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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?

Comments
Guest

Experienced dietitians are telling cancer patients to consume foods high in refined sugars because they are a good source of energy. Nutritional therapists tell cancer patients not too consume refined sugars because they can promote cancer growth. There is a very clear divide here and I would like to know which group is right. As Which? is a champion for all consumers, including cancer patients, I think the least it can do is review the evidence-base for the dietetic advice, and come out with a clear statement that it is OK for cancer patients to eat foods high in refined sugars, particularly high fructose, that those foods are a good source of energy and will not promote cancer.

Guest

Yes I recall you said that wavechange, and I have not posted here on any of those subjects, it is just that your mindset perceives this to be so.

Guest
Selina Import says:
15 November 2012

Hello Which Mark Helen Chrisb wavechange and Nutrihealth. So much has been challenged in the recent past whether the topic here or politics, police, NHS, greed or strange human behaviour. Views are often of the closed minded varity and polarised. Words are misinterpreted rather than the meaning understood Let us hope we are in an opening up period where we can understand that we can no longer rely on the experienced or “scientific proof”. I don’t know whether I avoided a recurrence of aggressive breast cancer because I avoided refined and even a lot of unrefined sugars. I am very grateful and happy and joolly glad that I spent much time finding out what information there was available that would enable me to be healthy.

Guest

One of the problems of trying to link dietary changes which diseases like cancer is that it is research trials like the one mentioned above are very hard to carry out especially when they rely on government/charity funding (i.e. when there is no commercial incentive). A more fundimental problem with RCTs (randomised clinical trials) is that you must only change one variable at a time and so can often only get a small change in patient outcomes. What fascinates me is the historical epidemiological data which shows that the age adjusted cancer rates in Japan in the 1970s are between 10-20 TIMES smaller than current rates in Europe/US. Further studies have excluded genetic differences by following Japanese migrants into the US where they soon suffer US levels of cancer. Therefore it should be possible to reduce UK cancer levels by 90-95% by studying the diet and lifestyle that existed in Japan at that time. It might be that to get full benefits, we would have to make dozens of diet and lifestyle changes and therein lies the problem. Current UK medical interventions are primarily authorised following RCTs but such experiments would be impossible to manage with so many variables. However it is a scientific fact that living like a 1970s Japanese person massively reduces your cancer risk. I have visited Japan around 20-30 times and would not like to speculate what the key factors are but I can tell you that I was never once offered sugary puddings. Interesting!!

Guest

Selina

I am very glad to hear that you did not have a recurrence of breast cancer but you have zero evidence that this is due to eliminating sugars from your diet. You are implying that others are close minded but you should consider that your hypothesis could be flawed.

As Guy says, there many factors involved and in the case of cancer and luck is one of them. How we prepare food (high temperature cooking) and preserve meat and meat products contribute to cancer risk, and so do many environmental factors. We know about some of these and have yet to learn about some of the risks.

As I have said before, I believe that nutritional therapists can provide dietary advice and other support for individuals but they need to distance themselves from worthless quackery such as iridology.

Guest

Selina, it is good to hear that your breast cancer has not recurred, perhaps because of your choices in avoiding dietary sugars, and this we can only speculate as being coincidental, and I find Guys comments particularly noteworthy and relevant re’ the Japanese and their much lowered incidence of cancer. This has been attributable by some to their intake of iodine, which is much higher in Japan than with their American counterparts, where Japanese women consume 25 times more dietary iodine than North American women, who have much higher breast cancer rates.
http://theiodineproject.webs.com/cancerandiodine.htm
http://www.naturalnews.com/027530_iodine_breast_cancer.html
This I feel is just the tip of the iceberg, because as Guy rightly points out, RCT’s only allow a change in one variable at a time, rather than treating the body holistically (the whole person) as is practiced within functional medicine and other alternative health-modalities.
I do however, agree with Wavechange, that Nutritional Therapists can provided excellent dietary advice and support for individuals, but they do need to distance themselves from worthless quackery such as iridology.

Guest
BenJie says:
16 November 2012

Deafening silence from Which. Why? Mark is right, the two groups do have diametrically opposed advice on sugar and cancer. Any cancer sufferer reading the Which article will have had the clear impression that sugar was OK. So why are Which not coming straight out in support of the Royal Marsden dietetics advice, and presumably their own expert dietitian Catherine Collins. Or is Which now worried that the nutritional therapists may be right and that any cancer patient at the Royal Marsden following their own dieticians advice may be playing Russian roulette with their health. Come on Which, you cannot stay silent on this, you have a responsibility now.