects, not meeting the criteria for a scientific paper. Due to the huge amount of uncertainties, also acknowledged by the authors, this paper has no new information to offer and is of limited interest.
Level of interest: Reject as not of sufficient priority to merit publishing in this journal. [1st review]

Such flaws in the design and other areas can not be corrected merely by re-writing yet the reviewer accepts the revisions (eg, the revised title now refers to “migraine-like headaches” rather than “migraine”) and changes the review comment to:

Level of interest: An article whose findings are important to those with closely related research interests. [2nd review]

Recall that the research finding is not, as Holford leads, “[You can relieve] your migraine without painkillers” but that the study revealed that at 12 weeks (the study’s stated primary outcome): “this difference was not statistically significant“. Holford’s account is partial and inaccurate. This is lamentable when one considers that he claims to be a valuable intermediary between the public and the practical reporting of health research. It is unsettling when one considers that there is considerable apprehension that some patients and healthcare providers might be persuaded by such claims to lobby for such ineffective tests and diets to be funded by the NHS despite their lack of clinical relevance or efficacy.


[1] Holfordwatch notes that Yorktest provided a similarly partial account of the study findings in their September 2011 news items and that the media that ran the Yorktest release on this study did not investigate the findings but reproduced this and other unduly favourable interpretations (the rollcall of shame includes: Metro, Red Online, Top Sante, Women’s Fitness, Women’s Weekly, OK Magazine, Woman’s Weekly, Female First.

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Filed under food intolerance, IgG tests, intolerance, patrick holford, yorktest

Holford gives poor advice about dietary restrictions for children. Again

Last year, Food for the Brain modified some advice on dietary exclusions for children – when we pointed out that such changes should be implemented under medical and/or dietetic supervision. We were therefore disappointed to see iAfrica reporting Holford’s advice that “in order to maximise your children’s potential” you should:

Take your child off foods with additives or added sugar [and] Eliminate allergens from the diet…If you suspect your child is intolerant to a particular food, eliminate it from their diet and monitor the difference/reaction. If after two weeks if you see no difference in the behaviour or symptoms, reintroduce it and see if there’s a reaction. The most common foods that cause problems are wheat, gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and to a lesser extent oats), diary foods and eggs.

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Filed under allergies, elimination diets, Food for the brain, Food for the brain foundation, intolerance, patrick holford

Dr John Briffa on testing for food sensitivity: applied kinesiology, dowsing and IgG tests

JDC reports that he “always thought that Dr John Briffa was like a more grown-up version of Patrick Holford” – and until recently I had rather agreed with him. However, Briffa has now taken up some worrying positions on vaccines and autism. Along with Dr Crippen, “I am worried about Dr John Briffa.” Continue reading


Filed under allergy, IgG tests, intolerance, patrick holford

Food for the Brain: Child Survey: Review Part 2

Professor Patrick Holford of Teesside University (and also Head of Science and Education at Biocare) and Drew Fobbester are joint researchers and authors of the Food for the Brain Child Survey, September 2007 (pdf). This is the second of three Holford Watch posts in which we explain why the literature overview in the FFTB Child Survey is inadequate: some of the claims made in the review are not supported by relevant references or studies of sufficient quality. Part 1 discussed the claims relating to supplements and children’s diet. Part 2 examines the claims made for the benefit of a balanced glycaemic load diet for children.
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Filed under children, Food for the brain, Food for the brain foundation, food intolerance, food sensitivity, gluten intolerance, glycaemic load, glycemic load, Holford, intelligence, intolerance, nutrition, patrick holford, referenciness, truthiness

Patrick Holford, IgG Food Intolerance Self-Testing and the House of Lords

Professor Patrick Holford of Teesside University and Head of Science and Education at Biocare is a staunch advocate of direct to consumer IgG food intolerance tests and is impressed by the “sound science” that underlies these tests. Holford is convinced that:

The evidence for IgG antibody reactions as a basis for food intolerances continues to grow, including well designed randomised controlled trials, however, some health professionals just haven’t kept up to date. Perhaps it’s because a ‘home test’ takes the power away from the professional and puts it in your hands.

