Patrick Holford fails Science 101 (or is a bare-faced liar)

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Posted 02 September 2011

On the 1st September 2011, Patrick Holford released the media statement below in response to the media release by the NGO Equal Education, which pointed out that taking a nutritional supplement will not help pupils achieve at school and advertisers should not claim this.

Is Patrick Holford an incompetent “scientist” or simply a bare-faced liar?

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                     1 SEPTEMBER 2011 

STATEMENT FROM PATRICK HOLFORD 

It is an undeniable scientific fact that supplementing vitamins increases the non-verbal IQ of children, especially in poorly nourished children, but also in those considered well nourished. There are more than a dozen well designed placebo controlled trials that show this to be true (see attached). 

Encouraging all children to be optimally nourished gives them the opportunity to reach their full academic potential. The first trial, published in the Lancet medical journal, was part of a BBC documentary, was based on my research, showed a 10 point increase in IQ on the supplements, versus a 3 point increase on the dummy pills. 

The charity I work for, Food for the Brain Foundation )www.foodforthe brain.org), has campaigned for children’s rights to optimum nutrition, under the guidance of Dr Rona Tutt OBE, past president of the National Association of Head Teachers, who chairs our Board of Trustees. For example, we worked with one of the UK’s worst performing schools. By improving diet, and giving supplements, the school increased average maths scores by 25% in seven months. 

We will, of course, deal with this ASA complaint, and provide the necessary evidence to substantiate the advertisement. 

(Attached is a summary of some of the studies in this area which inform our formulation of supplements for children.)

 

Does this pan out?

Let us first deconstruct the media statement above: “The first trial, published in the Lancet medical journal, was part of a BBC documentary, was based on my research . . ”. I would ask, since when is the chief researcher not one of the authors of the publication? This does not make sense. But let’s not focus on this. Let’s focus on the sentence: “There are more than a dozen well designed placebo controlled trials that show this to be true (see attached)” and see if the science fits the claims. 

I have copied exactly the attachment that accompanied the press release below. I have numbered the references so that I can refer to them. 

The first comment is that clearly Holford feels that by throwing 14 pages of “scientific articles” at one, that the claims must be true. In other words, trying to drown one with data. Sorry, does not work. None of the articles are overwhelming proof of his claims. 

The most significant fact is that Holford has taken these studies completely out of context – either because he is scientifically naïve, or simply a bare-faced liar. Most of the studies are fairly old. However, the most interesting one is article 1. 

Article 1 is the most recent study published (2001), and in fact is a summary of previous articles published on the topic 9 years previously. Significantly, the author of article 1 is also the lead or co-author of articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 28, which Holford says supports his arguments. Ooops! It actually speaks against Holfords claims. 

Read this twice:

The evidence is that not all children respond to supplementation, rather there is a minority who benefit, whose diet offers low amounts of micro-nutrients. Such observations are consistent with dietary surveys that typically report a sub-set of children with a low intake. The topic is at a very early stage and needs the clarification gained from a series of large-scale studies that consider children of a wide range of ages, dietary styles and social backgrounds.


But this is where it gets interesting. The author of article 1 (2001), is the same author of the earlier article, article 6 (1988), which Holford uses  as the prime study to support his claims. But in 1990 Trustwell wrote (not on Holford’s list of references) in response to  article 6: “In 1988 a multivitamin and multimineral supplement was reported to improve the performance in non-verbal intelligence tests of 30 schoolchildren in Wrexham in an eight month double blind trial. Though the authors warned that their study needed to be repeated, for the media it was big news. The story broke on television two days before the article was published in the Lancet.’ The British nutrition establishment found many weaknesses in the trial,2-9 and two attempts to confirm the results failed.10,11
Truswell S. Who should take vitamin supplements? BMJ. 1990 Jul 21;301(6744):135-6.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1663533/pdf/bmj00189-0009.pdf

Oops

Holford claims that article 33 supports his argument. In fact, the conclusion of this article states:

CONCLUSIONS:
This study confirms that vitamin-mineral supplementation modestly raised the nonverbal intelligence of some groups of Western schoolchildren by 2 to 3 points but not that of most Western schoolchildren, presumably because the majority were already adequately nourished. This study also confirms that vitamin-mineral supplementation markedly raises the non-verbal intelligence of a minority of Western schoolchildren, presumably because they were too poorly nourished before supplementation for optimal brain function. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=10706232

 

All 50 studies have nothing to do with Holford’s mix of ingredients, and some studies do not use a single one of Holford’s ingredients. 

Many of the studies contradict Holford’s argument, e.g., article 18: “Initial findings show that such supplementation will benefit those children on a poor diet, but it is unlikely that any improvement in intellectual performance will be proven.” 

So Patrick Holford either does not understand this conclusion or simply ignores exactly what it states.

Ingredients of SMART KIDS BRAIN BOOST®
http://holforddirect.co.za/products-and-research/
 

  • Arginine Pyroglutamate 150 mg
  • Phosphatidyl Choline (23%) 30 mg
  • Vitamin B5 (as pantothenic acid) 50 mg
  • TMG (trimethylglycine) 50 mg
  • Phosphatidyl Serine (20%) 15 mg
  • Vitamin B3 (as nicotinic acid) 5 mg
  • Folic Acid 67 mcg
  • Vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin) 3 mcg 

Not one of the 50 references supplied by Holford investigated this exact combination of substances and therefore there is no evidence for this product as a whole. 

I have shown that there is insufficient evidence (or zero) to support the claims for the individual ingredients here.

I have deconstructed every one of the 50 references that Holford supplies to support his claims, showing that none support his claims. This document (pdf format) can be accessed here.

