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Nutritional Fairy Tales from Thames Valley University

October 23rd, 2008 · 115 Comments

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Thames Valley University is one of those shameful institutions that offer Bachelor of Science degrees in homeopathy. They don’t stop there though. They’ll teach you several other forms of make-believe medicine. Among these is “nutritional medicine”. This is taught at the Plaskett Nutritional Medicine College which is now part of Thames Valley University.

Everyone is for good nutrition of course, but ‘nutritional medicine’, or ‘nutritional therapy’ pretends to be able to cure all sorts of diseases by changes in diet or by buying expensive nutritional supplement pills. It has no perceptible relationship to the very important subjects of ‘nutrition’ or ‘dietetics’.  Nutritional therapy is very firmly part of alternative medicine, in other words it is largely quackery. If you don’t believe that, read on.

The subject of nutritional therapy was in the news recently because of Matthias Rath. He is the person who is reponsible for the death of many Africans because of his advocacy of vitamin pills for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. He didn’t just (mis)treat people, but also played a role in persuading the recently departed Thabo Mbeki, and his health minister (“Mrs Beetroot”) to abandon effective therapies for AIDS sufferers. See reports in The Guardian, by Ben Goldacre, and here,

I’ve written a lot about the penetration of quackery into universities, and I thought I’d seen the worst with ‘amethysts emit high yin energy‘.  But, as Goldacre said, let me tell you how bad things have become. .

Recently I came into possession of a lengthy set of notes for a first year course on “The Holistic Model of Healthcare”.  The notes are from the 2005 course at Thames Valley University,  They are not signed, but appear to have been written by Dr Lawrence Plaskett himself. . You can download the whole set of notes here.

Here are a few choice quotations. The basis of them is pure vitalism. They read like a throwback to the dark ages.  Little comment is needed.  They speak for themselves.

1.3 What do Orthodox Dieticians know about Food and Health?

Dieticians working in the National Health Service and private clinics and hospitals are usually well trained in the basics of the subject, though they too have an entirely orthodox slant.  By and large they seem to accept the general view of most of the medical profession that nutrition does not affect illness much. Hence, they restrict themselves to designing diets required by the doctors for whom they work – usually for specified narrow purposes, such as low fat diets, low sodium diets etc. Such diets are, indeed, important in the hospital management of certain diseases (once these have become established) but they represent extremely limited horizons. Much that is in the basic and essential training of alternative nutritional practitioners is missing from the training of dieticians. As a result, most hospital diets are not very good for health judging from the parameters that will be set down in the following Sessions

Well, it is true that real dietitians prefer not to base their practice on mediaeval vitalism. That is what marks them out as professionals.

1.4 Relationship to Science and the Limitations of Orthodox Methods

However, the subject of Wholistic Nutrition transcends the area of human understanding for which science, alone, is appropriate. The reason is that it is ‘vitalistic’. It recognises the presence in all life forms including the human body, of subtle (or ‘etheric’) energy forces not easily measurable by the physicist’s equipment.  It shares that position with the ‘energy medicine’ disciplines such as homoeopathy, traditional acupuncture and spiritual healing. It follows an approach to those subtle energies that is embodied in the discipline and philosophy of naturopathy.

Vitalism is the notion that life in living organisms is sustained by a vital principle that cannot be explained in terms of physics and chemistry.   This vital principle, often called “the life force”, is something quite distinct from the physical body and is responsible for much that happens in health and disease.

Naturopathy is a relatively modem term for an ancient concept (dating back to 400 BC). This concept embraces the notion that the body is inherently self-healing and that it is the practitioner’s job to stimulate and support this process.  Each patient is recognised as having a unique life experience and a unique genetic inheritance. All diseases are seen as one and as attempts by the body to purify itself of toxins. Treatment focuses on causes rather than on symptoms and always addresses the whole person. The wise words of Hippocrates (often called the Father of Medicine) express some of the main tenants of naturopathic thought. He said:

  • It is only nature that heals and wherever and whenever possible nature should be given the opportunity to do so.
  • Disease is only an expression of purification.
  • All disease is one.
  • Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”

Hence, most ‘alternative’ nutritionists see conventional nutrition. as being rather rigid and unmoving. Hence, they also see it as very limited. This happens because orthodox nutritionists tend to be locked into science alone. They fail to grasp the significance (or the reality of) the subtle energies and they reject the philosophy of vitalism. It is generally the view of ‘alternative’ nutritionists that understanding these things is a major step to healing the patient.