However, Holford is also swayed by the scientific research for a neck pendant that protects wearers from the evil eye of electromagnetic radiation so one might be tempted to generalise from that as to the scientific credibility of some of his endorsements. Continue reading


Filed under Electromagnetic Radiation, EMR, food intolerance, Holford, home test, IgG tests, intolerance, patrick holford

Update on Food for the Brain’s Evidence for Allergy and Intolerance Testing in Children

On May 1 I wrote up my attempt to discover Food for the Brain‘s evidence for allergy and intolerance testing in children. Today, May 10, I noticed that Food for the Brain (FFTB) has removed the evidence and search facility that I criticised and withdrawn access to the summaries of the papers that they cited in support of some of their claims and recommendations (as addressed in my original piece).

My original search for FFTB’s evidence behind their recommendations for allergy and intolerance testing was an unsatisfactory experience and I expressed myself at some length on the matter.

I have no idea what the search engine algorithm on that site was doing but I doubt that I could have had less relevant or helpful ‘answers’ if I had been sticking my hand in some truthiness and referenciness tombola and pulling out solutions.

I have several concerns about the quality of FFTB’s evidence for some of their recommendations.

Following FFTB’s recommendations for allergies and intolerances may have substantial financial and social implications for a family and the way in which they accommodate the needs of family members. It would probably be very helpful for parents who are interested in exploring some of FFTB’s recommendations for their children if FFTB explained some of their recommendations more fully and provided references to the scientific literature that directly support those recommendations.

Today, May 10, I learned that FFTB has withdrawn the evidence and search facility. The page now carries the forlorn notice:

Please accept our apologies but this part of the site is under re-construction at present. We hope to have the research and search database facility back on-line in July this year.

Thank you for your patience and your continued support.

Further than that, FFTB has also withdrawn the summaries of the papers that they provided to support their claims and recommendations.

FFTB offers a range of special reports (authors not identified):

From in-depth articles on autism to the latest clinical approach to schizophrenia, here you will find detailed information on the link between nutrition and mental health.

Unfortunately, you can’t see the reports unless you pay to subscribe to FFTB. Based on what I’ve seen of the relevance, research and writing quality of the FFTB site, I’m reluctant to part with the money to see the reports although I would gladly accept some review copies on relevant topics. E.g., I would very much like to see: Autism and a gluten-free, casein free diet – is this an appropriate dietary intervention and what is the rationale behind this approach; Oxidative Stress in Autism; Final Report on Food for the Brain’s School Project at Cricket Green.

Although I do not know why FFTB has chosen to reconstruct the evidence and search section, nor why they have withdrawn access to their summaries of the research papers, I am pleased that they are revising these sections. I hope that their future evidence will be fully referenced and more relevant to the parents who are consulting it.


Filed under allergies, allergy, Food for the brain foundation, intolerance, patrick holford

Food For The Brain modify their website, in response to Holford Watch criticisms

I’ve previously argued that some of the advice on Food For The Brain’s website was potentially dangerous. The website previously advised that autistic children “remove…likely culprit foods such as wheat and dairy from the diet [and] avoid additives and preservatives.” However, the website did not advise parents to seek medical supervision when excluding large numbers of foods from their childrens’ diets; it also didn’t mention the need to find appropriate replacements for the foods which are excluded.

Happily, Food for the Brain have taken my advice on board. This section of their revised ‘action plan’ for autism now reads “consider pursuing a wheat and dairy free diet which has proven helpful for some, but not all, autistic children. However we recommend you do so under medical supervision, or supervision of a dietician or nutritional therapist to ensure that suitable replacement foods are included that ensure your child achieves optimal nutrition.”

While I haven’t had time to read this page in detail this is clearly a significant improvement. It’s great to see that Food For The Brain is taking Holford Watch’s advice on board!


Filed under allergies, autism, dairy, Food for the brain foundation, gluten intolerance, Holford Watch successes, intolerance, wheat