I’m in the library, flicking through the leaflets and I’ve come across the Mind guide to food and mood. The booklet begins by stating that scientific evidence to back up a link between food and mental health is developing, but that there are “many challenges for scientists to overcome” [raising doubts about the ability of “science” to tell us about food and mental health, perhaps]. The booklet then refers to medical practitioners being unconvinced of this link [the closed-minded fools], but points out that “nevertheless, positive responses from individuals who have made changes to their diet confirm the importance of food and nutrition for maintaining or improving their emotional and mental health”. Oh good, anecdata. I can’t imagine why medical practitioners would fail to be convinced by evidence of this nature. Next up, we have a “national survey of 200 people” that, apparently, tells us something about the benefits of nutrition. You can find out more from the Food and Mood project listed in the “useful organisations” section of the booklet. Page three tells us how food affects mood. One thing to note, apparently, is that people can have “delayed or hidden food allergies or sensitivities”. This made me think of YorkTest and Holford [Another Holford Response]. Next, we’re on to low levels of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids – this made me think, again, of Patrick Holford with the references to links between: Zinc and eating disorders; B Vitamins and Schizophrenia; & Omega-3 fatty acids and depression (all commonly referred to by Holford in his writings, B Vitamins for Schizophrenia being a favourite treatment of one of his mentors Abram Hoffer). And now I’m reading about build up of toxins from the environment, such as mercury from fillings. This mention of mercury in fillings affecting health really set off my woodar – and when I looked through the rest of the booklet I found something interesting*. First, though, let’s look at my favourite section of the booklet – “Are nutritional supplements a good idea?”
The best source of vitamins and minerals is from a balanced and varied diet of health-supporting foods. However, you may need to supplement your diet with extra nutrients. It’s important to get the correct balance between different vitamins and minerals, and to avoid taking any one nutrient in excess. Nutritional therapists are trained to advise on the use of supplements, and can recommend safe levels of supplementation for individual needs.
If it’s not possible to get this help, many people benefit from taking a good-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement. Regularly taking a fish oil supplement or a vegetarian oil blend containing ‘omega-3’ oils is also beneficial. Health food shops, pharmacists and supermarkets sell nutritional supplements. You might get some on prescription.
OK, first up – it is illegal (under the Food Supplements (England) Regulations 2003) to state or imply on food supplement labelling that a balanced diet cannot provide sufficient nutrients. It is not, perhaps unfortunately, illegal to do this in a booklet. Second, nutritional therapists are trained to advise on use of supplements? Would these be the same NTs who are members of BANT, a trade association that allows its members to take kickbacks from firms selling diagnostic equipment or pills? [Gimpyblog has more on this.] They are advising people on supplements, but may have a (possibly undeclared) financial interest in these same supplements. The training of NTs can be, well, just about anything you decide is training – it is not a protected term like Registered Dietitian and the training for NTs may be somewhat less rigorous than that for RDs. Holford’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition is the only educational establishment that I am currently aware of training NTs (although perfectly respectable universities may have BSc in Nutrition courses).**
The second paragraph makes vague, unreferenced claims as to the benefits of fish oil pills and vitamin supplements. The booklet, on page 11, does have a “References” section. They are all books and reports rather than scientific studies. Some are written by Amanda Geary, one is the popular book Potatoes not Prozac by K DesMaisons, and (best of all, perhaps), one reference material for this booklet is Optimum Nutrition for the Mind by Patrick Holford. If you’ve ever read the HolfordWatch blog then you will know how reliable the information gleaned from this book is likely to be. There is also a category on the badscience.net blog and a chapter in the Bad Science book that deal with Holford.
*The “useful organisations” include a website of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition [www.mentalhealthproject.com], BANT, and Food for the Brain. Not knowing who was involved in putting together the information for this booklet did not hinder me in appraising the info. But seeing the extent to which Holfordism was indirectly referenced in the “useful organisations” section was a useful pointer as to where they were coming from. When I looked at the back page, I noticed that the author of the booklet was named as Amanda Geary, and according to Google she is a Nutritional Therapist. Her website is here. She is the founder of the Food and Mood project. It would have been much easier to just look for the author’s name and Google them – but not as much fun as reading the booklet and trying to work out why the author had recommended going to see an NT and get advice on supplements (not to mention the references to amalgam causing physical and mental symptoms).
My beef here is the extent to which Nutritionism has insinuated itself into charities, the media and (most of all) the nation’s consciousness. Anyone reading that booklet who wasn’t aware of the facts might easily assume that NTs had to have a certain amount of training, were properly regulated, and had no financial links to food supplements companies or pill manufacturers. Trade associations such as BANT and high-profile media nutritionists help to foster assumptions such as these and the media gives them a platform to do so.
Here is an online version of the booklet. Slightly different to the print version I’ve picked up, but essentially the same basic info.
The EU directive that was enshrined in UK law as the Food Supplement Regulations is here as a PDF and Article 7 is relevant to explicit or implicit statements regarding the inability of a balanced diet to supply adequate nutrition. EU pdf. If you look out for elements of this directive being broken by food supplement companies, then you can complain to Trading Standards. Or tell the firm in question – depends how generous you are feeling I guess.
A late addition: I found a post on HolfordWatch pointing out that Mind are affiliated with Food for the Brain – Holford uses “crazy” as a diagnostic term for schizophrenic people.
Some colleges offering nutritional training. Approach with caution.
College of Natural Nutrition
Plaskett Nutritional Medicine College
College of Naturopathic Medicine
College of Nutrition and Natural Therapy
Raworth College of Natural Nutrition and Sports Therapies
Northern College of Acupuncture