It is evident that Patrick Holford fails Science 101, or is a bare-faced liar.

Update 12 May 2016:

See also our deconstruction for Patrick Holford’s Cinnamon/Cinnachrome product for diabetes

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8 Responses to Patrick Holford fails Science 101 (or is a bare-faced liar)

  1. Natalie Ribeiro 4 September, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    I  only have a few things to say . I have read alot of these articles and wonder why the person that is writing here is so clearly bent on attacking the alternative world as a whole . I wonder why he is not questioning the doctors more who are using drugs marketed to them by the drug companies as safe , when in actual fact they are only used, as the benefits supposedly outway the risks . The real scam is the huge drug companies that are making an absolute fortune out of us . I say that  the public themselves should take more responsibility for themselves anyway . Diet and excercise for one is the first step to a healthier lifestyle . Start educating yourself as much as possible , hopefully not through sites like this.  Learning about preventitive medicine and taking the right supplements is effective in staying healthier and read , read , read . The question marks lie with the drugs we are being prescribed by old school doctors who do not  try and look for other alternatives themselves . Sadly most doctors are tought in medical school to rely on marketing from the drug companies who tell them which drugs work . How many of these doctors are concerned what the side effects of, for an example , statin drugs or anti depressants. Do they tell you just how hard it is to come off these addictive drugs, once you have taken the leap to go on to them.  I  have personally witnessed a loved one go through this , watched her doctor prescribe more and more drugs , which did not get to the route of the problem. It was only through an integrated medical physician , did she come right .  This is not the only example I could mention , and I could find myself plummeting in to long winded argument with whom ever writes these articles , but I would not as I can clearly see there is an intent to discredit the supplement industry . Patrick Holford is an amazing nutritionalist who has done so much good . He has written another great book called Food is better medicine than Drugs . He has written this with in investigative journalist . Read for yourselves …

  2. Harris 4 September, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    This site is not anti-CAM: it is anti ALL health products making unjustifiable claims with no evidence/proof. This site happens to focus on CAMS – other sites take care of Big Pharma. Patrick Holford does not sell his books or supplements as an act of charity. CAMS, like Big Pharma, also make large fortunes out of consumers. There as many incompetent doctors and “integrated medical physicians” – one needs to find a competent health professional even if it means getting a second opinion. 

    The point of this article is simply to give consumers who have little knowledge of science/evidence enough information to make an informed choice. Patrick Holford claims that using this product will enable your child’s IQ, cognitive ability, to increase. But this requires you spending R149.95 a month (R 1,800/year). The claims clearly tug at parent’s emotional need to want to do the best for their children. The issue here is that Holford declares that 50 clinical studies support the claims for this product. This is done in order to seduce parents into spending this amount of money. I am simply helping consumers to make an informed decision by simply evaluating Holford’s evidence and showing why and how the claims are bogus. I have not fabricated the evidence; I have evaluated the exact studies that Holford put forward as supporting evidence. If you wish to support Patrick Holford following this glaring proof of incompetence/lying, this is your choice. 

    Consumers are entitled to make informed choices based on the truth. Is this not your opinion?

  3. Louis von Broembsen 6 September, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    I am so pleased to see that at last 'Professor' Holford is being exposed for what I believe he really is – a despicable juggler of the truth. Having read  chapter 9 of Ben Golacre's brilliant dissection of Holford's misleading claims about his qualifications and snake oil remedies in the book 'Bad Science', I am thrilled to note that others are taking up the cudgel.
    I am a horticultural scientist (a real one with a Masters Degree from a reconized university) who headed up the research division of the SA Co-operative Citrus Exchange for many years. Holford's claim in Goldacre's book that 'there are now oranges with no vitamin C in them at all' struck a chord. This is clearly untrue -aimed, it seems, at getting the gullible to buy his concoctions.
    Radio 702 had Holford on for two afternoon talk radio sessions earlier this year where he was given free reign to mislead the public at large. I wrote to the presenter Jenny Crwys-Williams asking how a reputable radio station could do such a thing. She replied.'…..thanks for the pointer, I will bear it in mind should we be asked to speak to him again' .   
       

  4. Taryn Ackerberg 7 September, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Thank you Dr Steinman for this response.  As a registered dietitian I would like to say that I am also not anti-CAM products or supplements.  However I feel the public has the right to information about products that is based on good quality research, to help them make informed decisions.  Not everyone needs supplements and often it can be a waste of money with no real benefits.  It is sometimes unbelievable the claims that are made regarding supplements in the media, and the public are so easily misled by it.  Patrick Holford is a good businessman and that is why he will continue to be popular.   We, as healthcare professionals, cannot keep silent and allow false or inaccurate claims to be made!

  5. LYNNE KERSHAW 25 July, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    well i am intrigued.i am buying all sorts of off the shelf medication.who is right or wrong.as a tv watcher i am getting information from every point. must i as an ordinary person be a chemist.i suggest change the rules on labels and be absolute.

  6. Pet 17 March, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    I know one thing for sure. Dead doctors do lie!! And good nutritinists living to great old age, also says something! Especially looking at them, and see how young they still look and how active they still are. I belief the proof is in the pudding.

  7. Pet 17 March, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Sorry I was Interupted! What I meant to say is: Dead doctors do not tell lies!

  8. Pet 17 March, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    On average, doctors do not live long healthe lives, where as good Nutritionists do. And look young and helathy for many years. Patrick Holford looks good for his age, Dr. Vogel lived well past 80 , he was a homeopath,and died from an accident. I am 70, and have been drug free for 50 years! And my children all followed my exmple and all my grandchildren were brought up drug free with supplements. And all of them are well and flourishing.

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