Holford Myths

Myth: Holford recommends supplement pills without any competing interests

Up until 2007, Professor Patrick Holford of Teesside University sold supplement pills through Health Products for Life; in 2007, he sold this company to NeutraHealth (Biocare’s parent company) in a £464,000 deal. Holford now works for Biocare – a supplement pill company – as ‘Head of Science and Education’. He is also the Chief Executive of Food for the Brain – a charity which lists a number of supplement pill companies among its funders.

Myth: Holford is a highly qualified nutritionist

Holford has no accredited degree-level or postgraduate-level qualifications in nutrition; he has never taken any exams or been subjected to a critical appraisal of his knowledge of the sort one might expect with qualifications. Holford’s sole university degree is a BSc in Psychology from York (he earned a 2.2). Holford started an MPhil at Surrey University, but failed to complete this.

Holford’s only ‘qualification’ in nutrition is an honorary one: he was awarded an honorary DipION from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, while he was Director. Holford can legally call himself a nutritionist in Britain – ‘Nutritionist’ is not a protected title here, and anyone is free to use it. Despite Holford’s own lack of such qualifications, it is clear in this conversation with Dr Emer Keeling that Holford believes nutritionists should have 3-4 years of scientific training to be qualified as nutritionists and seems to be inappropriately reticent about his own status. For more information see: Myth: Holford Is A Qualified Nutritionist

Although the University of Teesside appointed Holford as a Visiting Professor at the School of Social Sciences and Law in the summer of 2007, in June 2008, Holford resigned this position.

Myth: Patrick Holford only recommends evidence-based supplements

Patrick Holford appears on GMTV with bottles of his own formulations. Holford advises the use of his formulation Cinnachrome for “natural blood sugar management” and for diabetes. He claims that there is clear clinical evidence for his recommendations. For more information: Myth: The Scientific Support for Chromium and Cinnamon.

Myth: Patrick Holford only recommends sensible, evidence-based nutritional interventions

Holford has actually recommended a range of healthcare modalities that do not just lack any good evidence of efficacy, but – given our current understand of the laws of physics – lack any feasible mechanism of action. For example, he has promoted health dowsing and applied kinesiology; he has written positively about homoeopathic alternatives to vaccination and has promoted and sold the QLink pendant. See Implausible Healthcare Modalities for more details.

Myth: Patrick Holford advocates evidence-based nutritional approaches to HIV/AIDS treatment

Holford’s New Optimum Nutrition Bible states that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C.” However, he made this claim based on (incorrectly referenced) in vitro research, and it is not supported by in vivo human trials. Holford has argued at length about how to interpret this claim, but the quote is accurate and has not been retracted. While Holford has argued that the claim ‘AZT is proving less effective than Vitamin C’ is different from a claim that ‘Vitamin C is proving more effective than AZT’, most would view these claims as equivalent; anyway, this claim is so important that it should not require semantic contortions or discussions about syntax.

Myth: Holford recommends direct-to-consumer health tests because they empower people

Professor Patrick Holford argues that home-tests for health conditions empower individuals and this may account for their unpopularity with some health professionals:

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.

This is a remarkable slur against “some health professionals”, particularly when there are well-formed objections based on expert opinion that some of these tests are irrelevant or dubious and may have been subject to extensive criticism. Just because it is easy for a trained professional to interpet a test-result, this is no guarantee that somebody at home can do this for themselves. There is no clear evidence that these tests are empowering for the individual no matter how rewarding it may be for individuals who promote them. For more information: Myth: Home Tests Empower Individuals.

Myth: Patrick Holford’s recommended food intolerance blood tests are scientifically validated

Holford claims that you can diagnose food intolerance with a blood test; he even endorses one by YorkTest and has written a book about your Hidden Food Allergies. Holford relies upon audits of customer satisfaction surveys for his evidence. The majority of published and peer-reviewed research states that this is not true. Dr Glenis Scadding expressed herself on this matter with some vigour when she presented evidence to the House of Lords Committee that investigated allergies and allergic disease. The ASA has recently reviewed the ‘evidence’ for such tests and concluded that there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that they can diagnose food intolerance. For more information: Myth: IgG blood tests diagnose food intolerance

72 responses to “Holford Myths

  1. illuminated

    Just noticed this website is on the anti-quakery web-ring – i was not at all surprised to see that!