“Understanding” vitalism sounds more like a way of harming patients than healing patients.

1.5 The Pressure of the Orthodox model

Almost everyone who takes steps towards ‘alternative’ medicine experiences a backlash from others around them who have not been able to make the same conceptual change. Patients wanting to settle into an ‘alternative’ approach can be subject to negativity from their doctors (and as a result many patients do not ask the doctor’s opinion). But students and practitioners alike are frequently subject to negative expressions and even frank hostility from relatives
who can understand only orthodox, symptomatic treatment. It is therefore best to be forewarned that your adherence to ‘alternative’ principles will be tested in these ways.

The “Life Force” gets capital letters, like God, But what is it? Pure fantasy.


2.1 What does our Energy Consist of?

At the root of most hoIistic therapies lies the belief that all life is animated by a subtle force. We call this the Life Force. You either believe it or you do not. It cannot exactly be proved at the moment and the belief is not in accord with the yardsticks that we call ‘scientific’, The belief is a little akin to the belief in God or in spirits or ghosts, and yet at the same time it is not,
because the Life Force is by no means so remote from us. It is not necessarily difficult for an agnostic to accept the Life Force. The writer was once asked for a definition of the Life Force and wrote:

” The Life Force is that non-material. non-physical force that animates all life forms and distinguishes them from non-living matter. It Is seen as a determining Force, not as a mere accompaniment to the phenomenon of Life. That is, it determines whether Life can exist or not. It determines the physical form that a life form takes: by its quality and its strength it determines the health, vigour and vitality of the life form. Hence it determines our freedom from, or our  susceptibility to illnesses, and our general ability to come through and to recover from Life’s stresses and traumas.”

A bit later it gets even better, when we get to astral travel and even survival after death. Truly bonkers.

The postulate of a subtle Life Force makes a natural connection with such topics as out of body experiences, astral travel and even survival after death. This happens because the subtle Life Force appears by its very nature to be “life within a different medium” and if life can exist in
a different medium, then why should it not exist quite independently of the physical body?

So what’s the evidence?

2.2 Evidence Concerning the Life Force

Since our ‘usual’ human senses only work through the medium of the human body we can only expect to detect the Life Force or other subtle forces, through their interactions with matter. It is clear that these interactions are themselves subtle and sensitive because one level or state is impinging upon another. It is postulated that they are not entirely of our world, not physical, only detectable with physical apparatus under special conditions.
Often they are described as “that which science cannot see”. Not surprisingly, therefore, when investigators come forward convinced that they have a phenomenon that demonstrates the Life Force. the physicists, looking at it with a steely scientific eye, are not usually ready to accept the conclusions claimed. Hence, we have several delicate phenomena that are often claimed to be manifestations of the Life Force, yet not accepted as such scientifically.

• The experiments done by Harold Saxton Burr on the “Fields of Life”.

• The experimen1s performed on detecting and measuring “Electrodynamic fields”

• The phenomenon of “Capillary dynamolysis”

• Homoeopathic effects.

• The Chinese ‘energy pulses’ at the human wrists.

From experience it is clear that many students will simply accept the Life Force as ‘obvious’.  Some will say they have always known about it. Others are able to accept the concept now as a reasonable principle.  Others perhaps (though we have rarely come across it) will never accept the Life Force. If that occurs, it seems a shame, for it removes some of the excitement from wholistic nutrition, . . .

What’s said about the homeopathic evidence?

