Patrick Holford vs The University of Cambridge

Patrick Holford often claims that the path of optimum nutrition “is likely to add years to your life and life to your years”. http://www.patrickholford.com/content.asp?id_Content=2168

In contrast, researchers at the University of Cambridge “discover” that non-smokers, moderate drinkers and those who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables live longer: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7174665.stm

Now, as you all know my favourite book is Nutrition for Dummies. The beginning of the book has a very interesting section called “Research you can trust.” According to the authors ignorant members of the public – like me – need to ask: “Where was the study published?”, “Does this study include human beings?” and “Are there enough people in this study?”

The study on which the above BBC article was based was first published in PLoS Medicine a “peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science.” Sounds good to me. I particularly like the section which states, “Statistical Advisors provide methodological input for certain types of submitted manuscripts and advise on whether statistical aspects of those manuscripts are performed to the technical standard required for publication” – http://www.plosone.org/static/edboard.action#statisticaladvisors I wonder how some of the surveys done by the ION or Food for the Brain would measure up?

There were 20,244 human participants in the study which sounds quite a lot.

You can read the full article here: http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050012

My question, and no one has ever (!) been to answer it is this: how much healthier will I be and how many years will I add to my life if I follow the Way of Optimum Nutrition compared with the approach offered by the British Dietetic Association?

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8 Responses to “Patrick Holford vs The University of Cambridge”

  1. dvnutrix Says:

    Despite Holford’s documented level of incompetence with statistics and in fact basic sums, he has again attacked the statistical analysis of the Cochrane Review of Antioxidants and Mortality. If he gave you a number in answer to your question, I’d check it out with some pre-schoolers and their big colourful blocks.

  2. LeeT Says:

    He is a man on a mission and things like numerical accuracy cannot be allowed to derail the mission.

  3. jdc325 Says:

    Focussing rather narrowly on the Holford link you provided, I think I remember reading something about a study showing that supplement users tended to be healthier than non-users – it could well have been the Block et al study that Patrick Holford discusses on the page you linked to at the beginning of your post Lee. I wondered if the type of people who are willing to spend good money purchasing *twenty* different types of supplement [“Almost nine out of ten of the multiple-supplement users consumed 20 or more different kinds of supplements throughout the year”] could also, just possibly, be the type of people who try to look after their health in other ways as well – eating a balanced and varied diet, not smoking, consuming alcohol only in moderation and taking exercise (i.e., the very things referred to in the BBC report of the PLoS study). It seems to me that it could also be true that the people who can afford to buy twenty different types of supplement may also be in a higher social class than the type of person who cannot afford to buy twenty different types of pill. As Ben Goldacre wrote in this piece, “In reality, again, away from the cameras, the most significant “lifestyle” cause of death and disease is social class.”

    So while it may be true that the supplement users in the Block study were healthier, it does not necessarily follow that they were healthier because they took supplements – they could easily have been healthier due to other factors and the supplements might have made no difference. It is even possible that users might have been healthier than non-users despite their supplement use [particularly if they were necking certain antioxidant pills, as in the Bjelakovic meta analysis published by Cochrane].

    The PLoS study seems to report, according to the quote Professor Kay-Tee Khaw gave the BBC, that social class did not have a role to play in longevity. I found this difficult to understand, given that the study states that social class was adjusted for. I thought this meant that the results did not reflect social class as it had been ‘taken out of the equation’, rather than that social class did not have a role to play in mortality. I’m confused now. I’m going to have to ask someone to explain this to me.

    Incidentally, Lee – you are one-up on the BBC. Unlike the Beeb, you have provided a direct link to the actual study. The BBC don’t even give a citation (something I’ve complained to them about before). Thanks for providing the PLoS link, as it saved me time and trouble looking for it myself.

  4. LeeT Says:

    Presumably if some one in a lower social class:-

    (1) eats five portions of fruit/veg a day
    (2) stops smoking
    (3) manages their stress levels
    (4) takes regular exercise

    They can add years to their life and life to their years. This member of the lower orders is certainly doing his best.

    If supplement pills do help to promote a longer life I would guess that the effect is marginal IF the person concerned is eating the kind of diet recommended on the BDA website.

    From a public policy point of view I would say the priority is to get people to reduce their intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats and increase the amount of wholegrains in their diet. Therefore, I would guess it is bordering on irrelevant whether some one eating a healthy diet takes supplements and eats organic certified food, much as I love many brands of organic food. (I’ll come back to the pros and cons of organic food another time.)

    The BBC article was a good summary of what the report was about and they did link to the PLoS website. From there it took less than a minute to find the report itself. I guess they can’t link to everything and very few people would be interested in reading the report itself.

  5. dvnutrix Says:

    That wretched Block paper – it is not too clear in the paper, and we really must write this up in more detail but the multi-supplement users were all Shaklee MLM distributors of 20 years standing and more which may have influenced the fabulous write up that they gave the pills and the non-verified picture of their health.

    Don’t even get me started on what the authors did by dragging in two separate NAHNES cohorts and presenting them as if they were the same one.

  6. LeeT Says:

    @dvn – no way! That’s awful. Did they make that clear to those at Nutrition Journal doing the peer review? If not the magazine needs to make an apology to its readers.

  7. dvnutrix Says:

    Lee, the ‘journal’ in question prides itself on its lax peer-review and is nonethless indexed in PubMed.

    As an example of infilatration of the peer-reviewed publication system, this is fascinating. Publishing in Nutrition will, of course, give someone a publication in a peer-reviewed journal – the fact that it is ludicrous is neither here nor there and will deceive the public who don’t understand these things. An extraordinary percentage of the publications in Nutrition are sponsored by supplements companies who publish the scientific ‘proof’ for their supplements.

    From the Peer Review Policies:

    Each manuscript submitted to Nutrition Journal will be assigned to one or two external reviewers for peer-review, which is normally completed in 2 to 8 weeks. In deciding whether to accept or reject a manuscript, a reviewer asks him/herself whether the scientific community is better served by publishing or not publishing the manuscript. In the absence of compelling reasons to reject, Nutrition Journal advises that reviewers recommend acceptance, as ultimately the quality of an article will be judged by the scientific community after its publication.

    Posting an online response to a paper means that it is not listed in PubMed – publishing a response that would be listed looks like it involves paying to publish your response (US$1900 or more than £800).

    So – my long-winded response to your question is that the ‘reviewers’ didn’t care and although I am irritated, I am not willing to spend that much money to publish and index a response.

  8. leet01 Says:

    Wheyyy heyy, well we know where Food for the Brain will be publishing the result fo their questionnaires … I mean research. Just remember you read it here first.

    Perhaps Andrew Wakefield should contact them?

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