/ Food & Drink, Health

Bite-sized views from our nutritional therapists Conversation

With almost 2,000 comments on our nutritional therapists Conversation, it’s by far our most popular to date. Consumers, therapists, scientists and organisations all joined the debate. So what did they say?

When we investigated nutritional therapists we found some worrying practices, such as therapists advising against going to your GP.

The investigation wasn’t presented as a scientific study, where a bigger sample would have been required, but it did uncover a number of therapists giving advice that could potentially harm their clients.

We felt this proved that the nutritional therapist professional body, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT), needed to undertake a full investigation.

But we also wanted to hear about your experiences of nutritional therapists. We were blown away by the response. With hundreds of comments rolling, we’ve tried to sum them up below.

Positive experiences of nutritional therapists

Kate describes her positive experience of visiting a nutritional therapist:

‘I spent years battling irritable bowel syndrome until I was recommended a nutritional therapist . Within a few months my symptoms were about 85% better.

‘While I have good and bad days, she has taught me how to manage my symptoms without drugs – I wasted 15 years going back and forth to my GP which got me absolutely nowhere.’

John R has also benefited from visiting a therapist:

‘I suffered with arthritis, insomnia and chronic fatigue for a number of years. My niece took one of these courses at Westminster University and I must admit I thought it was a dressed-up cooking class. I was started on fish oils with a number of other dietary tweaks and supplements and my pains eased significantly. Nutrition hasn’t cured me but I now feel more “normal”again.’

Nutritional therapists have their say

Jenny, a nutritional therapist, shared the process therapists should follow with their advice:

‘We are all trained to 1. Use food first. 2. Back up all recommendations with evidence-based research or biochemistry. 3. Never diagnose. 4. Refer to a GP for testing. 5. If testing, use appropriate laboratory serum/urine/stool analysis. 6. If necessary, before supplementing individual supplements – test. 7. Send results to GP. 8. Never advise to cease any prescribed treatment. It is a pity not all practitioners follow these rules.’

Aravenscroft, also a nutritional therapist, agreed that they held their advice to a high standard:

‘I would NEVER advise a client to go against the wishes of their doctor and cease conventional treatment. I would NOT diagnose, use unproven testing and suggest that a client spends a large amount of money on expensive supplements. I take my clients’ health and budgets incredibly seriously and would NEVER endanger anyone.’

Giving nutritional medicine a bad name

Angie was more worried about what our investigation uncovered:

‘It makes me very sad to read about so called therapists cashing in on what can be a beneficial approach to health when combined intelligently with help and advice from GPs. It gives nutritional medicine a bad name.’

Stuart felt a full investigation was required:

‘If I was a member of a professional body and some members were providing dangerous advice which risks people’s health and devalues my training, I would be incandescent with rage.

‘There are clearly different factions with nutritional therapists, some of which stick closely to the guidelines and some who desire to use nutritional therapy to treat illness and have delusional views of its usefulness. I would urge reasonable nutritional therapists to engage BANT en mass and ask for a full investigation.’

Clare feels dieticians and therapists should learn from each other:

‘I have been shocked at the evident antipathy between dieticians and nutritional therapists. Aren’t we trying to achieve the same things?

‘Both professions have skills to bring to the table to improve health through good nutrition. Couldn’t we start a dialogue and learn from each other the best elements of each profession, rather than mud-slinging?

Wavechange wanted to put our investigation into perspective:

‘The Which? study may have been small but is enough to suggest that nutritional therapists may not be giving the public a good service. These findings can be used by others to carry out a more thorough investigation.

‘I believe that Which? has found a problem that deserves investigation. When Which? has investigated optometrists and dentists it has come under criticism, but the purpose is to alert the appropriate authorities of possible problems that needs further exploration in the public interest.’

Where do we go from here?

Of course, with 1,945 comments we haven’t been able to feature them all, nor have we been able to cover every single view. But there are some questions we’d like to answer.

How was the panel selected? Our expert panel, including a GP and a qualified dietician, were chosen because of their extensive experience in the fields of nutrition and health.

