A British woman has just been awarded £800,000 after her water-based detox diet left her with brain damage. Dawn Page, 52, was on a diet named The Amazing Hydration Diet, which involved drinking large quantities of water at the same time as reducing her salt intake.
When she began vomiting uncontrollably a few days into the diet, her nutritionist told her it was normal, but Page then had an epileptic fit which left her with brain damage. She now has an impaired memory, speech and concentration and has had to give up her former work as a conference organiser. She is not expected to ever work again.
The saddest thing about all of this is that it’s not as if Page was obese – she simply wanted to lose some weight, as many women in mid-life do. And to do so, she took the advice of a qualified nutritionist.
Page’s nutritionist, Barbara Nash, continues to deny any wrongdoing or substandard practice, and the High Court that made the award did not mention liability. The damages claim was also reduced by half because Nash claimed that on the day in question, Page had drunk five litres of water, which was not according to her instructions.
Something strikes me as odd about this. It’s often recommended that you drink half your body weight in pounds in ounces of water per day as standard, and up to 75 per cent of your body weight if you’re physically active or it’s hot. This would put Page, at 12st, drinking 84floz (4.9 litres) quite happily, so something must have gone horribly wrong here.
But another issue this case raises is that a nutritionist is not a dietician. In the UK, dieticians are regulated by law, but nutritionists and nutritional therapists are not. Nash’s qualification was a diploma from the College of Natural Nutrition in Tiverton, Devon, where a course of study takes one year and costs about £1,300. The college has a focus on holistic water therapy. In contrast, to become a dietician you have to study at university for three years and you need A levels in subjects such as biology and chemistry to even qualify – it is very much a medical qualification.
This leads to something of a war between the two camps, with dieticians routinely claiming that they have to pick up the pieces when nutritionists get it wrong, while nutritionists claim that dieticians are too old-school in their thinking and don’t treat the patient as a whole person.
Personally, I have nothing against nutritionists (my old boss was a dietician, after all, and he was permanently drunk…) but I also think you need to cross-check and take their claims with a pinch of salt. I once saw one who claimed I had candida, but I got the distinct feeling that this was her ‘pet’ ailment and that she diagnosed it in all her patients. Having said that, the regime she put me on was very sound and healthy, and I benefited greatly. But I wasn’t daft – I double-checked her recommendations in a book by a dietician.
As for water, the soundest formula that I know of is to simply drink until your urine runs clear – something all French children are taught in infancy. Thirst is said to be a poor indication of dehydration, so don’t rely on that alone.