Are Nutrition Therapists Gambling with your health?

This was the title of the January 2012 edition Which? magazine which investigated ‘nutritional therapists’.

Which? sent five undercover researchers to visit three nutritional therapists each. Each researcher was equipped with a specific health-related scenario: Helen (46) and Sarah (40), recently diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer; Mark (56) and Linda (52), suffering with serious fatigue for the past three months; and Emily (31), trying unsuccessfully to conceive for more than a year.

These are their conclusions

“…high street nutritional therapists are a waste of money”. Which? report that the quality of advice from nutritional therapists was so bad that patients’ / customers’ health could be put at risk. Which? noted that Nutritional Therapy is is largely a self-regulated industry where anyone can set up and practice as a nutritional therapist.

Cancer lives off sugar

One of Sarah’s nutritional therapists advised her to delay the treatment recommended by her oncologist (a lumpectomy and a course of radiotherapy). The therapist suggested that Sarah follow a no-sugar diet for three to six months and told her, ‘cancer lives off sugar; if you feed it sugar it’s going to thrive. If we starve the cancer of sugar then you have a better opportunity of the cancer going away’.

Margarine is plastic

The level of scientific knowledge shown by some of the therapists was poor: one for example, recommended avoiding margarine, because it’s “two chemical bonds away from pure plastic”.  This is a myth I have come across before.

Any substance can be argued to be one molecule away from something toxic or disagreeable – here’s the science bit – a molecule is an electrically neutral group of two or more atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Salt is one molecule away from being chlorine gas, water (H2O) is an atom away from being hydrogen peroxide (H2O2); carbon is one molecule away from carbon monoxide. Plastics are made of long chains (polymers) of carbon and hydrogen and both margarine and butter contain carbon, hydrogen,  and oxygen – one molecule difference.

Unscientific ‘diagnosis’

Several of the ‘therapists’ offered methods of  ‘diagnosing’  nutritional deficiencies or allergies that have no scientific merit, such as: iridology, hair mineral analysis, taste tests. kinesiology. or the Vega test.

One researcher, suffering from severe tiredness, was told to cut out red meat from his diet for six weeks despite the fact his tiredness could be due to iron-deficiency anaemia. Another, also suffering from severe tiredness, was diagnosed with a problem with her adrenal glands by two therapists (without any blood tests) and one of these ‘therapists’ prescribed thyroid supplements despite no evidence this was the problem.

Another researcher, who had been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for over a year,- was diagnosed with a ‘leathery bowel’ by a therapist who used Iridology (looking at iris patterns, colour and other characteristics of the eye to diagnose symptoms). One of the ‘therapists recommended hair mineral analysis to check ‘essential minerals and toxic metals’ and one ‘diagnosed’ a researcher as having a chromium deficiency after making him ‘hold’ different liquids in his mouth.

Supplements are big money

In 12 of the 15 consultations, the researchers were prescribed a huge range of supplements, costing up to £70 per month.