Dr John Briffa – Alternative

September 2, 2008 at 11:50 am (Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Briffa, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy, Nutritionism, Remedies, Supplements, Woo) (, )

 

 

 

John Briffa is a doctor who writes diet books and formulates pills for food supplement companies. Briffa has recently blogged about arnica, which doesn’t seem to make sense. He makes his living from nutritionism, not homeopathy – so why support homeopathy by praising a study into arnica?

Well, possibly because it suits his image to praise something alternative that doesn’t make him money. The alternative nature of homeopathy sits well with Briffa’s alternative take on dietary advice and the fact that he is promoting a product that is not going to earn him money directly makes him appear more trustworthy – i.e., the kind of guy you might buy something from in the future.

His promotion of all things alternative (and his objections to mainstream opinions) is likely to endear him to the type of people who will be keen to buy diet books and Sucroguard tablets – the alternative type. What else has John been blogging about recently? Well, there’s been a couple of posts questioning received wisdom on cholesterol (to be fair, there’s nothing wrong per se with questioning the status quo – it just seems convenient that to do so will raise Briffa’s status in the eyes of his current and potential customers); the validity of BMI as a measurement; arsenic in drinking water and food additives (the post was mainly about MSG, but he also referred to aspartame).

As you can see, Briffa’s been busy. Casting doubt on current advice on lowering cholesterol, flinging mud at various unpopular food additives, complaining about the quality of tap water [ah, deja vu – Dr Aust’s Spleen], and querying the validity of BMI. In amongst all this general pro-altie, anti-mainstream stuff Dr John has also been blogging about vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. He recommends antioxidants to prevent AMD [age-related macular degeneration], without mentioning that stopping smoking might be a good idea for anyone wanting to avoid AMD. He also talks about low vitamin D levels being implicated in pain and recommends Zinc lozenges for the common cold. See? It all fits together – his pill formulating, his diet books, his recommendations for AMD or for the common cold, his support for homeopathy, his anti-vaccination views. All alternative, in fact all part of a consistently alternative viewpoint. The problem is, when someone is so wedded to the alternative they seem to assume that “alternative” somehow equals “true”. You can see the same thing with Holford and his support for Q-Link pendants or, um, his anti-vaccination stance. That’s right – nutritionist Patrick Holford and Doctor John Briffa share an anti-vaccine stance. Why? If fits in with their world view, that’s why. Er, and it probably helps attract customers – birds of a feather and all that.

[EDITED TO ADD:] You see, if you can get people to like you then you are more likely to be able to sell them something and one thing that helps us decide whether we like someone is how similar they are to us (whether their opinions are the same as ours, whether they are from the same area etc – having something in common helps). [Incidentally, another thing that helps is attractiveness – I’ll put it this way: Patrick Holford’s youthful good looks are certainly not a hindrance to his career as a nutritionist]

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AMD and smoking: “The literature review confirmed a strong association between current smoking and AMD, which fulfilled established causality criteria. Cigarette smoking is likely to have toxic effects on the retina. In spite of the strength of this evidence, there appears to be a lack of awareness about the risks of developing eye disease from smoking among both healthcare professionals and the general public.” [Review on Pubmed].

Holford and Q-Link: Bad Science, HolfordWatch.

Holford and anti-vaccination: HolfordWatch again.

Briffa and anti-vaccination can be found here, among various other links to posts on Dr John: Briffa – as bad as Holford.

15 Comments

  1. Irene Adler said,

    Excellent point. It is very easy to go easy on people who share some of one’s taste/views and vice versa. The general alt-med practice of mistrusting “conventional medicine” as standard, whilst embracing woo with open arms and closed minds, is sometimes almost adolescent though. I loved the Divine Comedy so much when I was 14 that I felt bad for liking cheese when I discovered Neil Hannon hated it…

    Re: BMI – I might have to throw Briffa a bone on this (caveat – not that I’ve read his post on this yet). My GP also thinks BMI is quite a limited tool, although it is useful on a general scale, because it doesn’t account for individual build.

  2. Bill said,

    The one undeniable skill that alt-med types like Briffa and Holford have is self-promotion. As you have shown jdc, properly positioning yourself as an alt med guru requires a fair bit of of strategy. It ain’t easy.

