Cape Town-160211-Prof Tim Noakes during Health Professions Council of SA inquiry in Claremont-Picture by BHEKI RADEBE
Cape Town-160211-Prof Tim Noakes during Health Professions Council of SA inquiry in Claremont-Picture by BHEKI RADEBE

Noakes: Panel had no Twitter knowledge

By Nicolette Dirk And Sipokazi Fokazi Time of article published Feb 12, 2016

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Cape Town - An advocate representing the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) heavily criticised evidence presented by Professor Tim Noakes to the professional conduct committee on Thursday as irrelevant to the charge he faces.

During questioning by his defence, the vocal Banting advocate gave an extensive overview of the evolution of the diet of humankind over the past three million years – from strictly eating animal-dense food to consuming refined foods, which he described as toxic.

“Early human species ate crocodile, impala and even elephants,” said Noakes. “Humans were also the best hunters at the time and were also great scavengers along the sea shore.”

It was around 8 000BC that grains were introduced into the human diet, after bigger mammals had been wiped out.

Noakes said maize had been introduced to the African diet through imports from South America. He said grain had had a negative impact on continents like Africa, where it did not form part of an indigenous diet.

He also argued that a high cholesterol intake did not correlate with heart disease. He stated that diabetes, smoking and hypertension had a closer link to heart problems than cholesterol.

Responding to claims that his Banting diet was unconventional, Noakes said his extensive presentation was an attempt to highlight the health risks of some conventional beliefs about diet.

But HPCSA advocate Ajay Bhoopchand said while the evidence was interesting, his patience was being pushed to the limit. “I cannot see how this lecture links to the actual charge. This is just giving the respondent free reign to express himself in a forum without focusing on the charge he faces,” said Bhoopchand.

He then asked Noakes’s defence team to explain the relevance of his testimony to the actual charge

Noakes’s advocate, Ravin Ramdass, argued that much of the evidence was to address whether the advice given was conventional or unconventional. It also needed to look at whether the low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet could be harmful. Ramdass said a holistic view was needed. He said it was a highly technical area and all the evidence Noakes had given was needed.

“The understanding was to give the committee a comprehensive view. For us to just have given snippets would be undermining the case,” said Ramdass.

Chairwoman of the committee Joan Adams ruled that Noakes could continue with his evidence.

In 2014, Pippa Leenstra had tweeted Noakes and nutritional therapist Sally-Ann Creed, co-authors of The Real Meal Revolution, about whether it was safe for breastfeeding mothers to be on the Banting diet. Noakes had replied on Twitter: “Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween baby on to LCHF.”

A past president of the Association for Dietetics in SA, Claire Julsing-Strydom, had lodged a complaint with the HPCSA.

In the course of his evidence, Noakes said would not have tweeted the advice had he thought he was seeking a medical opinion.

He was merely “sharing consumer information. I probably would have ignored the tweet if I thought that it wanted medical advice. There’s no demand to respond… I respond where I think I can help the patient or a person asking the question.”

He said that he had been charged unfairly by an HPCSA preliminary committee, which had no understanding of how Twitter worked.

After conducting research into the seven members of that panel, Noakes found that none had Twitter accounts – an indication, he said, that they had no insight into the medium and how scientists used it to disseminate information. “They are judging me on the basis of what they think Twitter is… without any particular knowledge of the medium,” he said.

Noakes, who this week revealed that he didn’t consider himself a medical doctor, but rather a scientist with an interest in educating people, also told the committee that should new evidence show that his LCHF diet was wrong, he would be willing to change his mind again.

Noakes said he had had a “Damascus moment” in 2010, which saw him shift from advocating carb-loading to promoting LCHF.

“People say you changed your mind once, you could be wrong again. Of course, if they give me evidence, then I will change my mind. The reality in science is that you must change your mind, if evidence doesn’t agree with you any further,” he said.

He said he knew his carb-loading advice had hurt many people as there was clear evidence that even active people like runners could still develop diabetes.

Noakes said he was being demonised by the scientific community for disseminating “unconventional advice” rather than dogma.

“There is an accusation that the information I teach is not evidence-based… As a junior scientist in 1976, I was taught that carbs are good and fats are bad.

“It’s just been the way it is, but finally people say: ‘Let’s look at the evidence’.”

Cape Times and Cape Argus

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