Here we highlight Holford’s Howlers: remarkable mistakes have been brought to his attention, on this blog and elsewhere. Most of these he has – to the best of our knowledge – yet to retract, though if we list any Howlers where we know that Holford did revise his claims in response to Holford Watch criticism we will make this clear. There’s a lot of content that needs to go on this page – some of it already on the blog, some of it we haven’t got round to writing yet – so it will be very much under construction for some time.
- Allergies/Intolerances. Patrick Holford has written at length about issues of food allergy and intolerance: it is one of the more long-standing and ill-founded Holford Myths. Unfortunately, he often makes the basic error of conflating allergy and intolerance. Holford also recommends unproven food intolerance tests and allergy/intolerance treatments.
- Antioxidants. A Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) metanalysis (Volume 285(1), 3 January 2001, pp 67-72) showed that taking certain antioxidant vitamin pills may increase mortality. Holford issued a ‘critique’ of this study, making a number of basic errors – including, apparently, confusion as to what constitutes a randomised trial.
- Autism. This seems to be a special interest of Holford’s, and there are far too many autism-related Holford Howlers for us to summarise here. One of the worse issues, though, is MMR – Holford’s account of the ‘evidence’ of a link between MMR and autism is horrifyingly shoddy. The treatments that Holford recommends are also worrying: he believes that the off-label use of secretin (a drug that trials show to perform no better than, or slightly worse than, placebo) is “worth considering”.
- Competing Interests. Holford is worried by the way competing interests can distort science: for example, he falsely accuses Prof. Colquhoun of having competing interests in the pharmaceutical industry, and argues that drug companies sometimes “set up…trials, pay the researchers who conduct them and then sometimes refuse to publish the data if it is not favourable”. However, he has previously neglected to declare his competing interests in curcumin sales when writing a BMJ rapid response. Although Holford argues that he just benefits “modestly…from supplement sales”, his Health Products for Life company (which sells supplements) was reportedly bought by NeutraHealth for a total consideration of £464,000.
- Food for the Brain (FFTB). Holford is CEO of this charity, which is working to introduce ‘nutritional’ ideas into Britain’s schools. While Holford Watch is delighted to see initiatives to improve the diets of children, we fear that the charity’s unscientific approach and practices, their associations with very controversial sources of medical opinion, and the links between FFTB and supplement businesses may subvert these aims and even do children harm. We have concerns about the quality of Food for the Brain’s nutritional advice, and the quality and ethics of the FFTB school projects reported on Tonight with Trevor McDonald. We are also unconvinced that FFTB is an appropriate recipient of four figure donations from public funds.
- HIV/AIDS. Holford acknowledges that “there is no evidence” that Vitamin C is more effective than AZT at treating AIDS. However, this does not stop him from claiming that “vitamin C has been shown to outperform AZT in lab studies” (in an article where he also argues that Vitamin C is a promising treatment for bird flu in humans). Given that Holford regularly speaks in South Africa, he might like to clarify his position on HIV/AIDS.
- Maths. Holford sometimes seems to struggle with numbers. Holford appears to believe that the amount of fish oil and mercury in our diets are very important; however, at least two editions of his Optimum Nutrition for the Mind book have got the calculations of the mercury:omega 3 ration in different fishes badly wrong, at a very basic level. Likewise, when evaluating the (dis)benefits of statins Holford makes serious mistakes when handling of the Number Needed to Treat figures – leading him to some surprising, and unjustified, conclusions.
- QLink Pendants. These pendants are sold as protection against the supposed risk of EMR. Holford sounds very keen on them: he argues that “The scientific proof is deeply impressive…This revolutionary pendant provides continuous support against EMR via a microchip which resonates at the same frequencies as the body’s own energetic field.” Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, when Ben Goldacre looked inside a QLink he found it did not emit any interesting ‘frequencies’ and contains a “coil connected to nothing. And a zero-ohm resistor, which costs half a penny, and is connected to nothing.” Health Products for Life previously (though no longer) had these on sale for £69.99.
- Vaccination. This is appears to be another special interest of Holford’s. Unfortunately, this interest – while it does lead Holford to be pretty sceptical about vaccination – often does not extend to providing his readers with reliable sources of information. The type of “hard evidence” offered by Holford includes, for example, a reference to a (broken) URL, which appears to have previously hosted the results of a survey of a relatively small number of members of vaccine and parent groups. On the other hand, while Holford is sceptical about the type of vaccines which can effectively prevent illness, he is more positive about homeopathic meningitis vaccinations (despite the fact that meningitis can kill and there is no good evidence that homeopathic vaccinations work, or even a plausible mechanism through which they might work).