Popular British nutritionist Patrick Holford, currently on tour in South Africa, has caused a storm by claiming that Vitamin C is more effective in treating AIDS than the antiretroviral drug AZT.
Holford uses research by the controversial Rath Foundation’s Raxit Jariwalla, to back his claim, which he made most recently in a letter to the Guardian newspaper last week.
However, in response Guardian columnist and medical doctor Ben Goldacre called Holford’s claim “mindboggling”.
“What is Holford’s evidence for this bizarre, repeated AIDS claim?” writes Goldacre. “Firstly, he cites two small studies done on cells in a dish on a laboratory bench, using vitamin C and AZT. This is farcically weak evidence.”
The second piece of “evidence”, says Goldacre, is “more worrying” as it is simply a letter from Jariwalla stating that Holford is right.
Meanwhile, University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Professor Nigel Rollins, a member of the World Health Organisation’s advisory group on nutrition, says there is “no substantiated evidence that a single vitamin either reduces the viral load of improves the CD4 count of people living with HIV”.
“There is a well established process in science to test whether an intervention is helpful,” adds Rollins. “Without this proof, it is misleading to make such claims and encourage people to put their hopes and money into something unfounded.”
But Holford stands by his claim in his letter and says that “the real crime here is that no full-scale human trials have been funded on vitamin C to follow up Jariwalla’s important findings because it is non-patentable and hence not profitable”.
The Rath Foundation has been controversial in South Africa as its founder, Dr Matthias Rath, has encouraged people with HIV to abandon their medication in favour of his vitamins.
Holford had close links with one of Dr Rath’s mentors, the late Dr Linus Pauling, who was patron of Holford’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION). Pauling advocated that vitamin C could prevent colds and treat cancer.
AZT was the world’s first HIV treatment. Initially, it was the only antiretroviral drug available and while it slowed the growth of the virus, used alone and in large doses, it did have some serious side effects.
However, today AZT is used far more successfully in smaller doses as part of the standard three-drug regimen prescribed for people with AIDS.
Holford, who has his own range of vitamins, is running workshops in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.