Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nutrition therapists condemned as 'quacks' who put patients' health at risk

Nutrition therapists have been condemned as quacks and accused of putting the health of the sick – including those suffering from breast cancer – at risk.

An industry has grown up based on the concept that ‘food doctor’ nutritionists can cure patients’ ills and allergies through diet.

However at least some of the practitioners, who charge up to £80 for a consultation, are providing advice that could harm health, a study by the consumer watchdog Which? found.

The group sent undercover researchers to pose as patients with a range of problems and visit 15 so-called nutritional therapists.

Which? said: ‘They found shocking examples of advice which could have put patients with real health problems at risk.’ All but one of the 15 offered either potentially dangerous or misleading advice. Six of the consultations were rated as ‘dangerous fails’ in terms of misinformation and bad advice. A further eight were rated as ‘fails’, and just one a ‘borderline pass’.

Which? is calling on the Government to regulate the sector which, like much of the cosmetic beauty and anti-ageing industry, has no effective policing regime.

It said: ‘One researcher, posing as a breast cancer sufferer, was told by her therapist to delay radiotherapy treatment recommended by her oncologist, saying they could rid the body of cancer through diet. ‘The therapist advised her to follow a no-sugar diet for three to six months saying, “Cancer feeds off sugar. By cutting out sugar we have a better chance of the cancer going away.”’

This was considered highly irresponsible and incorrect by a panel set up by Which? to assess the advice. It included Professor David Colquhoun, an expert in pharmacology at University College London and a GP, Dr Margaret McCartney.

Another researcher was told if the treatment prescribed for his severe tiredness started to make him feel unwell, it showed that it was working. The therapist advised him not to contact his GP as they ‘wouldn’t understand what was happening’.

Bizarre tests, including iridology, which involves examining patterns in the iris, and hair analysis were also used to ‘diagnose’ conditions.

A researcher who said she had been struggling to conceive was told after having her iris examined she had ‘bowel toxicity’ and a ‘leathery bowel’. Both are meaningless terms, the expert panel said.

Which? found the therapists often used these tests as a part of a sales talk to market unnecessary supplements costing up to £70 a month. Very few of the 15 addressed issues that would have had a positive impact on health, such as reducing alcohol intake.

Prof Colquhoun said: ‘Nutritional therapy is plagued by ‘diagnostic tests’ that are little more than quackery. Iridology and hair analysis simply don’t work.’ Dr McCartney said: ‘If you have symptoms see your GP, not someone who can’t diagnose accurately.’

Which? has decided not to name the therapists involved. However, it has reported its findings to the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT), where a number are registered.

BANT declined to comment.

The British Dietetic Association was keen to make clear its trained dietitians are very different from nutrition therapists such as those visited by Which? BDA said: ‘Anybody can set up shop as a nutrition therapist, with no qualifications. Registered dieticians working in the UK are educated to degree level and must be registered with the Health Professions Council.’


Australia: Women 'overdiagnosed' with breast cancer

There have been similar reports to this from Britain

WOMEN are being treated unnecessarily for breast cancer due to mammograms "overdiagnosing" cancers which would never cause harm, a study has revealed.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Monash University breast cancer researchers Robin Bell and Robert Burton called for women invited to use the publicly-funded BreastScreen program to be presented with a more balanced view about the benefits and harms of breast screening.

Their analysis found that improvements in cancer treatments rather than early detection through screening was likely to have caused the 21 to 28 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths since the program began in 1991.

A 2010 study found that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one would have her life prolonged but 10 healthy women would be diagnosed as breast cancer patients and treated unnecessarily.

The Cancer Council has backed calls for women to be informed about the risks and benefits of screening, including the uncertainty of overdiagnosis but insist that breast screening has contributed substantially to an overall drop in breast cancer deaths. It said three evaluations of mammography screening for women aged 50-69 years had put the reduction in breast cancer mortality at between 30 and 47 per cent.

Associate Professor Robin Bell said the benefits of the BreastScreen program were overblown. "This comes down to the balance of harm versus benefits," Prof Bell said. "My view is that women need to be given more balanced information about the BreastScreen program when invited to be screened.

"Overdiagnosis amounts to women having a small, slow-growing cancer being diagnosed and treated, where in her lifetime that cancer may not have required treatment."

She said the impact of breast screening was diminishing as the outcome of treatment for breast cancer improved and the balance of benefit to harm of breast screening was becoming less favourable. "This has serious implications for health policymakers," she said.

More than 13,000 women in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.


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