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Why EU Law Says Food Can't Effect Your Mind?

Why EU Law Says Food Can't Effect Your Mind?
Source: Patrick Holford


* EU to rule out making health claims about food
* Proof that food can beat nutrition
* Why antioxidants can help prevent cardiovascular disease


Saying things like 'fish is good for your brain' may soon become illegal, if a draft EU Regulation on Health and Nutrition Claims get voted through in Brussels. This further piece of legislation has the worthy goal of making sure that health claims made about foods and food supplements are true. However, instead of allowing claims that are backed up with good science, the EU Regulation states that: "There are many factors, other than dietary ones, that can influence psychological and behavioural functions. Therefore, it is appropriate to prohibit the use of psychological and behavioural claims".

This argument for the exclusion of psychological or behavioural claims is spurious. There are many factors, other than dietary ones, that influence physiological functions (exercise, smoking, pollution, infection and sun exposure, to name a few). Food does effect both psychology and behaviour and the possibility of such claims, if scientifically supported, should not be excluded. Why, for example, should it be legal to say that 'omega 3 fats help to support cardiovascular health' and not legal to say that 'omega 3 fats help support a healthy mood', when the science is there to support such claims?

The effect of this clause will not only counter the proposed intent of the EU regulation - which is to allow substantiated health claims to be made - it will severely hamper attempts to improve the public's diet. Since most foods, for example fish or fish oils, cannot be patented, there is no possibility - by virtue of the costs involved and the lack of return on a non-patented food - in obtaining a medicinal licence. Nor should there be any need to 'licence' a nutrient and to describe its health supporting effects. The very idea would have Hippocrates turning in his grave.

The net consequence of the inclusion of this clause would be to provide a monopoly of psychological and behavioural health claims to licensed medicines, such as anti-depressants. This will have the effect of pushing the public towards prescription drugs and away from choosing health-promoting foods and food supplements for supporting mental wellbeing.

If you disagree with this EU proposal, as I do, then now is the time to write to your MEP, whose details you can find at or by calling 020 7227 4300. Attached is an example letter, which I am sending to mine. Please feel free to amend accordingly. [ MEP Letter ]


According to a recent survey of 2000 people, almost half of adults in the UK eat to stifle feelings of loneliness, boredom and stress. Yet, ironically, eating the right foods, plus appropriate supplementation, may be the very answer to beating the blues.

America's CBS News recently reported on the breakthroughs being made in the treatment of depression by us at the Brain Bio Centre in London. This short film, which was shown on Sky News, follows the success story of a 21-year-old girl who experienced severe side-effects and withdrawal effects on anti-depressants and has found incredible improvement through the Brain Bio Centre's diet and supplement strategy.

You can download the film and see it for yourself at


Last month the American Heart Association (AHA) published a review of clinical trials looking at antioxidant supplementation in Cardiovascular Disease and suggested that scientific data does not justify antioxidant supplementation to reduce risk. I strongly disagree. Why the difference of opinion?

Firstly, the majority of the subjects in the clinical trials reviewed by the AHA already had cardiovascular disease (CVD) and so their extrapolation that antioxidant supplements won't help prevent disease is highly questionable. To date, the vast majority of prevention studies show exactly the opposite. For example, modest amounts of vitamin E (135 to 270mg) alone has been shown to reduce risk of CVD by 30 to 40%.(1, 2). Another report - titled 'Multivitamin Use and Mortality in a Large Prospective Study' - showed that out of over one million participants, those adults who used vitamin E or other antioxidant vitamins, in combination with a daily multivitamin, had a 15% lower risk of dying from heart disease or stroke than those who did not take vitamins.(3) A more recent study showed that even basic multivitamin use has been shown to reduce risk by 20%.(4) It is highly likely that 'optimum nutrition' style supplementation will halve risk.
Secondly, contrary to the AHA's report, many trials do show that antioxidant supplements are effective against CVD. For example, the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study (CHAOS) found a 77% reduction in heart attacks over two years by giving 270mg of vitamin E.(5) Those trials that have not been successful are usually open to the same criticisms - too little too late and bad study designs.

