I have just returned from Cape Town where I was attending the first International Summit Low Carb Summit.
This was a unique event hosted by Professor Tim Noakes and organised by Karen Thomson and her colleagues. It is the first time that most of the leading figures in the world from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds came together to share their experience and knowledge. It was a great privilege for me attend and have the opportunity of meeting so many of the people who are making such a huge contribution towards the relief of suffering and improvement in the standards of public health.
In this blog I will discuss and explain the implications of the meeting. If you are interested in a summary of the main points made by the speakers then I recommend the report prepared by Markia Sboros (1).
There is absolutely no doubt that virtually every country is faced with a huge public health issue because of the continued rise in the incidence of obesity. What is of even greater significance is Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) which is not only a very nasty disease in its own right but also an indication that the person concerned has an increased risk of developing many common chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. There is convincing evidence that this has been caused by the official dietary recommendation to reduce fat, especially saturated fat (SFA) and to increase the complex carbohydrates. Because this advice has been actively promoted by health professionals and the food industry the habitual diet in most countries has altered by reducing the intake of fats, which has effectively been replaced by carbohydrates. If this rationale is accepted then it follows that the way to improve public health is to reverse the changes in diet which have occurred during the past 30-40 years. Essentially this means consuming a diet which is low in carbohydrates and high in the right types of fat (LCHF).
This was precisely the message which came through loud and clear from all the speakers, irrespective of their background or professional expertise. In fact, many of them have been working on their own for years and found it extremely encouraging to meet others who quite independently had reached the same conclusions. They can take great heart from the fact that they have been able to establish a network which will be mutually beneficial and provide the momentum to promote the concepts of LCHF.
Here is a statement issued at the end of the Summit which was endorsed by all the speakers:
“The mainstream dietary advice that we are currently giving to the world has simply not worked. Instead it is the opinion of the speakers at this convention that this incorrect nutritional advice is the immediate cause of the global obesity and diabetes epidemics.
This advice has failed because it completely ignores the history of why and how human nutrition has developed over the past three million years. More importantly, it refuses to acknowledge the presence of insulin resistance (carbohydrate intolerance) as the single most prevalent biological state in modern humans.
Persons with insulin resistance are at an increased risk of developing a wide range of chronic medical conditions if they ingest a high carbohydrate diet for any length of time (decades).” (2).
From my own perspective, the various contributions have made it clear that the basic concepts are really quite clear and simple. Inevitably there are complexities when researching the detailed biochemistry and physiology. By contrast, for theindividual who just wishes to deal with an illness and find out about a healthy life-style, things should be very straight forward. Dr Jason Fung was absolutely categoric: T2D can be cured! Excessive insulin is damaging the internal organs. So it follows inevitably that the first step towards recovery is to reduce the amount of insulin being produced by the pancreas. Therefore it is essential to reduce the intake of sugar and other sources of carbohydrates. Consequently less glucose will enter the blood stream and the requirement for insulin will be reduced. INSULIN SHOULD NOT BE PRESCRIBED! This will only add fuel to the fire and certainly will not cure the patient. How many sufferers of T2D are treated in this way even though there is scientific evidence that this type of treatment does not work. Furthermore, the conventional dietary advice is to reduce fat and INCREASE CARBOHYDRATES, which will make things even worse! This approach is incompetent and irresponsible.
Despite the strong body of research which underpins the rationale for an LCHF diet, the vast majority of health professionals remain firmly committed to disseminating the “old advice” which has been totally discredited. In South Africa, Tim Noakes has been subjected to vituperative attacks which state that he has been making outrageous unproven claims about disease prevention (3). In the final session Tim delivered a devastating response to his critics, which effectively demolished the allegations against him. This is definitely worth reading and it is available here at the next Blog which is 160(4). What I find particularly appalling is the way in which the critics ignore any evidence which supports the case for the LCHF approach and then make unsubstantiated predictions about the risks associated with a LCHF diet, without a shred of evidence in support. The reality is that many of the critics are incapable of assessing the science in a genuinely objective fashion, lack the scientific integrity to admit they have been wrong in the past and feel threatened by the current developments. Nevertheless there can be no excuse for this kind of behaviour. These people must be challenged at every opportunity because while they continue to influence events, patients are being denied life-saving treatments.
The good news is that Tim and his supporters are having considerable success in South Africa. ”The Real Meal Revolution” has been a runaway success having been the best seller for over 20 weeks. This explains the basis for the LCHF diet (also referred to as the Banting diet, following the success of the London undertaker William Banting with weight loss on a diet high in fat) (5). There are many restaurants which are dedicated to serving meals which comply with the LCHF principles. Other restaurants include Banting items on their regular menus. It is clear that the message is getting through to many people and that they are benefitting from it. In the conference Andreas Eenfeldt, the diet doctor, reported on the progress being made in Sweden, where many are adopting LCHF diets. As a consequence, the consumption of butter is back to where it was before people started worrying about their fat intake. This has been accompanied by a slow-down in the rate at which obesity is increasing. At present no information is available on the incidence of T2D. If it can be shown that this is being controlled then this would be very compelling case. Finally Sweden seems to be the one country where the official stance recognises the value of the LCHF diet.
I wish to congratulate all those involved in this initiative in Cape Town. I hope in a few years’ time we can look back on this a major landmark in the efforts to improve public health globally by making changes to the patterns of food consumption.