    Debunk this and that – everyone is a crackpot yeah?

    Pharma-leeches the lot of you!

  2. Illuminated – thanks for the helpful, detailed, substantive critique of our arguments. With our ideas refuted so effectively, I think we’ll have to close this blog down now. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

    By the way, we don’t have any competing interests in big pharma or big CAM. Nice to see you’ve got a sense of irony, though – given the commercial link (now removed) attached to your comment.

  3. Nutritional therapist

    Why are you showing a youtube clip that clearly shows holford reversing diabetes. Sarah Jarvis makes herself look awful. The advice (on the whole) that doctors are giving people who come to see me about diabetes is not good or helpful.
    Also you will find that holford does not formulate solgar products. Get you facts right.

  4. If you observe the video, you will see a bottle of Cinnachrome.

    Sarah Jarvis looks awful to you. Hmm – maybe your filters are showing. Of the people who come to see you – what subset of the population with diabetes are they?

    Do you recommend chromium and cinnamon to them?

    • James

      I think this is what ‘Nutrtional Therapist’ is trying to point out. About 2 minutes and 44 seconds in, he shows us a solgar product. Also in his book ‘The optimum nutrition bible’ he does point out several Solgar products in resources.

      I’m not trying to prove anyother point except that he does on occassion endorses other people’s products from his own beliefs (and his own!), unless your going to tell me that he works for Solgar too.

  5. jim

    there is just too much money involved in health and nutrician for the truth to get out- a healthy population would be highly unprofitable for big pharmacuticals and the medical industry- hence the need for sites like this.

  6. Max

    Odd that you would hold big pharma accountable for attempting to make a profit and yet not direct that same attitude towards Holford and the rest of the alternative medicine crowd.

  7. Eileen

    I find it strange an ENTIRE website has been dedicated to debunking Patrick Holford. The kind of emotional and intellecutal energy invested in such a site makes me wonder about your true motives. There are so many more important things to look at closely like the drugs that are being pushed on to people by drug companies. Holford and his diet is just not worth the effort.

    I also find it curious that Jarvis in the interiew above so glibly dismisses studies as “being flawed”. These studies are published by reputable journals with strict standards of scientific study and she, in one phrase, told them they don’t know what they’re doing! Talk about arrogance and possible case for libel!

    You nutritionists please look into the serious affect of GM food on health rather than wasting time on The Holford Diet which at least has helped some people along the way.

    Admin edit: if you had read more of the site then you’d have noticed that all of your thoughts have been half-masticated and presented to us on previous occasions. Responses to most of your thoughts are offered elsewhere.

    If you had taken the time to read the analyis of the papers that Dr Jarvis discusses then you might understand her reasons for saying that. Plus – you really can’t be all that familiar with Holford’s work if you haven’t noticed his astonishingly strong claims of misconduct, accusations of a lack of integrity or scholastic ability etc. E.g., he accused the BMJ and a group of distinguished academics of a lack of integrity on the basis of a misunderstanding that is his own; his remarkable dismissal of the Cochrane Review of antioxidants, again based on his misunderstanding of systematic reviews.

    Plus – as we have explained multiple times but drive-by commenters like you fail to notice – there are many blogs such as Pharmalot, Scientific Misconduct etc. that deal very knowledgeably with pharma-related matters.

  8. jim

    Admin edit: moved for being off-topic

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  10. Brian

    I was mislead into buying Holford’s products a few years ago after a time of ill-health (plus many ‘alternative’ treatments).
    I soon realised that it was a complete waste of money and that just eating fruit and veg in sensible qualities,avoiding smoking,addressing lifestyle factors was all that I needed!
    Nutritionists have to justify there existence tho,so the show wil go on and on……
    Great site.

