/ Health

Had dodgy advice from a nutritional therapist? We have!

Have you ever visited a nutritional therapist? In this month’s Which? magazine we investigated the profession and found some worrying practices, such as therapists advising against going to your GP.

One therapist advised our researcher, who was posing as a cancer sufferer, against having conventional treatment (a lumpectomy and radiotherapy), saying that she should try for three to six months to rid herself of the cancer through diet (by cutting out sugar).

Nutritional therapy can be big business; therapists charge up to £80 for a consultation and often prescribe expensive supplements on top. So we wanted to investigate whether it was worth the money.

How our investigation worked

We asked five undercover researchers to each visit three therapists. Each researcher was provided with a scenario.

One researcher (in her early 30s) had been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for over a year. Two (in their 50s) had been suffering from severe tiredness for the past three months. And two women (in their 40s) had recently been diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ), the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer.

A panel of experts (a dietitian, a GP and a Professor of Pharmacology) then assessed recordings of the visits and any other information the therapists provided to the researchers, including prescriptions for supplements.

Are nutritional therapists worth the money?

Our expert panel concluded that visiting a nutritional therapist wasn’t worth the money – and in some cases could have actually endangered the health of the researcher. Six of the fifteen consultations were rated as ‘dangerous fails’.

This could have been down to a number of reasons:

  • The advice given by the therapist could have potentially harmed the researcher.
  • Therapists were diagnosing conditions without relevant testing (even though their Code of Practice says they shouldn’t diagnose).
  • Researchers were advised not to visit their GPs about the problem, recommending unproven testing such as hair mineral analysis, and the case above, advising against cancer treatment.

Of the remaining visits, eight were rated as ‘fails’ and only one was graded as a ‘borderline pass’. Our experts were disappointed by the advice given by therapists and concerned at their poor knowledge of the body and how it works.

The experts were also worried by some therapists using non-evidence-based testing to diagnose symptoms. These tests included iridology (studying the patterns, colour and other characteristics of the iris), hair mineral analysis and a researcher being given several liquids to hold in his mouth before being told he had a chromium deficiency.

Are the recommendations right?

Twelve of the therapists prescribed supplements to the researchers, costing up to £70 a month. Researchers were told not to buy them from Boots or other high street chemists as they weren’t ‘pure enough’ and you were effectively ‘flushing your money down the loo’. Instead, they were asked to buy them from the retailers recommended by the therapist.

Of course, there is benefit in following healthy dietary advice, but most of what was provided by the nutritional therapists is freely available on websites such as the NHS site.

Plus, most of the therapists in our investigation recommended quite restrictive diets that excluded several foods (predominantly dairy and wheat) and taking expensive supplements.

If you do have a medical condition that you are concerned about, your first port of call should be your GP. If necessary they can then refer you to a dietitian. We have contacted the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) with our findings and concerns.

People who have visited nutritional therapists emailed us to say that they found the diets recommended to them difficult to maintain over a long time and eventually gave up.

Have you visited a nutritional therapist? What was your experience like – do any of these findings ring true or did you have a more positive experience?

Stuart says:
20 February 2012

Right, last comment from me.

Before I read this thread I took the same view on NTs as I initially did on Homeopaths. I took the view that this was a field filled with people who genuinely wanted to help others in a complementary way and that they had the ability to regulate their activities to protect the public where neccessary.

What I have read since I find deeply disturbing.

NTs seem to suffer many of the same weaknesses which seem to make Homeopathy so deeply flawed. NTs seem to lack self awareness, don’t possess the skills to properly assess evidence, and perhaps worst of all see themselves as a true alternative to conventional healthcare rather than complementary. They also seem highly succeptible to buy into conspiracy theories propogated by the industry that relies upon them, whilst ignoring the obvious conflict of interest.

I have become more and more convinced that stronger regulation is the wrong solution here, as this would just legitimise any dangerous practitioners that the more moderate ones, for whatever reason, will not condem. Self regulation clearly isn’t going to work.

Guess the answer will be more investigations like the Which? one, until there is sufficent pressure to act.


Its been emotional.

Maria says:
20 February 2012

Thank you for your many excellent comments, Stuart. I agree with every word of your conclusion.


Stuart, in your reply to Barney you said…………………………..

“I can’t speak for Maria, but i presume she is referring to”:-

#1. Matthias Rath attempting to sue Goldacre for libel (failed)
True, but then Rath did win a court case against the BMJ……………..

#2. Wakefield attempting to sue Brian Deer for libel (failed)
Again true but then the final Court hearing/ruling is now in process, so we will just have to wait and see………………
“When the accused fails to respond to a charge as serious as the ones attributed to Dr. Wakefield, it implies guilt to the public at large. I think Andrew has taken the proper course. I have spoken to him in private concerning this case and feel confident he will be vindicated. It is interesting how this has all come about. The perpetrators of this medical disaster, the pharmaceutical makers of vaccines, knew that a great number of well-respected researchers were raising serious concerns over vaccines and finding possible links to autism and that the public would be convinced that there were serious problems with vaccines. By implying that the entire case for vaccine-induced neurodevelopmental problems was based on the work of one person, Andrew Wakefield, all that was necessary was that they slander that person. If they could make the public believe that the entire case of vaccine-induced autism was fraudulent by destroying the reputation of the implied sole person making the claim, they could end all criticism. It also intimidated other scientists who feared similar treatment. When Wakefield proves his case, those who conspired to destroy his reputation should not only pay heavy monetary cost, but should also face long terms in prison”…………
Dr Russell Blaylock,M.D.

