The battle between the medical establishment and Prof Tim Noakes will be rejoined again on Monday at the Belmont Conference Centre in Rondebosch. Followers of the bizarre saga are looking forward in anticipation to an exciting finale to a confrontation that has been brewing for nearly four years, ever since Noakes participated in “The Great Centenary Debate” at the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences in December 2012.
Back then, Noakes challenged the long-held idea that eating fats clogs arteries, instead admitting that his own research on carbohydrates (including the ‘benefits’ of carbo-loading before long distance marathon running), was wrong. Drawing on his own experience contracting Type II Diabetes, and re-examining the evidence, Noakes came to the conclusion that increasing insulin resistance from eating too many refined carbohydrates was the main cause of the obesity epidemic and was the biggest threat to societal health, both in South Africa, and across the world.
I have challenged convention seven times and have been proved right six times. The HPCSA hearing will be the seventh.” Prof Noakes
In February 2014, Noakes joined a Twitter conversation focused on breastfeeding mothers and their babies, weighing in with the advice that babies should be weaned onto a low-carb, healthy fat (LCHF) diet. This became the basis of the charge brought against him by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in early 2015. He is accused of unprofessional conduct for giving unconventional advice to a breastfeeding mother, and further that such advice was dangerous.
It is likely that the HPCSA had no idea of the forces it was dealing with on both sides of the debate. The intention was for the matter to be quickly settled at a hearing to be held in May 2015, and for the errant professor to be rapped over the knuckles and retire quietly to his home in Cape Town.
That hearing never even got underway as it turned out that one of the members of the HPCSA panel had a biased interest in the case and was disqualified.
The second hearing, held in November 2015, was characterised by the incompetence of the HPCSA legal team, who were completely unprepared. As well as ignorance, on behalf of the case’s chief witness, Professor Este Vorster, who saw fit to pronounce on the ethics of the doctor-patient relationship over Twitter, despite not understanding social media, nor even having a Twitter account herself. Worse was to come: her own guidelines for 6-12-month-old babies (which became the official South African guidelines) omits the inclusion of carbohydrate-based foods in the diet. She defended this position by asserting that mothers of six-month-old babies were supposed to assume from her guidelines that so-called traditional staples of porridge would be the foundation of the diet. This, despite her own review of the evidence for carbs finding that these are generally lacking in the nutrients required by infants, and that a diet of healthy fish and animal products, such sardines, chicken and offal should be recommended.
Over the Christmas break, and in the run-up to the third instalment of the hearing in February of this year (2016), evidence came to light that a number of top establishment academics, intent on protecting conventional wisdom and their cherished careers, were applying pressure on the HPCSA to silence Prof Noakes. This came in the form of an e-mail (presented at the February hearing) from Professor Ames Dhai (Professor of Ethics at Wits University) instructing the HPCSA to use an outside legal team to prosecute Noakes. Further, a former UCT colleague of Noakes, Preliminary Committee member Prof John Terblanche, asked Professor Wim de Villiers to testify against Prof Noakes in the hearing. De Villiers (former head of the UCT Medical School, now Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University) was the first signatory of a letter UCT academics sent to the Cape Times on August 22, 2014, in which Noakes was attacked for promoting LCHF and ‘making outrageous unproven claims about disease prevention’ that were likely to cause serious harm.
The February hearing was divided into two parts. First, the HPCSA concluded its prosecution of Prof Noakes on a farcical note, with the evidence of Prof Willem Pienaar, a Psychiatry professor and bioethicist at Stellenbosch University. Called to give expert witness on whether Prof Noakes had behaved unprofessionally, it turned out that he also did not have a Twitter account and had no knowledge of the medium. Advocate Michael Van der Nest, acting on behalf of Prof Noakes, got Pienaar to admit that his main concern was that broadcasting information on social media would harm his profession.
Prof Pienaar said, “I merely said that Prof Noakes made a mistake. I wouldn’t like him to be made an example of, but he did transgress.”
Finally, Prof Noakes took the stand and presented the evidence against the standard Western Diet (based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines of 1977) diet and the case for the LCHF diet. Over four days, Prof Noakes, led by Advocate Rocky Ramdas, gave a series of masterclasses that may one day become the basis of modern nutrition medicine. While he would be the first to admit that there is still so much to learn and discover about how different people, under different circumstances, react to different types of foods, Prof Noakes has built an impressive library of evidence showing the harm we are suffering from consuming processed carbohydrate foods, and the advantages of consuming our energy in the form of healthy fats. See our RMR ‘Resources’ section for further detail.
Prof Noakes said, “I do not prescribe a diet. I tell people to eat real food on the Real Meal Revolution green list. I don't prescribe a diet for pregnant mothers and babies; I just say that LCHF is a biologically proven diet for certain conditions.”
This month’s hearing promises much excitement. Prof Noakes will be concluding his evidence with the support of expert witnesses - leading scientists that have flown to South Africa to join what is turning out to be the defining battle in the war against the bad science of Big Food and Pharma that has dominated our food environment for more than half a century. Rearguard actions are expected too, as the HPCSA prosecution will have the opportunity to cross-examine Prof Noakes after he has concluded his testimony.
“Saturated fat causes heart disease is perhaps the greatest scientific myth of the century. Our bodies are made up of stable saturated fats,” says Prof Noakes.
RMR will be at the hearing, in full support of Prof Noakes, and we’ll bring you updates on court proceedings as they happen. Please join us in wishing Prof, his wife Marilyn, and his family, strength in this definitive battle against the medical establishment. Go Prof!