2.6 Homoeopathic Effects

It is not until Nutritional Medicine students have qualified and got into practice that they usually employ any homoeopathy as an adjunct to their therapy in anything other than a first-aid role. That is because homoeopathy is a complex training in its own right and a quite separate discipline. However, any demonstration of the effectiveness of homoeopathic medicines at potencies higher than 12C is evidence for the existence of the subtle etheric energies. Such remedies have been diluted beyond the point at which the last traces of material substance derived from the Mother tincture, have been removed, leaving only the residual energy associated with the original material.

Of course the notes go on to misrepresent the clinical trials which actually show that homeopathy is mere placebo.

2.9 Toxic Effects upon the Life Force

The Life Force is generally seen as an abundant ebullient and beautiful manifestation of Nature’s energy. Although some forms of acupuncture take in the concept of a form of polluted Life Force called Aggressive Energy”, that idea is not shared much by other whoIistic disciplines. We are left for the most part with the idea of a rather perfect form of energy.

In Western Naturopathic thought, the enemy of the Life Force is toxicity. The Life Force inhabits a potentially perfect physical body. The main threat to the integrity of that body consists of the body’s own metabolic wastes, if they are not properly cleared out. Plus environmental toxins that gain access to the body from outside, or that are generated in the bowel. In that way the bowel gains a high level of importance in Naturopathy and ‘”Nature Cure”.

The Life Force, then, with its almost holy purity, is in danger of being inhibited, dampened down and threatened by what amounts to some entirely physical dirt that gains access to that temple of the soul the human body. Whilst in Traditional Chinese Medicine impurities in the mind, emotions or spirit are just as important as physical impurity, it is naturopathy that focuses upon the actual physical sewers of the body.

Aha, that’s it. Holy water.

The inability of naturopaths in the past to identify specific toxins or to point with sufficient exactitude to the ways in which they can be removed, has been the Achilles Heel of the naturopaths in trying to represent their views in the past to orthodox doctors or medical scientists.

And it still is. The alleged toxins have never been identified, still less removed. Detoxification is a myth of downmarket women’s magazines and profiteering spas. And, of course, of some Bachelor of Science  degrees.

2.10 Nutritional Effects upon the Life Force

2.10.1 Bulk nutrients

Next comes the consideration of the bulk nutrients – the protein, carbohydrate and fat. These are our source of biochemical energy and we obviously starve without them. Their purity is crucial.  If they have been chemically modified or damaged by toxic interactions, then they will entrain toxicity and also be hard to break down. Even at best, their digestion and assimilation costs energy, which may well be both biochemical and subtle.

What “toxic interactions”? This is all sheer fantasy.

2.10.3 The micronutrients

When you practice [sic] nutritional therapy in a naturopathic setting, being aware at the same time of the on-going biochemistry, you become critically aware of the role of the  micronutrients in a way that the classical naturopaths were not.

Biochemical reactions will flow better when they are present in the correct balance. Therefore the minerals have a key interaction with the Life Force. Without the right minerals the Life Force can be conceived of as pushing forward to achieve high activity in the body, yet being blocked through the chemical composition not being correct. If you apply the minerals in this situation, there may, indeed. be a surge forward of the energy.

Whatever that may mean.


3.1 The Horror of Deterioration: The Chronic State

All that has gone before has already shown that the grassroots of deterioration in the physical body are:

  • Weakened Life Force
  • Nutritional Deficiency and Imbalance
  • Toxic Attack

If nutritional error or deprivation are the more strongly implicated primary cause, then the Life Force struggles with an unbalanced physical body, getting the tissue biochemistry to work at full integrity is impossible; hence. the body’s detoxification system becomes incompetent and the body’s toxic burden may rise steeply. At the same time the Life Force ails.

So, focusing as we do now upon elimination of toxins (the very nub of classical naturopathy), we perceive that it is a process that depends upon a good strong Life Force and also upon adequate nutrient intake. Therapies that directly stimulate the Life Force (homoeopathy, acupuncture and spiritual healing) therefore make an indirect, though real, contribution to toxic elimination through increasing the Life Force or otherwise improving its health and balance.

So according to this, all CAM is much the same. That idea will provoke bitter internecine warfare.

