By Marika Sboros
Lore Of Nutrition, co-authored by sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes and me, has hit the ground running. It’s also flying in cyberspace. The sub-title says it all: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs.
Noakes devotes much of our book to the growing body of compelling science for benefits of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets.
In it, we also reveal the “Diet Dictators”. These are the many top doctors, dietitians and academics who have tried to suppress or distort the science for LCHF. It’s probably no coincidence that most have industry links. Our book documents how the Diet Dictators and assorted hangers-on also tried and failed to destroy Noakes’s career, character and reputation. We show how and why eminence-based medicine is giving way to evidence-based medicine.
Lore of Nutrition documents how conflicted doctors, dietitians and academics made gratuitous and often slanderous, unscientific attacks on Noakes. And how they ultimately laid the groundwork for the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) hearing against him.
The HPCSA charged Noakes with unprofessional conduct for a single tweet in February 2014. That was for saying that good first foods for infants are LCHF. The public soon dubbed the hearing The Nutrition Trial of the 21st Century. And a multi-million-rand trial it became as the HPCSA stretched hearings over more than three years.
As we show, when the HPCSA saw that their case was weak, they refused to acknowledge it. Instead, they simply engaged an expensive team of external lawyers to prop it up.
Lore of Nutrition covers the hearings in full, day in and day out. We also show how those lawyers might have won the day. However, they came up against Noakes’s powerhouse, energetic team of lawyers.
Heading the team is instructing attorney Adam Pike, of Pike Law. Noakes’s counsel, Michael van der Nest (SC) and Dr Ravin “Rocky” Ramdass offered their services pro bono. They did so, they said, because the obvious injustice of the case incensed them from the outset.
We have also documented how the HPCSA’s independent panel vindicated Noakes comprehensively on April 21, 2017. However, the HPCSA have appealed the verdict and even want a whole new hearing
In a closing Lore of Nutrition, I consider the many imponderables weighing down the HPCSA’s case against him. There were so many, I suggest it’s a wonder that the HPCSA could get their case off the ground at all.
The first imponderable: could the trial have happened without the “inordinately large, incestuous web” of University of Cape Town academics? What was the net effect of the UCT cardiologists’ letter to the press in 2012, attacking Noakes’s views on statins? And the UCT academics’ letter to the press in 2014, accusing him of making “outrageous, unproven claims about disease prevention”.
Another imponderable: would the trial have happened were it not for the HPCSA’s Preliminary Inquiry Committee members? The committee chair happens to be the head of medical bioethics at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Noakes’s legal team has diplomatically described the committee’s actions as “highly irregular”.
Overall, Lore of Nutrition reflects badly on all three of South Africa’s top universities: UCT, University of Stellenbosch and Wits University, my alma mater. However, UCT, in effect, ends up looking like the worst of a bad bunch. North West University does not emerge unscathed either.
Even the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK became infected with a dodgy scientific virus.
And of course, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) comes out looking not quite so kosher after all.
I raise the imponderable of the contribution of ADSA’s leadership profile to the trial. ADSA leaders have mostly been privileged white, middle-class, conservative women. They also share similar cultural backgrounds. And they are drawn mostly from a closed shop of friends, or friends of friends.
It may just be coincidence that many of them are undeclared vegetarians or vegans. And that their antipathy to LCHF and Noakes is legendary. Then again, it may not be.
I speculate that it may be tempting to think there surely can’t be so many top doctors, dietitians and academics out of step except Noakes. However, we present the evidence to show that it’s not just possible, as anything is. In this case, it’s highly probable.
In a preface to Lore of Nutrition, Noakes talks about the omertà that the Diet Dictators appear to have sworn. Omertà is the Italian word for the code of “honour” and vow of silence in organised crime. It places importance on silence and non-interference in the illegal actions of others.
Noakes notes that he is not the first to compare modern medicine and its pharmaceutical-science model to organised crime.
Danish physician Dr Peter Gøtzsche did it first in his groundbreaking book, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime. The sub-title: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare. Noakes calls it “a compelling, disturbing read”. He says that it is “perhaps the most disquieting book” about his profession that he has ever read.
I can say same about the evidence I heard and reported in the book at the HPCSA hearings. I found it disturbing and mind-boggling to realise just what all these Diet Dictators got up to. And all just to silence a distinguished scientist.
The walls of silence both Noakes and I came up against in writing this book were no deterrent. On the contrary, the walls simply confirmed our suspicions of hidden agendas behind them.
In the Lore of Nutrition, Noakes, his “Angel” experts and I present an alternative to the pessimistic, paternalistic model of medical science. They give the science to show that obesity is not the result of gluttony and sloth. They give patients hope. Noakes and the “Angels” also show that type 2 diabetes is not necessarily a chronic, progressive disease. Patients don’t always have to fill medical and drug company coffers by taking drugs for the rest of their lives.
The author of our book’s foreword is telling: Prof JP van Niekerk, former dean of UCT medical school. He writes that changing beliefs is “incredibly hard”. Beliefs are wired into our limbic system and are “not readily amenable to our thinking brain”, Van Niekerk says.
Confirmation bias protects our beliefs from “any opposing and uncomfortable facts”, he says.
“But a fundamental characteristic of science is to constantly challenge beliefs. Noakes bravely confessed the errors of his previous beliefs about carbohydrates when he started studying evidence that was new to him.”
Van Niekerk says that Noakes’s views are a “reflection of a worldwide re-examination of the basis of the beliefs in “conventional’ nutrition”. Research has “shifted the ground”, he says.
And “conventional” nutrition increasingly finds itself needing to provide evidence to defend its innocence in contributing to the worldwide obesity and diabetes epidemics.
Van Niekerk is gently critical of the many medical and other healthcare professionals who oppose Noakes’s views. Before dismissing his views, they would benefit from reviewing the depth of evidence he and his expert witnesses presented at the hearing. And the wealth of evidence we present in the book.
“Or they need to provide a convincing rebuttal,” Van Niekerk says.
He is openly critical of the HPCSA’s case against Noakes and in particular the appeal. He compares it to two other notable challenged cases.The first was black consciousness leader Steve Biko and the second, apartheid-era doctor Wouter Basson. In both cases, the HPCSA “bowed to outside pressures”.
Van Niekerk’s opinion of the HPCSA’s appeal is clear and low. It won’t just be a “fruitless” waste of money. It could seem like a “religious persecution of those of another persuasion”.
HPCSA hearings are also “not the appropriate mechanism to resolve such major and complex academic debates”.
Thus, Noakes’s message to readers in Lore of Nutrition becomes an even important one:
“All people are entitled to their own opinions. But not to their own set of facts. So do not believe what you want to believe. Believe what the facts tell you is the truth.”
He speaks here in the context of junk diets, embedded scientists, corrupt – or simply ignorant – doctors and dietitians. He is also talking about human health and omertàs.
Noakes reminds you that what you believe about your personal nutrition “will determine not just how you live, but also how you die”.