  3. jdc325 said,

    “I loved the Divine Comedy so much when I was 14 that I felt bad for liking cheese when I discovered Neil Hannon hated it…”
    Haha – I had thought of my own personal example of that. I remember feeling bad about smoking only after I heard Tim Burgess had given up! It’s a good job he never came out as a heroin addict or a crackhead…

    Re BMI, cholesterol levels etc – Briffa may occasionally have a point and there is certainly nothing wrong with challenging the status quo, it’s just that he does it constantly and doesn’t always have good reason to. [When I read Briffa, I sometimes think of the Withnail and I quote that “even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day” and reflect that Briffa is bound to get the odd one right – maybe BMI is one of his ‘hits’. Any tool that can refer to lean, muscular athletes as ‘obese’ obviously isn’t that sharp]

    [Edited to add italics]

  4. coracle said,

    I think BMI is only one of a range of measures that should be taken into account, and obviously needs to be adjusted for the patient standing in front of the doctor.

    However, and I wish that I could remember where I saw this in either the lancet or the bmj this year, it remains a cardiac risk factor for populations.

  5. jdc325 said,

    Coracle has now blogged on the paper that so impressed Dr Briffa.

  6. Jonathon Levine said,

    Now is not a good time to doubt the existence of alternative medicine; now is the time to embrace it and even indulge if you must.

  7. jdc325 said,

    Re the comment from Jonathon Levine – this is the third one I’ve had today that has come from remarkably similar email addresses and has a link to one of a number of dubious websites. All comments will remain, but links have been disabled. Please note that spamming my comments section is not a good way of increasing traffic to your poor quality websites.

  8. Lawrence Pledger said,

    All I want is the truth on Cholestrol. As someone who has a Doctor who is determined to get me on the stuff I need independant advice. There are far to many “Experts” out there with their own axe to grind.
    I guess the best advise I have had so far is “all things in moderation!”
    Eat well, Exercise and keep away from stress.

  9. Jan Burgess said,

    no comments since 2008? what happened, did Big Pharma run cut your contract?

  10. jdc325 said,

    Hi Jan,

    You seem to have the mistaken impression that the only people who might criticise alternative medicine would be those paid by Big Pharma. I’m delighted to clarify this point: I have never received a penny for anything I’ve written on this blog. Not from Big Pharma, or from anyone else.

    I believe the same is true of many other bloggers critical of alternative medicine. They’re critical of alt med because it involves the promotion of ineffective or unproven remedies (those which have been tested and failed, and those which have not been tested), not because they’re being paid by some shadowy evil conspiracy.

    If everyone had the same viewpoint as you, those reading your comment would surely assume that you were in the pay of alternative medicine. Big Quacka, as it were. Fortunately, I don’t think that most people subscribe to such limited views of what might motivate individuals.

    If you are open-minded enough to entertain the possibility that people might criticise alternative medicine for reasons other than profit, perhaps you would care to cast your eyes over the three posts tagged here. I haven’t written an exhaustive list of the reasons, just proposed a few and discussed them. I’m sure there are other reasons I have not mentioned.

  11. David Bosley said,

    I think the other reason people criticise alternative medicine is because they find it somehow threatening, it challenges their beliefs, in a nice logical world where things are black and white, and everything which works is back up by ‘peer reviewed research’ by ‘scientists’.

    However in reality, many of us know that, for example, on this basis, there would be no value in water. Who will pay for the study? Nobody, because they can’t patent H20. The reliance of ‘science’ and evidence, excludes many of the most beneficial, and tried and tested foods cures, supplements, and alternative medicines.

    Bottom line is, if this is your way of thinking, you are only too welcome to remain dependent on pharmaceutical drugs, if this makes you happy, healthy and full of energy, then good for you. Personally, I’m as sceptical about ‘science’ and medicine, as you are about complementary medicine. Remember it wasn’t really that long ago that cutting edge scientists were positive the earth was flat, and the top doctors were blood letting, and applying leaches. I’m certain that in 50 years people will be looking back at current medical practice with equal revulsion!

  12. jdc325 said,

    I think the other reason people criticise alternative medicine is because they find it somehow threatening, it challenges their beliefs, in a nice logical world where things are black and white, and everything which works is back up by ‘peer reviewed research’ by ‘scientists’.