3.5 The Law of Cure

We have above depicted the move from relative health to chronic illness as a downward path. Equally, the route back from the edge of the abyss of chronic illness is one of revitalisation and detoxification. The idea of the ‘route back’ was spotted years ago by the homoeopath, Constantine Hering, and has become known as ‘Hering’s Law of Cure’.

The Law further embodies the notion that toxins, and therefore symptoms, tend to move outward from within as recovery or cleansing occurs. This is fully in accord with the classical naturopath’s idea. Toxins close to the surface of the body are conceived to be most likely on their way out. The skin is an eliminatory organ and toxins at or near the skin level are not so much of a threat to well being. Naturally, the patient may well be horrified at the disfiguring
rash that may be seen by all. Nonetheless, the patient is seen to be far better off than when having these toxins deep within the body, held, perhaps within essential organs that are becoming progressively damaged.

This sounds increasingly like a ‘do-nothing’ approach (much like homeopathy then).

3.6 Suppression

Boils used to swell up into a red sore and then burst. Very bad ones, or carbuncles, might be lanced to cause the pus (morbid matter) to run out. These days, boils and carbuncles tend to occur much less than formerly, presumably because of the lower Life Force of the population and the generally suppressive medical culture. The chances are that they get treated with an antibiotic long before they get a chance to come to a head and burst. Such treatment is suppressive in the strictly naturopathic sense of the word. The same is absolutely true with regard to bringing down artificially the temperature during a fever, whereas ‘sweating it out’ is the natural thing to do.

More of the do-nothing approach.

4.2 How lridology Helps us to See Toxic Foci

As mentioned above, toxic foci (deposits) in the body show up in the iris of the eye. The iris is arranged so as to encompass a complete ‘map’ of the body. with all the organs and systems laid out upon it. Hence the location of a toxic deposit in the iris shows the iridologist its position within the body. The toxins may appear as colours, spots. blobs and smears in particular
places in the iris, or as darkened areas.

Now iridology, another sort of fantasy medicine, creeps in.

5.5 What Place for Immunisations?

Here we shall restrict ourselves to saying as little as possible. We shall. indeed, make no recommendations. However. the classical naturopaths and homoeopaths have all been of one voice in condemning the use of morbid diseased matter for injection into the human body to prevent disease. It was not, they said, a proper procedure. There has also been much disagreement about how effective such measures are. Of course, whenever there is danger of infection. it is wrong to do nothing. At least you should use the homoeopathic equivalent treatment. As to the effectiveness of those methods, that is beyond the scope of this course.

As to the personal view of the writer, it is that the natural therapists who have declared thernselves on this topic in the past are probably right. They have maintained that immunisation is just another form of toxin and an especially potent one capable, on its own, of sparking a downward spiral into ill health in susceptible people. As to what extent that effect might be balanced by benefit, that is an unresolved argument.  The writer does not use immunisations himself.

Well there is a surprise. Just like almost every other quack, the writer would endanger the whole population by opposing immunisation.

The quiz

The notes contain a number of questions, and, more interestingly, model answers are given at the end. Here is one example.

Question.    Why do some patients respond well to very little treatment?

Answer.  The size of the toxic burden, the strength of the Life Force and micro nutrient status strongly influence a person’s response to treatment. Therefore a person with a low toxic burden, high micro nutrient status and strong life force should respond well to very little treatment.

Or, to put it differently, echinacea cures your cold in seven days, when otherwise it would have taken a week.


We’ll always have crackpot ideas about medicine, at least until real medicine gets much more effective than it is now. For example, in low back pain, the cause is usually not known, the treatments are only palliative, and it isn’t very effective palliation either. The big difference between real medicine and crackpot medicine, is that in real medicine you aren’t allowed to invent the answer when you don’t know it.

No doubt the author of these fantasy notes was entirely sincere in his delusions.  But how can any self-respecting vice-chancellor tolerate having this sort of stuff as part of a Bachelor of Science degree?   Professor Peter John, vice-chancellor of Thames Valley University is not a scientist. His background is in education. But you don’t need to be a scientist to see what nonsense is being taught as science in his university.