#3. Threats to Andy Lewis by Society of Homeopaths, Joseph Obi and Robert Delgado (dropped before action I think)
Probably, so thanks for finding that one.

Selina Import says:
20 February 2012

Chris I often wonder too about how in the first part of the 20th centuary the wonderful scientists identified what we now call vitamins and their function. They must have been so excited and they made mistakes too since some weren’t. Then there were the scientists and doctors who followed on their work discovering how to correct deficiencies. Little did they know that the result of their discoveries would become such a battle for health


Hello Selina,
without wishing to stoke the fires yet again, I thought it worthy of mention to you and you only, that those scientists whose work involved research into Vitamins and so on, their work has largely been ignored/neglected or even suppressed, and I include here the works of Otto Warburg, Dr Johanna Budwig, Dr Herbert M Shelton, Dr Otto Buchinger, Dr Benedict Lust, Dr J Harvey Kellogg and the list goes on and on.

You know until the early 1940’s and the ever increasing use of Pharmaceutical Antibiotics since that time, Colloidal Silver was in popular use as an antibiotic, and was known to kill over 600 pathogens of both a viral and bacterial origin, whereas the formers limited use is only effective against about 16 pathogens and of only a bacterial nature.
Of course the scaremongering about turning blue (Argyria) is extremely rare and down to abuse……………

But, strangely silver is widely used in Medicine……………………………

BTW Colloidal Silver usage and sale within the EU is now restricted to that of a mineral supplement thanks to the efforts by the EU, in trying to restrict its use against pathogens, and leave a free market for less effective pharmaceutical options……………………..

I suspect you already knew much of this, and is just a sad reflection on monopoly and financial greed. (opinion).


I appreciate your views and opinions from what you said was your last comment, but (there always seems to be a “but”) I just couldn’t help myself in replying when you stated……………….

“NTs seem to lack self awareness, don’t possess the skills to properly assess evidence, and perhaps worst of all see themselves as a true alternative to conventional healthcare rather than complementary. They also seem highly susceptible to buy into conspiracy theories propagated by the industry that relies upon them, whilst ignoring the obvious conflict of interest”.

As long as you are aware that this is “opinion” rather than a substantiated piece of writing, otherwise I would have to ask you for some “robust evidence”, apart from the “expert panels” report.
I have also been festering with the thoughts on what David said about the ANH, and how this was rebutted by Adam from them.
Now if David is susceptible to (what shall I call it) exaggerating or distorting the truth about the ANH, then that really leaves him wide open to his reliability/judgement/assessment on this panels reporting.
Does it not?


Maria said……………
“Unlike, Chris, I am quite open to being persuaded if the evidence is good enough, even if it does go against what I have previously held to be true”.

I was totally unaware that you know me that well in being able to cast aspersions on my ability to weigh the evidence, including the ability to change my views, despite what I have thought to be true and factual previously.
So, thank you for pointing that out, I shall endeavor to try harder in the future.

All the best.

Maria says:
20 February 2012


Casting aspersions? You did say:

“I have my own beliefs on healthcare, which also happens to include General Medicine, but this is also based on personal experience, and EBM/testimony/experience of thousands upon thousands of others. Nothing you, or anyone else can say would persuade me otherwise.”

Are you now withdrawing this and saying you are open to persuasion?

Maria says:
20 February 2012

OK, I cross-posted with your last post. Thanks for the apology. I’m not really bothered about continuing this conversation.


Stuart, Wavechange, Maria and David and anyone else I may have inadvertently omitted.
By way of an apology.

For the most part we sit on opposite sides of the healthcare spectrum, and which of course has been made abundantly clear throughout our discussions; but each and everyone of us should have the inalienable human right to follow our own chosen path, and however much we may disagree with that path, and as long as this is by way of informed choice. However, if that choice is taken away from us, then we have allowed ourselves to become undemocratic and to sink into the abyss of fascism.
As far as healthcare is concerned, most people still follow the Allopathic route, as evidenced by the burden placed on the NHS, but it should not be the role of either side of this health divide to engage in conflict. I believe that we should be able to co-exist without fear of prejudice or bias or reprisals. As far as protecting the public is concerned, that should apply to both Mainstream as well as Alternative approaches.
Also, if I have come across as overly zealous, it is only because I am passionate about my cause, and have good reasons to adhere to that cause. If I have offended anyone then I apologise to any and all of you.



I apologise to you for ridiculing your ideas and making provocative comments.

Although I haven’t changed my views and remain keen on finding a way that NTs can support orthodox healthcare I now realise that there is too big a divide for this to be an easy job. Perhaps one thing that everyone can agree with is the importance of the food we eat in helping maintain a good state of health.

Apologies too to anyone else I have offended.


Can I ask Which? why today’s post from the ANH has been deleted?

Alan Henness says:
20 February 2012

It’s not been deleted.


Adams post in reply to David is on page 16 near to the top.