A classic example is the British Heart Foundation trial comparing the effects of statins versus an antioxidant supplement regime providing 600mg of vitamin E, 250mg of vitamin C and 20mg of beta-carotene.(6) I predicted this trial would may be ineffective because the doses are too low for those already suffering from CVD. Vitamin C is only in circulation for six hours so I would give a person with cardiovascular disease no less than 1g every six hours (three times a day). I would give vitamin E in the form of both natural d-alpha tocopherol, tocotrienols and other tocopherols, not synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol as used in this trial, probably at 800mg a day. I would also give Co-Q, at least 100mg, and lipoic acid, at least 300mg.

This trial, and most referred to by the AHA, make one fatal error. They fail to measure an indicator of oxidative stress. In other words, they fail to measure whether the supplements they were giving were effectively acting as an antioxidant in the body. There is no question that reducing oxidation reduces risk. Only by measuring if you have reduced oxidation can you say whether the dose, or the form of the nutrient, was good enough to make a difference to the people being studied. Some individuals are more responsive to lowering homocysteine with B vitamins, while others respond best to reducing oxidation with antioxidants. Without measuring whether the treatment has reduced oxidation - which is the mechanism that damages arteries and can be reversed with enough antioxidants - or reduced homocysteine - another mechanism that leads to artery damage - you really learn nothing. On top of this, these trials skirt around the fact that the patients are usually on powerful medication. It is obviously wrong to assume that vitamin E, which helps thin the blood, will have the same effect on someone taking aspirin or warfarin, compared to someone who isn't. However, that's exactly what almost all the trials referred to by the AHA have done.

In truth there are plenty of studies on vitamin E, C and beta-carotene - such as the Physicians Health Study 2 (PHS2) which showed that beta-carotene supplementation reduced subsequent cardiovascular events among 333 men with prior angina or revascularisation (7) - plus other important antioxidants such as tocotrienols, lipoic acid and Co-enzyme Q10, that show benefit.

Back in the 1930s, when Drs Evan and Wilfred Shute from Canada first showed that vitamin E reduced risk of CVD, the medical profession managed to make vitamin E illegal to important into the US, and persuaded the Postmaster General to prohibit the sending of vitamin E from Canada to US citizens. Today, at least, you still have the freedom to choose whether or not to supplement antioxidants. The truth is we are still learning what the optimum intake of antioxidants may be for those with CVD and there are many research questions still to be answered.

The AHA imply you can get enough from your diet, by eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I recommend eight servings, not five. However, the average person eats less than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day. I believe, on the basis of the science to date, that supplementing alongside a healthy diet can help boost antioxidant intake towards optimum levels. I hope the AHA report does not put you off supplementing antioxidant nutrients, as I do every day, and I hope it doesn't slow down the research into their optimal intake.


1. Rimm EB et al. Vitamin E consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease in men. NEJM 1993, May 20: 1450.
2. Stampfer MD et al. Vitamin E consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. NEJM 1993, May 20: 1444.
3. Christen WG, Gaziano JM and Hennekens CH. Design of Physicians' Health Study II - a randomized trial of beta-carotene, vitamins E and C, and multivitamins, in prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease and eye disease, and review of results of completed trials. Ann Epidemiol 2000, Feb; 10(2): 125-34.
4. Holmquist C, Larsson S, Wolf A and de Faire U. Multivitamin supplements are inversely associated with risk of myocardial infarction in men and women - Stockholm Heart Program (SHEEP). J Nutr 2003, Aug; 133(8): 2650-4.
5. Stephens NG et al. Randomised controlled trial of vitamin E in patients with coronary disease: Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study (CHAOS). The Lancet 1996; 347: 781-786.
6. MRC/BHF Heart Protection Study of antioxidant vitamin supplementation 20,536 high-risk individuals: a randomised placebo-controlled trail. The Lancet 2002; 360: 23-33.
7. As reference 3.