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I have received today (11 September 2007) a rather threatening letter from Patrick Holford. He says

“I am writing to you directly to complain about both your article in The Guardian of 15 August, in which you falsely claim that my advocacy that Vitamin C is better than conventional drugs to treat AIDS is “truly scary”, and in respect of the equally false claims you have posted on your website, DC Improbable Science, particularly in relation to Dr John Marks.”

He ends, more threateningly,

“I nonetheless believe it appropriate that you withdraw the allegations you have made and apologise for making these unwarranted and defamatory allegations. Provided that we can agree the wording of an apology and the removal of the false claims, I am prepared to leave it there. However, I fully reserve my right to take this matter further should my complaint not be resolved to my satisfaction.”

Here are responses to these two allegations.
(Some follow ups on this post have been added below)

Vitamin C and AIDS

What does Holford actually say about HIV/AIDS? On page 208 of his New Optimum Nutrition Bible (2003) we read (see Google books)

“Yet for the last 100 years, medicine has focused on drugs designed to destroy the invader -antibiotics, anti-viral agents, chemotherapy. By their very nature, these drugs are poison to the body. AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C (23)”

This sounds to me like a pretty clear statement that AZT is “less effective than Vitamin C”. The interested reader may skip forward to page 544 to see what reference 23 actually says. The reference that they will find is this



You can read this paper here. If you get that far, you might well be surprised to find that it is not a study of people with HIV/AIDS, but merely shows that vitamin C can, under lab conditions, inhibit HIV in cells in a dish. You might be even more surprised that the paper does not compare vitamin C and AZT. In fact AZT is not mentioned at all (except for a brief reference in the discussion).It is true, that on his web site, as opposed to his book, Holford expands on this theme a bit. For example here he says. of reference 23,

“Ref 23. These in vitro studies on human T-cells shows that vitamin C suppresses the HIV virus in both chronically and latently infected cells, while AZT has no significant effect. It is a tragedy that this simple, non-toxic treatment hasn’t been further tested. ”

Harakeh S, Jariwalla RJ.Ascorbate effect on cytokine stimulation of HIV production. Nutrition. 1995 Sep-Oct;11(5 Suppl):684-7.

But the reference given here (which does use AZT) is not reference 23 (which does not test AZT at all). Holford himself acknowleges that his book cites the wrong reference in his book.

Holford also forgets to mention (or perhaps didn’t notice) that the concentrations of Vitamin C that are used in these in vitro studies are something like 10 times greater than can be achieved in man even with very high oral doses,

More recently he has backed off a bit. For example, here he says

“There is no doubt that anti-retroviral drugs save lives. So too may high dose vitamin C, but we just won’t know until the definitive research trial is done.”

Why, one wonders, has Holford not done studies in man himself? His name does not appear in the research literature at all (search Pubmed for ‘Holford PJ’ yourself). And Holford is not a poor man.

It still seems to me that anyone reading his New Optimum Nutrition Bible (2003) will be misled into thinking that Vitamin C is better than AZT for curing HIV/AIDS in man.

You can read more interesting stuff on this question at Holfordwatch.

What did Dr Marks actually say?

I’m accused of malicious behaviour, because I posted a letter from Dr Marks which set out his present views All I did was ask Dr Marks about what happened, and, with his encouragement, published his
answer. I also suggested to Dr Marks that he should write to Holford to ask for the basis on which Marks was quoted. When Marks received no reply, we decided to go ahead anyway.

I am, therefore, very grateful to Mr Holford for sending me a letter, dated 16 September 1997, that was sent to him by Dr Marks. The whole letter can be downloaded here.

It seems that in the ten years since that letter was written, Dr Marks has changed his mind a bit about Holford. but the main interest attached to the letter is the selective quotations that have been made from it.

In his 1997 letter to Holford, Marks says “On the basis of this I am entirely happy for you to quote as much or as little of the following comments as you wish. If you change the order of phrases or omit portions of sentences I am confident that you will not alter the general sense”.

Judge for yourself whether the general sense has been changed in this case.

Dr Marks said (in 1997)

“There have been dramatic changes over the past decade in our views about that area of health care which comes under the general term “alternative medicine” and Patrick Holford, author of this book has been right at the forefront of many of these changes, particularly those associated with our revised appreciation of human nutrition. I commend this book to you on the basis that it is well researched and written with a substantial backing ofreferences from reliable and peer reviewed scientific and medical journals.

I do not accept all his conclusions and I suspect that his other readers will not agree with all that he says. On the other hand there is considerable food for thought in each chapter and adequate arguments on which you will be able to make up your own mind about the ideas which he puts forward. The road to bad medicine and bad health is built on the foundation of dogma and it is very refreshing to have, in a single readable volume, much of this dogma subjected to fresh examination.”

Compare this with the quotation attributed to Dr Marks in the CV which was submitted by Holford to the University of Teesside.

“There have been dramatic changes over the past decade in our views about healthcare and Patrick Holford has been right at the forefront of many of these changes, particularly with our revised appreciation of nutrition. The road to bad medicine and bad health is built on the foundation of dogma. It is refreshing to have this dogma subjected to fresh examination.”

So what happened to the bit where Marks refers to the work as “Alternative Medicine”.

And what happened to the bit where Marks says “I do not accept all his conclusions and I suspect that his other readers will not agree with all that he says.”

They seem to have vanished without trace.

I rest my case.

Some comments that followed this post

At Holfordwatch “Patrick Holford Refers to Someone Else as Inaccurate”.

And at Quackometer ” Patrick Holford – No Comment”

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