How did we choose the nutritional therapists? The therapists involved were chosen completely at random from across the UK, using methods we believe most consumers would use to find a therapist – namely, searching online and using professional directories.

Our food researcher, Shefalee Loth, who was involved in the investigation, comments:

‘Our findings show that the nutritional therapy industry requires tighter controls and better regulation to make sure it meets the high standards Which? Conversation commenters expect. So, we were very pleased to hear that on the back of our research, BANT and the Nutritional Therapy Council have decided to investigate with an expert panel.’

It’s clear that the topic of nutritional therapists is a controversial one, and all of your comments show that there are differing experiences. To open up the debate again – do you think the nutritional therapy industry needs to improve, and if so, how?

Selina Import says:
22 December 2012

Let us hope that in 2013 we will have greater emphasis on promoting health. Conventional treatment does not have a great record in this area. We do not know whether delaying conventional treatment and promoting health will enable people to have a better outcome or whether the nutritional therapist really did give the advise claimed especially if the condition claimed was pseudo in the first place. I feel that conventional medicine is changing very slowly but the change may be more rapid as we find that we really cannot afford so much sickness. Good health to all and the very best for New Year.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year, however you achieve this.

Mark says:
30 May 2013

Are you suggesting by this link that there is no evidence that nutritional therapy works? What about the recent stories about B vitamins preventing brain shrinkage in Alzheimer’s patients?

Hi Mark,
I think Patrick was just offering anyone the opportunity to examine a different investigation by WHICH into advice given by Pharmacists of homeopathy, rather than casting aspersions into the effectiveness or otherwise of Nutritional Therapy.

Mark says:
30 May 2013

OK, accepted. But does Which? now think that an Alzheimer’s patient with high homocysteine would be playing russian roulette with their health by NOT taking high dose B supplements as may be recommended by a nutritional therapist?

Mark says:
30 May 2013

I expect that this. like the sugar and cancer issue, is one of those things that as time goes on the nutritional therapists will be shown to be right about. In which case is a nutritional therapist simply an up-to-date dietitan in all but name? I am not a fan of Mr Holford but it does look like in the end Ms Collins and her colleagues will have to swallow hard and admit they should have been doing a bit more continuing development. When the tipping point arrives though is probably not easily spotted.

you are quite right in your assertion that Nutritional Therapists will be proven to be right about the link between the causal link between sugar and cancer.

Here’s some of the latest info’ and science……………………………….

Dietitians recommend “foodless foods” to the Royal Marsden Hospital cancer patients, in the mistaken belief that nutrition is based on calories, and white sugar products such as “Mars bars” will give them energy………………………

A new study published in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Mile Markers, and Prevention” is presenting evidence of the link between the consumption of refined carbohydrates and cancer. This case-controlled study looked at the dietary habits of over 1,800 women in Mexico, and found that those who got 57% or more of their total energy intake from refined carbohydrates (refined sugars) showed a 220% higher risk of breast cancer than women with more balanced diets.

Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah were one of the first to discover that sugar “feeds” tumors. The research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said, “It’s been known since 1923 that tumor cells use a lot more glucose than normal cells. Our research helps show how this process takes place, and how it might be stopped to control tumor growth,” says Don Ayer, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences at the University of Utah.


Dr. Thomas Graeber, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, has investigated how the metabolism of glucose affects the biochemical signals present in cancer cells. In research published June 26, 2012 in the journal Molecular Systems Biology, Graeber and his colleagues demonstrate that glucose starvation—that is, depriving cancer cells of glucose—activates a metabolic and signaling amplification loop that leads to cancer cell death as a result of the toxic accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS)……………………………

#1. Nicholas A Graham, Martik Tahmasian, Bitika Kohli, Evangelia Komisopoulou, Maggie Zhu, #2. Igor Vivanco, Michael A Teitell, Hong Wu, Antoni Ribas, Roger S Lo, Ingo K Mellinghoff, Paul #3. S Mischel, Thomas G Graeber. Glucose deprivation activates a metabolic and signaling amplification loop leading to cell death. Molecular Systems Biology, 2012; 8 DOI: 10.1038/msb.2012.20

Mark says:
31 May 2013

Patrick, the original article states that Which? was calling on the government to regulate nutritional therapists. What response did you get?