Perhaps he didn’t know what is going on. Well, he does now.


Thanks to Ben Goldacre for the link from his miniblog.?

Thames Valley University and their degree in “Nutritional Medicine”

Why? Why do they pretend it’s science? Why don’t they just call it “some stuff we made up”

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Tags: Academia · antioxidant · antiscience · herbalism · homeopathy · HR bollocks · management bollocks · managerialism · nutribollocks · nutrition · nutritional therapy · Peter John · Plaskett · Thames Valley · Universities · vice-chancellors · vitalism

115 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Not much Freedom of Information at University of Wales, University of Kingston, Robert Gordon University or Napier University // Oct 22, 2009 at 09:24

    […] http://www.dcscience.net/?p=984   Nutritional Fairy Tales from Thames Valley University http://www.dcscience.net/?p=260   Westminster University BSc: amethysts emit high yin energy http://www.dcscience.net/?p=227 […]

  • 2 BANT: A Profile « Stuff And Nonsense // May 5, 2010 at 12:24

    […] Another member of the BANT Council is T. Callis, who has practised as a reflexologist. Of the nine members of the Council, three graduated from Patrick Holford’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition and two have degrees from Westminster University, with another member being a graduate of Thames Valley. […]

  • 3 magaret42 // Dec 18, 2011 at 16:27

    Hmm the only reason I have registered- to show you how what you are preaching here is the real fairytale.
    I am an oncologist have been practising for 25 yrs 6 yrs ago a patient refused chemo on the grounds that he was being treated by hear this “a holistic vet”. this caused quite a fuss but believe it or not when we carried out relevent tests to confirm the rate of growth and metastasis of the pre diagnosed tumor, the tumor was an 1/8 of its original size and hence we were able to treat him less invasively with a great outcome This patient had been diagnosed by us but never appeared for treatment we tried contacting the family whom was distraught as he had been given months to live by various oncologists, and still he refused treatment but went to seek the advice of a vet. Well due to this my collegues and I decided to further our horizons and investigate what this vet was all about after all our patient was now cancer free! Well to cut a long story short said vet was refered to to as a lunatic by most orthodox medical institutions but now after his death there are various large phamaceutical companies fighting over the patent for his famous CV247 which cured cancers in dogs and helped and greatly reduce tumors in humans presenting us with healthier patients which were physically stronger to endure chemo when needed. This method is now used by many hospitals in UK some even advertise that they offer it. Anyway I decided to study the Plaskett nutritional medicine diploma as an extra and let me tell you the notes you are publishing above are a whole lota bull they do not belong to the course, the course centres itself on science, the only difference is it guides you as to how nutrition can help achieve optimum health and how nutrition can aid in achieving better results in diseases and conditions together with orthodox medicine. this part is crucial as unfortunately many doctors and other orthodox medicine professionals as myself are not aware how many nutritional extracts and yes herbs can interfere with medication. The nutritional therapist is given a huge backround in orthodox medicine to be able to advice or suggest supplementation which will aid and not interfere with medicines prescribed. Orthodox ractitioners use nutritional medicine without even realising it e.g administering B12 to person with Alcohol intoxication in exactly that. The nutritional therapist is able to help alcoholics recover and achieve their sober status through the same principles before they are intoxicated and not after. IVF patients,Pcos patients, patients with crohns disease, and many more all are treated with ntritional therapy to some extent.

  • 4 David Colquhoun // Dec 18, 2011 at 19:28

    You are really an oncologist? Do you work in the NHS?

    If so, I’m a bit horrified by your idea of what constitutes evidence.

    I believe that Which? magazine will be publishing an investigation of “nutritional therapists” soon. Perhaps you should check that. They seem to vary between the merely ignorant to the downright dangerous.

