ASA opinion: Patrick Holford fails science again

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Posted 31 January 2012

A consumer lodged a complaint with the ASA against a radio commercial advertising Patrick Holford’s “Mood Food” as heard during 2011. The advertisement features Patrick Holford stating as follows:

“So you often suffer from a low mood or lack of motivation? My name is Patrick Holford and I’d like to tell you how to get back your Feel Good Factor. There are five essential nutrients that help to improve mood, by making the feel good chemicals in your brain. These are: Chromium, Vitamin D, and energising B Vitamins plus the amino acids Tyrosine and Tryptophan. All these are contained in my Mood Food Supplement. Visit holforddirect.co.za or your pharmacy, and ask for Patrick Holford’s Mood Food”. 

In essence, the complainant submitted that there is no evidence to show that any of the ingredients contained in the respondent’s product are effective at improving mood or reducing depression. In addition, there is not a single study to show that this combination of ingredients has any effect on mood or that it can contribute to a “Feel Good Factor”. 

The ASA concurred.


Significant about this ruling is not only that Patrick Holford cannot support his claims with good or even basic science or principles of pharmacy 101, but that Allison Vienings, the local pharmacist attempting to substantiate the product, appears to not be able to learn from previous rulings against her substantiation, that the ASA requires evidence for the product as a whole and not individual ingredients.

Of course, we are not the first to show what a charlatan Patrick Holford is. Read more at Holford Watch and Dr Ben Goldacre's website, Bad Science. See also Patrick Holford fails science 101. Jacques Rousseau take on Patrick Holford makes great reading at Synapses.

 

Mood Food / HA Steinman / 17957
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Dr Harris Steinman Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Patrick Holford More To Life (Pty) Lrd Respondent

26 Jan 2012
http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=5924


Dr Steinman lodged a consumer complaint against a radio commercial advertising Patrick Holford’s “Mood Food” as heard during 2011.

The advertisement features Patrick Holford stating as follows:

“So you often suffer from a low mood or lack of motivation? My name is Patrick Holford and I’d like to tell you how to get back your Feel Good Factor. There are five essential nutrients that help to improve mood, by making the feel good chemicals in your brain. These are: Chromium, Vitamin D, and energising B Vitamins plus the amino acids Tyrosine and Tryptophan. All these are contained in my Mood Food Supplement. Visit holforddirect.co.za or your pharmacy, and ask for Patrick Holford’s Mood Food”.

COMPLAINT
In essence, the complainant submitted that there is no evidence to show that any of the ingredients contained in the respondent’s product are effective at improving mood or reducing depression. In addition, there is not a single study to show that this combination of ingredients has any effect on mood or that it can contribute to a “Feel Good Factor”.

The complainant also pointed out that the following claims, as appearing on the respondent’s website are untrue:

“The natural alternative to SSRI drugs is to eat your way to happiness by choosing foods that contain tryptophan, a constituent of protein from which the body makes serotonin”

“MOOD FOOD is a blend of amino acids, plant extracts and nutrients that helps to support mood and mental vitality”.

RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
The complainant identified the following clauses of the Code as relevant:

• Clause 4.1 of Section II – Substantiation

• Clause 4.2.1 of Section II – Misleading claims

RESPONSE
Stefan Vos Marketing Regulation Advisors (SVMRA), on behalf of the respondents, submitted a reply consisting of, inter alia, letters of verification from Ms Allison Vienings of MRA Regulatory Consultants as well as various articles or extracts of articles relevant to the subject.

SVMRA argued that the complainant is incorrectly inferring any association to an effect on “depression” (the word specifically used by the complainant). No such references are made, and the complaint is therefore factually incorrect. The advertising material does refer to “mental vitality”, and it is satisfied that its substantiation is adequate for such a claim.

It added that the claim “The natural alternative to SSRI drugs is to eat your way to happiness by choosing foods that contain tryptophan, a constituent of protein from which the body makes serotonin” as quoted by the complainant does not appear on the website, and the complainant provided no clarity as to where this was seen. As such, this complaint cannot be dealt with at this time.

Insofar as the actual substantiation is concerned, SVMRA relied on, and referred to the verification provided by Ms Vienings, arguing that she is a suitable and credible expert in this particular field.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the complainant.

Unavailable claim
The complainant objected to the claim “The natural alternative to SSRI drugs is to eat your way to happiness by choosing foods that contain tryptophan, a constituent of protein from which the body makes serotonin” which, according to the complaint, appears on the respondent’s website www.holforddirect.co.za.

Given the response received, the Directorate attempted to locate this claim on the respondent’s website, and was unable to. At the beginning of the complaint, the complainant identified the following URL:

http://www.holforddirect.co.za/products/view/id/16/item/Mood%20Food

Attempts to access this URL were unsuccessful, and automatically redirect to a URL listed as http://holforddirect.co.za/products/view/id/16/item/Mood%20Food. This page displays, what appears to be, several articles that appeared in the magazines. It is not clear whether this is perhaps where the complainant saw the claim. However, given that this appears display articles and is therefore editorial in nature, the Directorate does not have jurisdiction over its contents.