Hi everybody,

it is possible that after all this researches and studies about what refined sugar can do or cannot do we still hold up on conversations and debates about it. Is more than sensible for me that the quantity and the quality of everything we eat is more important. We know surgeons, doctors of all sorts making huge mistakes and loosing lifes everyday, and they have behind years of medical schools and years of stage.

it’s exactly what is missing in here: the INFORMATION and the common sense

SAM-NT says:
1 January 2016

So is Which? now ready to apologise to nutritional therapists over sugar and breast cancer:

This comment was removed at the request of the user

SAM-NT says:
4 January 2016

The ‘expert’ panel determined that the nutritional therapist’s advice to avoid sugar was harmful: “playing Russian roulette”. NHS dietetic advice has been consistent that high sugar foods provide a good source of energy for cancer patients. It is nothing less than a tragedy that since January 2012 when the article appeared nothing has changed for the poor cancer patient and it is the NHS advice that has been at best harmful or at worst deadly. Which? have a lot to answer for.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

SAM-NT says:
4 January 2016

What I am saying is that it is a disgrace that cancer patients are being advised, as ‘evidence-based pratice’, to consumer a high sugar diet. Advice from Royal Marsden dietetics department is to eat: “Sugar, honey, syrup, treacle and sugary foods, such as chocolate, cakes and sweets. These are good sources of energy.”

Just a link to the Canadian Cancer Society
It states that “All cells in your body consume sugar as they grow and divide, but eating sugar does not make cancer cells grow faster. ”

I wonder who is right?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

But the question remains: which of these bodies of medical opinion is right? Surely knowing what is right is not a numbers game and a grand professor count. These statements and their underlying research would need to be examined and tested in much greater detail than can happen through this website before we could rely on them.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

SAM-NT says:
5 January 2016

It’s fructose. Fructose derived from dietary sugar increases risks of breast cancer development and metastasis via production of pro-inflammatory lipids. Reference below. What we were missing was a clear indication of the mechanism but now we have a line of sight on that. Tipping point if ever there was one.

A Sucrose-Enriched Diet Promotes Tumorigenesis in Mammary Gland in Part through the 12-Lipoxygenase Pathway
Yan Jiang, Yong Pan, Patrea R. Rhea, Lin Tan, Mihai Gagea, Lorenzo Cohen, Susan M. Fischer, and Peiying Yang
Cancer Res January 1, 2016 76:24-29; doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-3432

CRUK (Cancer Research UK) publishes a number of “myths” on its website, and comments on sugar in a similar way to the Canadian statement. Sugar does not specifically target cancer cells any more than any other cells, it says:
I presume their experts examine available knowledge to say what they say.

One of their links: https://anaximperator.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/sugar-depleted-diet-is-not-a-useful-cancer-cure/

This comment was removed at the request of the user

duncan, I won’t be upset! I have no axe to grind, just passing on bits I have seen.
It seems generally recognised that obesity is one of the contributors to cancers. Several nutritional components can lead to obesity. It does not follow that any one of directly feeds a cancer. For all sorts of reasons we should adopt a healthy diet, including less sugar.

SAM-NT says:
6 January 2016

Fructose is ubiquitous in the modern food environment outside of sugary drinks and confectionary. The SACN report on Carbohydrates published last summer was out of date as soon as it was published (not its fault but the slow system in which it operates) and it ignored fructose in any case. So it has to be the responsibility of the various professional associations to ensure nutrition practice is up-to-date and fit for purpose.

Patrick – I accept what you say that Which did not take a position on sugar and cancer but on other aspects. But as the consumer champion Which? does have a role in the core nutrition debate. Indeed Sue Davies chaired work on this ten years ago under Dept of Health auspices but never finished the work. Perhaps it’s now time that it was finished properly.

Happy New Year to all

Links between nutrition and mineral deposits in hair sample. Also a reference to interesting research relating to exposure to toxins from contaminated soil and their introduction in the food chain from contaminated soil.