The Institute for Optimum Nutrition

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.

31 responses to “The Institute for Optimum Nutrition

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  4. Deborah Perry

    I personally have the greatest respect for Patrick Holford and will still be following my plan to gain a degree via ION and my BSc at Luton University. I think he is promoting holistic health and well-being for us human beings.

    If you care to look at it’s students there are some very successful ones.

    It has knowledgeable tutors of great merit, a well stocked library and it OFFERS HOME STUDY to gain a nutrition qualification unlike conventional places of study i.e Universities and it has high entry qualifications, so only the best students will be accepted.

    Who cares about the past – Patrick Holford has now made it and is a wealthy businessman. Pity there are not more people like him who follow their passions.

    Admin edit: how very odd. We have looked at ION etc in far greater detail than you yet you think that we don’t look at its students. It does not yet offer home study for its DipION although that is certainly planned. And, no – there are no particularly high entry qualifications. A levels isn’t it? If they are in science, the grade isn’t specified.

    What makes you think the library is well-stocked. We would be fascinated to know more. How about the lab facilities for nutrient analysis? Is there a physiology lab?

    Holford is an excellent business man. We challenge his science and his distortions of the research of others.

    If you do pursue a qualification at ION and then convert it at Luton, to our knowledge, you will be the first person to do this.

  5. Pingback: Seriously, What Do They Teach at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition Judging by the IONistas in the Public Eye? « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  6. Paul

    To Patrick Holford. What ever happened to your “Wellnes Advisor”? Do you publish a monthly news letter?

    Admin edit: see Patrick Holford’s US website has closesd

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  8. eirrin

    So it wasn’t always an educational charity? All their literature makes it seem like it was one from the early days.

    But if it isn’t an educational institution that is recognised in its own right, why does it have an address?

  9. Alicia

    Interesting article on ION. Here is my belated response:

    I was a student at ION. Patrick Holford gave us a talk in his first year and mentioned his books several times, and had them on special offer (buy 2 at a reduced price) to buy IN THE LECTURE. I was pretty disgusted – and disappointed at the line of enamoured groupie-esque students queuing up to purchase a copy. Ironically enough, a colon hydrotherapist I am acquainted with called ION “The Patrick Holford Appreciation Society”.

    I personally do believe that what you put into your body influences what comes out (and I am now studying the same subject at another college) ; and in my experience there are many people who are disenchanted with ‘conventional’ medicine and seek another way. So that’s my bias right there in the open, but I do have a BSc (in Botany/Environmental Science, not in dietetics/nutrition).

    The mechanistic nature of ‘science’ (still a man-made construct, despite striving for complete objectivity) means that there will be many obstacles in the way of ‘nutritional therapy’ meeting scientific standards. To generalise, people eat tomatoes, people don’t eat lycopene (if you know what I mean, supplements aside). Trials are simpler when there are fewer variables in the search for the magic bullet. But this creates the possibility for all sorts of inferences.

    ION’s library is one small room, which may contain many books, but didn’t carry the one ‘essential’ text I was looking for. I know of no ‘research facilities’/equipment as such (but not sure whether/how the ‘BrainBio Centre’ fits into this – I’ve never checked). ION students can use an inter-library loan service through the University of Bedfordshire.

    To use the ION library, you have to travel into Richmond during working hours and you probably have to book in advance so that someone can unlock it. Seminars are held out of hours (i.e. the library is closed); lectures are held off-site (i.e. nowhere near the library).

    I think ION is popular because it is well-known, it holds lectures on weekends (so students can come from all over the country and some even commute from other countries), seminars are on evenings/weekends and it is all run to accommodate working people making a career change. Some foreign students choose ION because it is affiliated with a university and would therefore enable them to practise in their home country.

    There are plenty of people within the field of ‘nutritional therapy’ and other ‘complementary’ therapies who dislike Mr Holford for reasons which include his reputation for bad science, not carrying out primary research, and not being open to debate.

    The lecturers and tutors at ION are keen for students to grasp the science behind the theories, but these topics are not delved into in microscopic detail. There are a fair few lecturers who have doctorates in their field.

    Mr Holford seems passionate about the subject of nutrition but I can see why so many people have a problem with him or the way he does business.

    At the end of the day, though, I will be doing the same thing – earning my wage through helping people by advising them on how to adjust their diet because it ‘may’ improve their symptoms. I will endeavour to be careful with what I say, though I hope that conventional and complementary therapies do not always need to be mutually exclusive.

  10. Thanks Alicia – that’s very interesting to hear.

  11. “not being open to debate”

    That’s true. He certainly does not engage in debate with his opponents very often. He does not even have question and answer sessions at his seminars [sic].

