Possibly the highest-profile nutritionista in the UK is Patrick Holford. Patrick has featured on many sites, including the Quackometer blog. The Bad Science blog has often featured Holford and he also appears on Damian Thompson’s Counterknowledge blog. Holford has written several books on nutrition – most notably the Optimum Nutrition Bible and Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, but also titles such as Natural Highs, Natural Energy Highs and Natural Chill Highs. You can see more information on Patrick Holford’s career [PDF] by clicking on this link to an annotated CV. Holford’s books are packed with scientific language and references to academic papers. Unfortunately, Professor Holford seems to suffer from a condition called referenciness. While looking through the various blogs that mention Patrick Holford, I found that I wasn’t the first first to refer to him as a nutritionista – not by a long shot. There’s more here. One of the links from that Google search is to Dr Aust’s Spleen, who has several posts referring to Professor Holford, including one titled Patrick Holford’s mentors and inspirations – but who are they exactly?. If you want an alphabetical listing of Holford Howlers, then click this link to Holford Watch’s page. If you want a pithy description of The Professor, click here. He’s been covered so comprehensively there seems little point me adding much, but it was worth writing this just to link to all the Bad Science Bloggers who have done so.
Dr John Briffa seems to have received less coverage on skeptical blogs than The Professor, but I noticed a post by Coracle recently that featured Dr Briffa and also linked to a couple of posts by Dr Aust, including this one on Dr Briffa’s views on water. I covered Dr Briffa in one post on this blog, notable mainly for the excellent logo supplied by PV. Dr Briffa used to write a column for The Observer (which is nothing to boast about really – so did Neil Spencer, the astrologer) and was very keen on ideas like these and not so keen on the Food Standards Agency’s Chief Scientist blogging about the dubious detox regimes and supplements available. Neither was Dr Robert Verkerk who seemingly left a comment criticising Wadge’s blog post, without mentioning that he worked as Ultralife’s Scientific Director. You will note that one of the items on the page I just linked to is a Detox Product – £17.95 for 30 servings, only £3 more than their Fruit & Veg powder. Fruit &Veg powder? Er, thanks all the same but I think I’ll buy some actual fruit & veg.
Now how about a bit of Gillian McKeith? As well as Howard’s page on la McKeith there’s a whole category at Bad Science. Gillian also featured in a piece in the BMJ written by Ben Goldacre and republished at http://www.badscience.net/?p=361. The BMJ piece prompted a few rabid responses – including those from Jerome Burne (co-author of at least one book with Patrick Holford) and Dr John Briffa, as well as from Patrick Holford himself. There were also some follow-up comments relating to the rabid responses by dietitian Catherine Collins, Jon Mendel, Ray Girvan and Professor David Colquhoun. For more on McKeith, try some of the links on Howard’s page or Google tapl +mckeith. Whatever you do, don’t click on this page. [Warning - Not Safe For Work. Or home - it's Gillian McKeith in a catsuit.]
The media simply don’t run news stories that refer to 5-HTP as being risky, as I’ve written about recently, yet they have always been happy enough to promote (or allow columnists to promote) this substance – often without any caveats. Read the rest of this entry »
Introduction: The way different sectors are reported in the media is interesting. Take serotonin pills as an example. There are several pills that can affect levels of serotonin and examples include: illegal recreational drugs such as Ecstasy tablets (methylene deoxy-methamphetamine); pharmaceutical products including SSRIs (such as fluoxetine and citalopram hydrobromide); and dietary supplements like 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). I took a look on Google News at the reporting of these various pills and decided to use these search terms: MDMA; SSRI; 5-HTP. Will the reports be negative, neutral or positive?
Results: The first page of results for MDMA came up with: a Lancashire Evening Telegraph report of the accidental death of a plasterer who had ecstasy in his bloodstream (negative/neutral – it seems a faulty window was more to blame than the E); a Times story about using recreational drugs to treat various conditions (positive); an icWales report on a coroner’s verdict (negative); a crime report referring to manufacture of MDMA (negative – but only because he got caught!); the Times covering the same coroner’s verdict as icWales in link three (negative); a report that the highs are higher and lows lower for women on E (broadly negative – more focus on the lows than the highs); a report of a Polish man who had been found hanged and whose bloodstream contained 500mg MDMA (negative); the next link didn’t really seem to be news; the next story was about crystal meth and E being danger drugs and the invention of ecstasy antibodies (negative); and the final report is a repeat of the story in link four. One positive story. Which will be no surprise to fans of Bill Hicks.
For SSRIs I had to ignore the three stories on the first page that were about a company called ‘Silver Standard Resources Inc.’, but picked the first three stories on page two instead: Zoloft made girl suicidal (negative); UK demands SSRI data (negative); SSRI-resistant depression (broadly negative); Pregnant women fear they will be forced to take danger drugs (negative); another report on SSRI-resistant depression (broadly negative); SSRIs for depressed HIV+ patients (positive); another report on SSRI-resistant depression (broadly negative); SSRI shocker spawns calls for reform (negative); another report on SSRI-resistant depression (broadly negative); Were the benefits of SSRIs exaggerated? (negative). One positive story. Lots of negative stories. Partly because bad news sells, I guess – but maybe this is also partly due to the negative views held by a lot of people (including journalists and editors) regarding “Big Pharma”.
Searching for 5-HTP only brings up three hits: a press release for a company selling 5HTP (very positive – obviously); a story from Natural News, ‘Finding Happiness the Natural Way’ (positive); and the ‘Earth Times’ has another press-release (positive). Three positive stories. Not a single negative story – probably because there is not a single actual news report on 5-HTP.
5HTP was so disappointing that I tried Google News for tryptophan and had a little more luck. The first page contained three positive stories (more than I could find for MDMA or SSRIs); two negative reports (actually letters in the Salt Lake Tribune) that referred to EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome) and the other stories were either neutral (a single irrelevant report) or simply referring to tryptophan in relation to debunking the “turkey makes you sleepy” myth (broadly negative/neutral). Only two negative media reports for a substance that not only can affect something as important as serotonin levels, but also has been associated with a number of deaths.
Waffle: The media seem to be deeply concerned by the serious issues around psychoactive substances. Unless they are being sold as health supplements. Pharmaceuticals bad. Recreational drugs bad. Supplements good – even if they affect the same neurotransmitter as those naughty pharmaceuticals and recreationals. Should anybody share the responsibility for this state of affairs? Probably. Media nutritionists like Patrick Holford proclaim the virtues of 5-HTP and tryptophan – while at the same time demonising anti-depressants. He wrote a book called Food is Better Medicine than Drugs and sends out emails to his mailing list attacking anti-depressants (but only the ones manufactured by Big Pharma – if Big Altie makes an anti-depressant then it’s fine). He even wrote in one email that “I invite you to read Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs to find out more about how you can use food and nutrients to address many health issues – including depression – without the risk of side effects, withdrawal or even death.” So, according to Patrick, pharmaceuticals will cause side-effects, withdrawal and death – whereas 5HTP is a cute fluffy bunny of a food supplement and does not carry a similar risk (of side-effects, withdrawal or death). Some of the text in the email I looked at seemed rather familiar. It was – Holford Watch have covered PH’s views on anti-depressants here. While you’re there, you may want to read more details of Patrick’s views – there’s plenty of material. If you want to read more about SSRIs, Pyjamas in Bananas recently wrote a whole series of blog posts on SSRIs (link).
EDIT 02/02/2010: new post on boosting serotonin.