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...

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