  12. I rang up Companies House today and had an interesting conversation with one of their advisors.

    The word “institute” is indeed protected and when the ION incorporated as a company back in 1992 they would have had to justify the inclusion of such a word in their registered name. Companies House does not keep a record of how new companies justify the use of sensitive words and phrases. However, what generally happens is that supporting information is supposed to be sent with the company incorporation documents. For example, if you want to use the word “institute” you might be asked to provide a reference from a “league or body.” I can’t see what professional body could have helped them out. Possibly a few academic or people with doctorates typed out something on fancy letterheads?

    The person I spoke to said that supporting documents are generally returned! It sounds to me like a box ticking exercise.

  13. “It sounds to me like a box ticking exercise.”
    I’m afraid you may be right Lee – what you have found out is interesting though.
    *Tries to imagine what league or body supported Holford’s application*

  14. I am going to ring back to get further clarification. It seems odd that Companies House appear to be saying anyone can register an institute as long as they can get some one or something to provide a reference.

    Just as anyone can be a nutritionist anyone can set up an institute!

  15. That would be good to know, Lee – after all, they registered it as an institute in 1984 and then again in 1992. I would be very sorry to learn that Companies House is as cavalier as they seem to be about allowing people to use restricted words.

  16. I rang up Companies House again on Friday.

    This time I was put through to some one who I think was a bit more senior. What I was told was essentially the same as the day before. However, it seems the information Patrick and his friends submitted back in 1992 justifying the use of the word “institute” in the registered company is STILL available.

    The only problem is they refused to send it to me or give any clues as to what kind of references had been provided. However, they did repeat that some kind of body would have had to rubber stamp the application.

    Suprisingly, more than sixteen years later it is still possible to object to the name. One just has to write a letter giving the reasons why The Institute for Optimum Nutrition should be obliged to delete the second word of their registered name.

    I am quite willing to do that, but it would be helpful if I could some back up. All the ION will do is supply references from people like Professor David Smith, Andre Tylee (naughty people) and Dr John Marks (extremely naughty).

    It would be helpful if I could provide my own experts, say David Colquhoun (what should a research institue do?), Catherine Collins (is the ION really a top class nutritional research institute) and Jack O’Kent (legal implications?).

    In all honesty sixteen years ago was a long time as far as complaining about business names is concerned. Nonetheless, I am willing to give it a go if I can have some back up. At the very least we should try submitting a freedom of information request to get hold of the documention Patrick submitted with the registration back in 1992.

  17. Freedom of information doesn’t apply to a private body (ironically – given it is trying to persuade people that it is part of the academia that is usual when using the system). However, look out for some mail.

  18. marcie

    I had always assumed that ION was a real educational institution and had always been an educational charity.

    What a crock! It seems you have to check everything you read these days but at least you people give verifiable sources.

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  20. Andrew C Brown

    has anyone investigated the so called DOCTOR Marilyn Glenville who keeps telling people that she recommends supplements from a supplement company called the Natural Health Practice which is owned by her husband (see companies house records !). She is not even a qualified nutritionist and claims to be the UK\’s leading nutritionist in women\’s health.

    • afaik, Marilyn Glenville does have a PhD but it would be less confusing if non-medical doctors were encouraged to drop that title or always include the modifier, PhD, when using the title in a medical context.

      Again, she is not alone in not being a qualified nutritionist (if that is true – I don\’t know), she is in close company with both Patrick Holford and Gillian McKeith there. There is a lot of competition for the title of leading nutritionist in UK – Holford refers to himself that way all the time.

    • peter

      Marylin Glenville is absolutely brilliant at what she does. Whilst suffering from PCOS and getting no help from the NHS (5 years diagnosis)my wife visited Marylin, who helped her tremendosly. 8 months later scans have shown no polycystic ovaries and she is pregnant with our first child.
      Marylin is 100% dedicated to womens health and is extremely knowlegeable on the subject. Some people are warrenting your critisism. It all seems like you must have a go at someone otherwise your not happy.

      • That is not a polite way to address the previous commenter. Nonetheless, good to know that your wife derived so much benefit from her visit to Marilyn Glenville.

        • Sue

          I see nothing impolite in Peter’s response to your and Andrew G’s comments.

        • peter

          Thank you carrie, i sincerlely apologise.
          before I speak or make any sort of decision in the future i will say to myself “what would carrie think”, “how would carrie act, what would carries opinion be”

          If this is how it works, I think marylin glenville deserves an apologie from the commenter before me

        • It is clear that you have not read the comment policy. Your comment seems disproportionate given the circumstances.

          Perhaps your sincerity is an index to the significance that one might ascribe to your other comments. Marilyn Glenville is a public figure, the previous commenter is not and possibly has as strong feelings as you do. It seems inappropriate for you to comment on that other commenter’s actions if you appear to be a little affronted as to an interpretation that you place on your own.

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