Given the above, and in the absence of any clarity as to where the complainant came across the claim at issue, the Directorate is not able to consider this claim at this time.

Substantiation
From the complaint, it would appear that the essential question is whether or not the respondent is able to prove that its product is able to “… support mood and mental vitality …” and contribute to a “Feel Good Factor” as claimed.

Two letters were submitted by Ms Vienings of MRA Regulatory Consultants. In these letters, Ms Vienings explains that she:

Reviewed the first respondent’s credentials,

looked at “the mechanism of action of 5-HTP and the role this amino acid plays as a precursor of serotonin and noradrenaline”,

Reviewed excerpts of studies from placebo-controlled trials in peer reviewed journals that support the claim that patients taking “Griffonia simplicifolia” seed extract, 5-HTP, tyrosine, chromium, vitamin D and vitamin B6 experienced relief from depression and improvements in mood, and

Decide whether the claims made are accurate and substantiated.

Her second letter also points out that these products are legally entitled to be marketed in the absence of appropriate legislation and guidelines for the registration of such complementary medicines.

After a discussion on the above topics, she concludes that “More studies than those mentioned exist to support the use of the ingredients in Mood Food to improve mood and reduce depression. In my opinion sufficient evidence exists to support the claims made for Mood Food”, and that references to “mental vitality” imply relief from depression, which is indeed shown in the relevant research extracts.

She adds that references to a “Feel Good Factor” are a linked to the first respondent’s book by the same title.

The Directorate is inclined to agree that the reference to a “Feel Good Factor” is not something that would require objective substantiation. However, the question remains whether the respondent has proof that its product will “… support mood and mental vitality …”.

While the Directorate accepts that Ms Vienings has, on several occasions, been accepted as an independent and credible expert, the Directorate has some reservations insofar as her actual verification is concerned:

She admits that she only considered “excerpts of studies …”, which implies that she did not consider the full studies. In Solal Technologies / SASA / 17484 (20 September 2011), the Directorate, inter alia, expressed concern over the fact that an expert merely considered abstracts of the studies available. Similarly, the Directorate is hesitant to accept this as sufficient, because it is unclear whether the full studies would equally support the relevant claims.

The substantiation relied on appears to be ingredient-specific, and not product specific. Ms Vienings confirms that she reviewed information about the Griffonia simplicifolia seed extract, 5-HTP, tyrosine, chromium, vitamin D and vitamin B6 in isolation. There is nothing, however, to suggest that the product, Mood Food, as is bought in-store and consumed at a specific dose, has been evaluated and that the ability to “…support mood and mental vitality …” has been proven. The Directorate has often held that this is not acceptable as substantiation.

For all the above reasons, the Directorate does not accept the substantiation currently at hand as sufficient. the claim that this product will “… support mood and mental vitality …” is therefore currently in breach of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

Given the above:

The reference to being able to “… support mood and mental vitality …” must be withdrawn in its current format;

The process to withdraw the claim must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of this ruling;

The withdrawal of the claim must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide;

The claim may not be used again in its current format in future.

The respondent’s attention is, however, drawn to Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide.

The complaint is upheld.

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3 Responses to ASA opinion: Patrick Holford fails science again

  1. George 10 August, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    As a layman with a fair grasp of logic and common sense, I would like to give you my perspective on the opposing dynamics evident in these complaints and rulings.

    I see professional complainants who are using narrow parameters to unseat the marketing claims of marketers and that appears unfair. Let me explain; e.g. in the Holford ‘mood’ case, it is common cause that certain elements have a specific effect on the brain and nervous system. The complainant holds that Holford has to prove that in the grouping in the given product, the components have the effect, together, as individually.

    The odds are stacked against genuine marketers here who would have to spend millions proving what the manufacturers of specific elements have already done under very strict control – purely because they are now mixed. Surely this is a juxtaposed David and Goliath situation and therefore, unfair. By all means sift out the charlatans, but let’s have some balance.

    • Harris 11 August, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

      @George
      The argument was that there was no evidence that the individual ingredients used in the dosage in the product have the effect that Holford claims that they have, and furthermore, there is no proof that mixed together that they have any effects as claimed. Do they enhance each other? Are they antagonistic to each other? In other words, if you buy the product, do you not want to be sure that you will benefit from it based on evidence and not simply the “I say so” of Patrick Holford? The evidence from his other “proofs” is that he is not particularly good at evaluating evidence.

  2. Angela Hepburn 2 May, 2016 at 11:26 pm #

    I have been using Mood Food for several years and find it almost as effective as Venlafaxine and far better than any other depressant I have tried in the last 19 years.

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