Saturday, July 24, 2010

Professor Patrick Holford - Nutrition Nonsense

The other day I picked up this text and late last night decided to read the chapter Professor Patrick Holford because I read a book of his some years ago. Ben Goldacre is a British doctor who writes regularly for the Guardian and has taken up the challenge of addressing all the kookiness out there in relation to health advice. Good on him, high time the medical profession put some effort into attacking the multitude of spurious nutrition advice out there. I may provide a full review of "Bad Science" later but for now I will focus on this Patrick Holford character.

Patrick Holford is a very well known and highly regarded "nutritionist". I read his text, "Optimum Nutrition for the Mind" on September 20, 2005 and made the following summary:

Author generalises too much.
Doesn't look closely enough at studies.
Gives some bad advice.
Too many exuberant claims.
Too strongly biased against conventional medicine.
Lacks professionalism.
Encourages too much self diagnosis.
Big fan of Hoffer orthomolecular therapy. Some merit here but .... . Foreword by Hoffer.

After reading Dr. Goldacre's analysis in this text I realise I should have been much more harsh. Not that Dr. Goldacre tears into Holford, he does not engage in a shoot the messenger but rather a destroy the message strategy. Fair enough, but I still wonder if in Holford's case a shoot the messenger strategy is a better option because I regard Holford as dangerous.

Goldacre examines Holford's claims with a scientific rigour that has lessons for us all. Goldacre checks out some of the references in Holford's text, The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, demonstrating how time and again Holford is citing references that do not support the claims in his text. That is disgraceful and in my view borders so close to intellectual dishonesty that the only other defence Holford could offer is one of cognitive impairment.

Holford is an excellent example of a dangerous nutritionist. His advice often betrays a remarkable ignorance about physiology and nutrition, he clearly takes advantage of the modern cynicism towards conventional medicine and promotes that cynicism in spite of the fact that modern medicine has contributed more to human health in the last 50 years than all other medical approaches at all other times in history have collectively achieved.

There are a gazillion experts out there proferring the latest you beaut this strategy will cure all your ills you'll never get cancer your mind will stay sharp well into your second century of life you will always have abundant energy and always be happy blah blah blah blah blah. The vast majority of nutritional advice is rank nonsense Holford is a poster boy for that problem. .

If you do read health related news items then I recommend Dr. Ben Goldacre's text. Not because it offers advice on nutrition but because he offers very good advice on how to critique health advice and how to avoid all the pitfalls that we can fall into when reading scientific information pertaining to health. That is, unlike Holford who tells what is what, Dr. Goldacre's teaches us how to think for ourselves, how to critique the thinking of others, and how to identify the great parade of charalatans masquerading as health experts.

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