Saturday, February 04, 2012

Weekend Post - You are what you eat

You are what you eat. Literally. Every atom of your body has come from things you have eaten or your mother ate while she was carrying you.

That’s why it important to think about the stuff you stuff down your throat. With the exception of any material your body decides not to keep and instead expels (you know what I mean) what you eat stays inside you. But you know that, we all know that. We all know that eating fairly healthily is what we should be doing. We know to cut back on the red meat, the processed foods, the saturated fats and the booze. While there’s nothing wrong with these things in moderation, the more we insert into our bodies, the more problems our bodies will have.

The danger of course is from excessive consumption of bad things. However, perhaps the worst thing you can have to excess, or even in small doses, is nutritional advice. That’s because a lot of so-called “nutritionists” are dangerous charlatans, pseudoscientific frauds or just plain fools. Many of them pose a greater risk to our health than a deep-fried double cheeseburger with extra cheese.

Which? magazine, the UK’s leading consumer advocacy publication recently did an admittedly unscientific but nevertheless fascinating and scary experiment. They sent three researchers to see a variety of nutritional “therapists” and sought advice on a range of disorders. One claimed to have fertility problems, two complained of persistent fatigue and two claimed to have a form of breast cancer.

What they should have suggested was what they should suggest for anyone, regardless of their health status. Take some exercise, eat lots of healthy food, drink lots of water and cut back on the rubbish. That sort of advice would help anyone. Even people with the illnesses described would probably have indirectly benefited from being a little bit healthier. But that’s NOT the advice the researchers were given.

Twelve of the fifteen urged the researchers to buy supplements, some costing P750 a month. They were also told not to buy them from conventional pharmacies because they weren’t “pure enough”. Instead they were advised to buy them from a particular store recommended by the quack. We can all guess why.

One of the researchers who pretended to have cancer was told to stop any conventional medical treatment and instead to beat the cancer by cutting out all sugar from her diet for three to six months. By then she might have been dead.

In fact only one of the fifteen nutritionists dispensed advice that a panel of experts described as a “borderline pass”. Eight of the fifteen cases were considered “fails” and, worst of all, six were classified as “dangerous fails”. These were situations where the client would have been at severe risk if they had followed the advice they were given.

None of the researchers were advised to consult a real doctor or to have any real tests.

The Which? report says:
“One of the researchers - who had been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for over a year - was diagnosed with a ‘leathery bowel’ by a therapist who used Iridology - looking at iris patterns, colour and other characteristics of the eye to diagnose symptoms.”
It goes on to say that:
“Another therapist recommended hair mineral analysis to check 'essential minerals and toxic metals', while one other 'diagnosed' a researcher as having a chromium deficiency after making him 'hold' different liquids in his mouth.”
This is dangerous quackery of the worst kind. This sort of nonsense runs the real risk of killing people. But this is the UK, this sort of thing couldn’t happen here, could it?

Yes, of course it does, we all know it does. Part of the problem is that we have similar laws to those in the UK. Our Health Professionals Council is required to register Dieticians but not crooks calling themselves nutritionists. You or I could set ourselves up as nutritionists tomorrow. We could advertise the “Deep-fried butter and Whisky” diet, have sex with our clients and promote our own homemade supplements and nobody would have the power to stop us.

Frankly, I suspect it’s safer to eat badly than to visit a nutritionist.


The Which? article can be seen online here. There's an interesting article on science and pseudoscience in nutrition on the CSI site here.

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