Patrick Holford founded the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION) in 1984. Now, this date is mis-quoted in various texts, and even in Holford’s own work, but it was 1984. ION wasn’t always a not-for-profit or charitable institution: it wasn’t registered as a charity until 1992 after some wilderness years, but more about that later.
Holford was initially involved in a Whole Health venture (you can see the enterprise’s name in the diagram of his charming nutritional deficiencies Whole Health Dowsing Kit). This venerable ancestor of ION was registered with Companies House on 13 Jan 1984. The name and business shell was transferred to Holford on 10/2/1984 and he is named as company director.
Whole Health didn’t become The Institute of Optimum Nutrition Ltd until an EGM voted on a name change on 10 July 1984; ION Ltd was registered as such with Companies House on 31/12/1984. (The name ‘institute’ is one of the list of “sensitive words and phrases” in current companies legislation and you are not allowed to use it without considerable jumping through hoops. It will be interesting to check what the situation was with this name when the ION was registered.)
The ION Ltd quickly ran into financial problems, some of which may have distracted Holford when he was supposed to be working towards his MPhil at Surrey University. ION Ltd started liquidation proceedings in 1987 although it was not formally wound up until late 1989. ION disappears from the records of Companies House until 1992. This raises some interesting questions about ION’s status, and Holford’s usual implication, as per his CV, that he was continuously a director of ION from 1984 onwards (for more detail as to the wilderness years see: Christopher Scarfe – former partner in Institute for Optimum Nutrition).
Interestingly, in his CV, Holford writes:
In 1984 Patrick founded the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), a charitable and independent educational trust for the furtherance of education and research in nutrition…
As we point out, it doesn’t seem as if the ION has been in continuous existence in that form. It also seems an odd way to describe history given that the ION was not registered as a charity until July 1992 and it was incorporated as a business in June 1992 with Companies House. Previously, according to Companies House, ION seems to have existed in a form that was dissolved in December 1989. Unfortunately, it is not possible to link to the Companies House search results but interested parties should find this information by using the WebCHeck to search for institute for optimum nutrition. (Current Co. No. 02724405; previous Co. No. 01788333.) This does, of course, suggest a need for a slight amendment to the CV where it describes Holford’s directorship of ION as if it had been continuous.
And, careful readers should note that ION has not always been a charity or educational trust. Nor has it always existed in the sort of form that you might expect for an institution that claims to have conducted formal research. We mention this because in the modestly named Optimum Nutrition Bible and its subsequent revision (2004 edition, chapter 12, page 98), Holford refers to a 6-month experiment that he claims was run by the ION in 1982 -which is two years before it was founded…
However, leaving aside the small quirk of its founding date and the experiments it has run, what has ION done to achieve academic or research distinction? Well, nobody knows but you might form a reasonable view.
Unlike most tertiary education establishments, ION doesn’t offer an overview of their research facilities, lecturers and researchers online. It would be useful to know if there are research projects that are in progress at ION and their list of publications. E.g., if I were interested in studying the Sports Nutrition module in Year 3, it might be helpful to know if I could have access to a gas analyser for the study of exhaled breath (e.g., useful for metabolic analysis) or something like one of the latest, very accurate body fat and metabolism analysers. I might want to know if I would be supervised by someone who is certified to conduct blood draws for lactic acid studies or similar. Coracle offers a very interesting overview of research funding in the UK and the research assessment exercise; it would be useful to know if ION is engaged in this sort of academic research .
But what about the diploma, what does it qualify you to do? You can assess for yourself the value of the assurance the DipION/FdSc is accredited by the University of Luton and validated by the British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT) and “meets BANT’s stringent requirements for certification of nutritional therapists”. Oddly enough, despite the number of ION diplomates who claim to be clinical nutritionists (still, not a legally restricted term), it means that the diplomates have as much right to dispense nutritional advice on a hospital ward as any other visitor and as much legal standing.