  • 5 An alliance of playground bullies // Dec 23, 2011 at 20:11

    […] alternative and complementary medicine for 23 years” and has all these letters after her name: BSc Nut Med Cert LTFHE mBANT. She might even be responsible for the Food Hospital review. I wouldn’t for […]

  • 6 The demise of quackademia. Progress in the last 5 years leaves Michael Driscoll and Geoffrey Petts isolated. // Jan 1, 2012 at 16:35

    […] University was renamed the University of West London in 2010. The nonsense that was run there (e.g. Nutritional Fairy Tales from Thames Valley University) seems to have vanished. Their previous alt med guru, Nicola Robinson, appears now to be at London […]

  • 7 Which? magazine: “…high street nutritional therapists are a waste of money” // Jan 16, 2012 at 01:34

    […] worthless validation: the University of Wales and nutritional therapy Nutritional Fairy Tales from Thames Valley University College of Natural Nutrition: bizarre teaching revealed Nutriprofile: useful aid or sales […]

  • 8 Et «naturvitenskapelig» universtetsstudium « Skepsisbloggen // Aug 26, 2012 at 12:34

    […] standarder av tilbudet eller noe annet ledd underveis, vel, da får vi litt for fort sånt som dette studietilbudet i «ernæring» (må ikke forveksles med ernæringsfysiologi): the subject of Wholistic Nutrition transcends the […]

  • 9 50 shocking facts about experts on TV… « brianwernham // Jan 13, 2013 at 12:09

    […] degree nutritional medicine from Thames Valley University, which sounds reassuring, but some are not convinced of its value. Ben Goldacre simply states that Thames Valley University runs ‘degrees in […]

  • 10 graj0 // Apr 24, 2013 at 08:00

    I’ve been following the advice of “experts” for several years, by “expert” I mean GP, Dietician, Endocrinologist, as well as several dieting organisations. I have cut 500 cals from my Basic Metabolic Rate, I have cut 1,000 cals from my BMR, I even cut my calorie intake to 1,000 cals a day. I swam 1 km 5 times a week, been in the gym for 3 hrs a week, Personal Trainer 1 hr a week, swimming lesson 1 hr a week, played a round of golf every week. I didn’t lose an ounce and when the recommendation was to have a gastric band (I’d already been on 1,000 cals a day, what difference would a band make except put several thousand pounds into someone’s pocket), it was obvious that the “experts” didn’t have a clue. So I went to a Clinical Nutritionist with a BSc in Nutritional Medicine from TVU. I have now successfully lost 5 stone, I’m pleased that I  believed in Nutritional Fairy Tales.   

  • 11 David Colquhoun // Apr 24, 2013 at 12:14


    That’s interesting. It would be helpful if you could tell us exactly treatment the nutritional therapist gave you?

  • 12 graj0 // Apr 24, 2013 at 17:45

    Treatment? Just nutritional advice, with my present GP kept fully informed.

  • 13 David Colquhoun // Apr 24, 2013 at 23:46


    I think we need to know a lot more than that before your claim can be judged.  You say that you were already on 1000 cals a day -what sort of diet was that? And how did it change after visiting the nutritional therapist?

    It’s not much help to claim miraculous results if you don’t tell us how (allegedly) they were obtained.

  • 14 graj0 // Apr 25, 2013 at 06:01

    1. I’m not asking for my claim to be
      judged, I only said that I was glad that I believed in Nutritional
      Fairy Tales.

    2. What sort of diet? Nothing
      special, just a reduction in calories down to 1000 cals a day.

    3. I’m not claiming miraculous
      results, losing weight isn’t a miracle when you eat the right

    4. NB I’m not saying dieticians and
      medics give bad advice, it’s just that dietary advice is NOT “one
      size fits all” and none of the advise that I had received was

  • 15 David Colquhoun // Apr 25, 2013 at 09:42


    You may not be asking for your claim to be judged, but this blog is about evidence, so it would be interesting for others to know what worked for you.

    I’m a bit baffled because you said in your first comment that you’d been on 1000 calories per day before you went to the nutritional therapist.  I guess most people would lose weight on that, so it’s not at all apparent to me what the contribution of the therapist was..

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