  11. Good to read that the fruit, vegetables and other lifestyle modifications worked for you, Brian.

  12. Elisabeth

    Do you have any comments on the efficacy of Bio Care’s Patrick Holford’s Brain Food in prevening Altzheimer’s? he recommends this in his book n the subject.

    Admin edit: We are unfamiliar with the current formulation of that product. Have you chatted to your GP about it? Going by previous formulations, it is very unlikely that there is any data to support such a formulation or clinical evidence that speaks to its efficacy.

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  14. RABBIE


    Admin edit: neat use of capitals there, really adds to the message and emphasises the insight. Are you boasting that you can afford that amount of money? Is it doing much for you?

  15. Paul

    I find this website interesting, but disappointing and suspicious in its de-bunk and focus on one potential partial-charlatan. As someone who suffers a lot from food reactions, there is no doubt for me that a lot of what he says is true and relevant to me in his books. This makes me wonder who is paying the people to write this web-site… I can only assume that it is funded by the same people who sell asthma inhalers, skin creams and antacid pills… If this were a real de-bunk site – that would be a far better target to focus on. – If there are any balanced impartial people running this site – let’s see some more honest coverage of stuff that needs to be debunking!

    Admin edit: There is a lot of information on this site that you didn’t look at. Apart from our detailed coverage of food intolerance issues you missed the many references to the fact that this site isn’t paid for – much as that is a recurrent fantasy of many such as yourself.

    We provide extensive referencing so that people can confirm facts and interpretations for themselves – that is how decent writing is done. The chap you express sympathy for has a track record of giving a wrong reference or providing the wrong interpretation. Wherever possible, we provide a full reference of link so that people can check for themselves.

    Why don’t you pick one of the extended items, say cinnamon, chromium, of IgG tests and demonstrate why the interpretation is wrong and Holford gives a better account of the clinical literature.

    You might even go across to Patrick Holford’s blog and express your admiration for him. Only, unless you are a member of his subscription club, you can’t comment. Hm.

    It is advisable to read before commenting.

    Set up your own blog. Write the stuff that you feel needs to be written.

  16. nodrande

    Unfortunately, although Holford has some good ideas that may well become mainstream in the future, he now comes across as a bit of a fraud.
    Instead of focusing on understanding science he tries to sell as many supplements as he can by manipulating science.
    He seems to have become detached from the fact that many aspects of life will affect your health including finance, social standing, stress, exercise, diet, genes, beleifs etc etc. 2x multi, 1 x fish oil, 1x antioxidant is not the answer to peoples health problems.
    Some of his interpretations of sceintific studies is rather shocking.
    I beleive supplements can be of help but more research is needed.
    Unfortunately you need to learn the subject yourself and not rely on people who push books and supplements and seems to have given on actually consulting and helping people who need it.

    • Typhoon

      I totally agree with what you say here matey, there is definitley a lot of good in nutritional therepies. Unfortunatley there will always be the kind of people who just want your money, and will dress it up like they want to do the best for you and your health etc… Then they laugh smugly all the way to the bank.

      More research is needed, more money and resoures properly put in to finding out the real effects of nutrients. And not funded by people with outside interests, no big pharma funded studies, and no supplement company funded ones either. Maybe the government should have a separate agency for doing this, could save the NHS a lot of money in the long run.

  17. Roger Frost

    Having just listened to Patrick Holford interviewed on Radio New Zealand I have discovered your website. Patrick speaks of published medical studies to support his views and you say these are misquoted and misintepreted. Who do I believe?

    I am concerned by your statements that Patrick is involved in selling his solutions. That suggests a potential lack of objectivity.

    However I am also concerned that you are hiding behind anonymity. How can I be sure of your objectivity?

    Thanks, however for providing food for thought!

    • Roger – thanks for the comment. We have made clear that we have no competing interests in either the pharma or alt med industries, if that helps with your concerns. We don’t get paid for writing this blog.

      That said, we would encourage you not to take our word for things: we are careful to link to the articles we discuss; if you are not sure if Holford’s interpretation or ours is more convincing, read the article/s in question and judge for yourself. We are very careful to be as accurate as possible – if you spot any errors, though, do let us know and we will be pleased to correct them.

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