    I believe that if you want to know whether a treatment has a beneficial effect then is is important to subject it to a fair test. I don’t see how treatments that have failed fair tests or never been subjected to them could challenge that belief. If you think that something considered to be ‘alternative’ turning out to actually work would rock my world then you might want to think again. I’m well aware that some herbal remedies work. Ernst and Pittler refer to, e.g., garlic and St John’s wort. As these have been subjected to testing with researchers finding positive results, the benefits of these remedies can now be weighed against the risks (and compared to the risks and benefits of conventional treatments).

    However in reality, many of us know that, for example, on this basis, there would be no value in water. Who will pay for the study? Nobody, because they can’t patent H20. The reliance of ‘science’ and evidence, excludes many of the most beneficial, and tried and tested foods cures, supplements, and alternative medicines.

    This is exactly right. Nobody would ever do a study on water, as the only research that is ever carried out is that which would benefit a business. There is no such thing as research funding from charities or governments. The fact that no papers on research into water have ever been been published is testament to the correctness of your argument.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23121344 – “To investigate the fluid intake and knowledge on water and health in Chinese adults, and to provide a scientific basis for the development of adequate water intake values for people in China.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23186618 – “Appropriate drinking water treatment processes for organic micropollutants removal based on experimental and model studies – a multi-criteria analysis study.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23442300 – “The social ecology of water in a Mumbai slum: failures in water quality, quantity, and reliability.”

    You may find more here or here.

    Bottom line is, if this is your way of thinking, you are only too welcome to remain dependent on pharmaceutical drugs, if this makes you happy, healthy and full of energy, then good for you. Personally, I’m as sceptical about ‘science’ and medicine, as you are about complementary medicine. Remember it wasn’t really that long ago that cutting edge scientists were positive the earth was flat, and the top doctors were blood letting, and applying leaches. I’m certain that in 50 years people will be looking back at current medical practice with equal revulsion!

    You might want to check your source for that claim that cutting edge scientists were positive the earth was flat not that long ago. Perhaps once you’ve checked it, you might like to share it with me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth – “The misconception that educated Europeans at the time of Columbus believed in a flat Earth, and that his voyages refuted that belief, has been referred to as the Myth of the Flat Earth.[9] In 1945, it was listed by the Historical Association (of Britain) as the second of 20 in a pamphlet on common errors in history.[10]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_Flat_Earth – “During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. By the 14th century, belief in a flat earth among the educated was nearly nonexistent.”

    Your reference to the “top doctors” using bloodletting and leaches as a panacea goes back to a time before evidence-based medicine. Those treatments may be beneficial but the scope for their use is rather narrow (e.g. bloodletting for conditions such as haemochromatosis). Using them as some kind of panacea to treat conditions where they have no benefit is something that belongs in the past, along with other useless treatments (such as homeopathy, to pick just one example). Asserting that people will in future look back on EBM in the same way that we now look back on medicine pre-EBM strikes me as being particularly silly. The conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients is perhaps our greatest advance in medicine. I wonder what you think will supplant evidence and make folk look back on EBM as they do bloodletting and leaches.

  13. Isabel Reinhards said,

    How much will the author of this text against John Briffa have received from the Big Pharma, I wonder? Holidays? Money? A great job? Or is he just nasty and envious of an excellent doctor who became a nutritionist because he was so disappointed with the current medicine practices?
    I needed to lose weight and went to see John Briffa when I lived in London. He was my nutritionist for some time and I have the very best impression of him. He says what he thinks and he is very straight forward – we have this in common. It’s not easy to win against the pharmaceutical industry which has so much money that it can buy the world. Not me though, my soul is not for sale. And I hate lies and will fight against them with all my strength.
    Isabel Reinhards (I lived in London between 1982 and 2006).

  14. Chris said,

    So did it really take you years to come up with that brilliant Pharm Shill Gambit for this seven year old article?

  15. Patrick Holford Lectures | diminutive said,

    […] Dr John Briffa – Alternative | Stuff And Nonsense – Sep 02, 2008  · Dr John Briffa – Alternative. September 2, 2008 at 11:50 am (Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Briffa, Homeopathic Remedies … […]

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