Vitamin C, AIDS and the Goldacre Monologues

I was fascinated to read the free e-booklet, Junk Journalism – Ben Goldacre, Quackbusting and Corporate Science which exposes the insidious associations Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre has with big pharma and an organised anti-nutritional medicine agenda.

My first encounter with Goldacre, who holds himself up to be a campaigner for ‘evidence-based medicine’, was in 2005. He wrote, in reference to the New Optimum Nutrition Bible, “Holford’s sentence, on page 208 reads like this: “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than Vitamin C.” Then there’s a little superscript 23, referring you to this Jariwalla paper. Just like in a proper academic article! So, vitamin C is better than AZT… The paper doesn’t even contain the word AZT. Not once.”

Fair enough. I had referenced the right author, but the wrong paper in a series of studies – the one that showed vitamin C was profoundly anti-HIV, but not the paper that compared the effects of AZT and vitamin C.

I responded to the Guardian, as did the author of the research, pointing out that the statement was valid, but the original reference was wrong. “Mr Holford has been familiar with our work all along but mistakenly cited the wrong paper in his book when concluding that AZT is less effective than vitamin C. After realising that this citation was an honest mistake, Mr Holford has changed the reference in his soon to be published latest edition. This does not change the fact that the original interpretation made by Mr Holford is true since our work demonstrated it to be so and the citation of the wrong paper on his part was in reality an innocent error and not an act of ‘incompetence’ or a case of ‘bad science’.” Dr Raxit Jariwalla.

I also sent a correction to the publishers such that ref 23 now says “These ‘in vitro’ studies on human T-cells show that vitamin C suppresses the HIV virus in both chronically and latently infected cells, while AZT has no significant effect. It is a tragedy that this simple, non-toxic treatment hasn’t been further tested.” I then list the five relevant research papers, viewable at This is all published in the current edition of the New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Case closed, you’d think.

But no. Despite assurances from the Guardian that they would take “particular care” in relation to any similar article, and would mark their archives accordingly to prevent the same thing happening Goldacre makes two more attacks on the same point – and incites an army of ‘quackbusters’ on an anti-Holford mission. “Holford is going on a speaking tour of South Africa next month. My blood runs cold at the thought.” He writes. (For the record, I have never lectured on AIDS in Africa.) There was even a piece in Private Eye by the anonymous ‘ratbiter’ where I am described as “doing more damage to Africa than all the institutions of the global market rolled into one” and likened to Robert Mugabe – all based on that one sentence in the Optimum Nutrition Bible! Boy, I wish my books really did have that much power to influence.

Two weeks ago, to celebrate AIDS week, in a column entitled ‘AIDS Quackery’ Goldacre regurgitates: “Patrick Holford, Britain’s leading nutritionist, who sells bottles of vitamin pills with his beaming face printed on them, writes, in the “fully revised and updated” 2004 edition of his 500,000 copy best seller “The Optimum Nutrition Bible”, the alarming words: AZT, a drug still routinely used alongside other drugs in Aids treatment, “is proving less effective than vitamin C”.

I responded yet again to the Guardian saying “Vitamin C Against AIDS is Not Quackery – For the third time in his column Goldacre attempts to create the impression that vitamin C is quackery in relation to AIDS by quoting my book out of context, which states that “vitamin C is proving less effective than vitamin C”. He is well aware that the current edition of this book goes on to state “These ‘in vitro’ studies on human T-cells show that vitamin C suppresses the HIV virus in both chronically and latently infected cells, while AZT has no significant effect.” It then lists the series of studies, most authored by Stephen Harakeh et al, also listed at, that undeniably support this statement. I then say “It is a tragedy that this simple, non-toxic treatment hasn’t been further tested.”

However, in a small subgroup of advanced AIDS patients, administration of high-dose vitamin C and an antioxidant called NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) reduced HIV viral load, improved immune cell (CD4) count and lymphocyte proliferation in a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2000. So the evidence that does exist is promising. Perhaps Goldacre, who purports to be the campaigner for evidence-based medicine, could provide some evidence that high dose vitamin C has no effect against HIV AIDS. If he cannot then we must surely conclude that high dose vitamin C for AIDS sufferers is not quackery but a potentially important therapeutic approach that badly needs to be further investigated, given the devastating effects that anti-retroviral drugs can have on the immune system.”

But then, as the ‘Junk Journalism’ e-booklet makes clear, this isn’t about science any more than Goldacre’s column ‘Bad Science’ about science. If it were he write about the ineffectiveness and nasty side effects of stimulant drugs given to children or antipsychotic drugs given to dementia patients, both subjects covered recently by Panorama. Myself and others have sent him so many cases of bad pharmaceutical science and medical fraud – not one of which he has taken up. If Goldacre was really serious about standing up for scientific medicine that’s what he should be trying to put a stop to.

This is politics. His is a war against complementary and nutritional medicine, best fought by sniping at the messengers, myself and others, that propose a system of science-based medicine based on dealing with the true causes of disease.

What I am angry about is that tens of thousands of people who die from prescription drugs when better alternatives already exist; that 99 per cent of medical research money is spent on drugs; that millions of people suffer unnecessarily and die prematurely from ignorance, some scared off from trying effective, safe, nutritional approaches by misguided, close-minded bigots such as Goldacre. If it makes you angry do something about it – circulate this information with others, write to the editor of the Guardian expressing your views, expose this devious reporting for what it is. Give Goldacre a taste of his own medicine.

Wishing you the best of health, Patrick