Another fantastic result for the mighty Ben Goldacre: a nutritionist by the name of Matthias Rath was suing Dr Goldacre, and the Guardian newspaper, which publishes his Saturday column. Dr Goldacre had criticised Rath for his advice that nutritional supplements could reverse the course of AIDS, and that patients should stop taking anti-retroviral drugs (ARVDs). Rath has now dropped the case, and been ordered to pay costs. Hopefully this will generate enough publicity for people to realise just how dangerous bad, unevidenced health advice can be.
We know that ARVDs work, and we know that nutritional supplements do not work, for treating people with AIDS. So what Rath was doing was advising people not to take drugs that work, and instead to take nutritional supplements which could have had no effect on the course of their illness. It is difficult to describe this as anything other than murderous quackery. There seems to be little doubt that people have died because of this advice.
You may think it is fair to say that Rath probably doesn't fall into the 'mainstream' of nutritionists. But I am not so sure. Patrick Holford, for example, a prominent UK nutritionist, has said that "AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C”. This is superficially based on an actual scientific study. But it goes far, far beyond a reasonable interpretation of the study, which looked at what happens to some cells in a dish on a lab bench when you put some vitamin C on them. It is simply impossible to take that kind of bench research and apply it to what happens in something hugely complex like the human body. Holford is not a marginal figure: he is at the top of his profession. At least he doesn't suggest that ARVDs don't save lives.
Rath is clearly barking. But he thrives in the environment of denigration of mainstream science, and misunderstanding of science, that obtains in the world of nutritionism. The difference is that Rath, in taking his supplement quackery to somewhere that desperately needed drugs, not vitamins, he was able to cause a hell of a lot of damage.
As Ben Goldacre points out, the title "Nutritionist" is not protected, so anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. It follows that I am a nutritionist too. As your nutritionist, I would suggest that if you feel that you need nutritional advice, you should seek out a registered dietitian, who will actually be a qualified health professional.