Nutritional therapists have been condemned in a damning report for providing expensive, and potentially dangerous, dietary advice.
The consumer watchdog Which? sent undercover investigators posing as patients with health problems, such as breast cancer and infertility, to consultations with nutritional therapists and reported “shocking examples of dangerous advice”.
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.
She was advised to follow a no-sugar diet for three to six months and was told: "Cancer feeds off sugar. By cutting out sugar we have a better chance of the cancer going away."
Of the 15 consultations, costing between £50 and £80, only one was deemed a "borderline pass", eight were rated as "fails" and a further six as "dangerous fails".
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”.
The study also found that some therapists were recommending high doses of expensive and unnecessary supplements, some of which could have bad side effects.
Several of the therapists used non-evidence-based testing to ‘diagnose’ symptoms. One researcher who said she had been struggling to conceive for a year was told after having her iris examined that she had “a bit of bowel toxicity” and a “leathery bowel”. Which?’s expert panel, including a GP, deemed both as “meaningless terms”.
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."
He expressed his concern over the lack of regulation within the industry.
“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. While the majority of the therapists Which? visited were registered with the industry body, BANT, our findings show that it is failing to police these practitioners effectively.”
The watchdog says it will take its findings to the government and demand proper regulation in this sector.
Lloyd added: “Which? wants the government to take action to stop nutritional therapists putting people’s health at risk.”
The Huffington Post contacted BANT (The British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) but they declined to comment.
Nutritional therapists can register to become members of BANT but membership is not compulsory for practice.
Siân Burton, Vice Chairman of the British Dietetic Association warns of the importance of choosing a registered dietician for tailored nutritional advice.
She told The Huffington Post: “Members of the public should be aware that anybody, overnight, can set up shop as a nutrition therapist, with no qualifications and no regulatory body to monitor how they work.
“Registered dieitians working in the UK are educated to degree level and must be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC) to ensure public safety by adhering to standards of professional training, performance and conduct. In addition, the working title ‘dietitian’ is a legally protected title and cannot be used by anyone else who has not met the education and HPC standards.
“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.”