Healthy living

Nutritional therapists giving dangerous advice

Nutritional therapists giving dangerous advice Patients health at risk, says consumer watchdog

Nutritional therapists are providing dietary advice that could seriously harm patients' health, a Which? undercover investigation has revealed.

The consumer watchdog sent undercover investigators posing as patients with a range of health conditions to 15 consultations with nutritional therapists. The patients were charged between £50 to £80 per visit.

Which? said they found "shocking examples of dangerous advice" which could have put patients with real health problems at risk.

Of the 15 visits, six were rated as "dangerous fails" when it came to advice given, a further eight were rated as "fails", and only one was given a "borderline pass".

One of the Which? researchers, 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 nutritional 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". 

A Which? panel of experts which included a professor of pharmacology and a GP said the advice was "incorrect" and "highly irresponsible." 

Another researcher was told by a therapist that if the course of treatment they prescribed for his severe tiredness started to make him feel unwell, it showed the "treatment was working" and he shouldn't contact his GP as they "wouldn’t understand what was happening".

Several of the therapists used non-evidence-based testing to diagnose a host of symptoms. 

A researcher who said she had been trying to conceive for a year was told after having her iris examined that she had "a bit of bowel toxicity" and a "leathery bowel". 

The expert panel said both are meaningless terms.

Which? also found that some therapists recommended unnecessary supplements costing up to £70 a month which could have side effects, such as stomach pain and diarrhoea, due to the high doses prescribed.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: "We found some shocking examples of irresponsible advice given by nutritional therapists. Our research shows that not only were they a waste of money, but some of their recommendations could seriously harm people’s health.

"This is largely a self-regulated industry where anyone can set up and practice as a nutritional therapist, meaning there is no real protection for consumers." 

The consumer group called for the government to take action "to stop nutritional therapists putting people's health at risk," and demanded proper regulation of the sector. It also added that anyone concerned about their health should visit a GP, or a registered dietician for tailored dietary advice.

Siân Burton, of the British Dietetic Association, said: "It’s time to start 2012 with a clean slate and make it absolutely clear what the difference is between a dietitian and a nutrition therapist.

"Dietitians interpret the science of nutrition into practical evidence-based advice for people while nutrition therapists do not use evidence in a robust fashion and their advice is often based on personal opinion."

This article was published on Mon 16 January 2012

Image © Glenn Jenkinson -

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