Tim Noakes

Heavyweight experts flying in to support Tim Noakes in his LCHF trial

When the Kafka-esque trial of world-renowned South African scientist Prof Tim Noakes resumes in Cape Town in October 2016, there will be two heavyweight international expert witnesses sitting next to him.

Cambridge University graduate Dr Zoë Harcombe, a British public health nutritionist,  and US science writer Nina Teicholz will give evidence for the science behind Noakes’ views on eggs, bacon and broccoli. Those views have got him into much trouble with the country’s regulatory body, the Health Professions Council of SA and led to a charge of unprofessional conduct.

Here’s what you can look forward to in this strange scientific saga that has garnered worldwide attention: 

Zoe HarcombeHarcombe (left) has a doctorate in the evidence base for official dietary guidelines. Her doctoral thesis was: An examination of the randomised controlled trial and epidemiological evidence for the introduction of dietary fat recommendations in 1977 and 1983: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

She received a letter of commendation following the PhD award.

Harcombe has been an independent board member, a member of the remuneration and HR committees for the University of Wales, Institute Cardiff, now Cardiff Metropolitan University, and an independent board member for the National Health Service in Wales.

She is author of best-selling books that include The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? (2010).

Nina TeicholzTeicholz (left) is author of the international bestseller, The Big Fat Surprise. The book is regarded as a seminal contribution to the understanding of nutrition and disease, as well the politics of nutrition science.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said it should be required reading by all health professionals, doctors, and scientists. The Economist named it the number #1 science book of 2014. It  was on that year’s “Best Book” lists for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, among others.

The Big Fat Surprise has garnered high-level media attention worldwide: it was the basis for a now-iconic cover story in Time magazine, and was reviewed favourably by both the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and The BMJ.

Stanford University graduate Teicholz is the first journalist ever elected to Phi Tau Sigma, the elite US honour society for food scientists. She was invited by the Canadian Senate to give  a full hour of expert testimony in 2014, and by the US Department of Agriculture in 2016 to give testimony on how to improve nutrition policy.

Teicholz’s article in The BMJ on the dietary guidelines was the one of the most-viewed stories in the journal last year and was influential in informing questions in a Congressional hearing on the US dietary guidelines in 2015.

Both Harcombe and Teicholz are clearly well-placed to know just what research doctors and dietitians routinely ignore in SA and worldwide.

So what’s this case really all about:

The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) has charged Noakes with “unprofessional conduct for allegedly giving “unconventional advice on a social network (Twitter)”.

That was for a couple of tweets Noakes made in response to a request for information from a breastfeeding mother. Noakes told the mother that good first foods for infant weaning are low-carb, high-fat (LCHF). In other words, he was suggesting meat, dairy and vegetable.

Ironically, that’s the same advice the Johannesburg dietitian who reported him to the HPCSA now gives. Claire Julsing Strydom was president of the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA) when she reported Noakes in personal capacity (later changed to say that ADSA was the complainant). ADSA routinely gives the same nutrition advice.

That is just some of the Kafka-esque aspects of this peculiar saga that has come to be called the “Banting for Babies Trial”, also the “Nutrition Trial of the 21st Century.”

What has become clear is that this is not just a trial of a famous scientist. Noakes has one of the highest scientific ratings in the world (A1 by the National Research Foundation) for his expertise, both in nutrition and in sports science. He is also a medical doctor, with an academic doctorate in medicine and one in science. He has a doctorate honouris causa, to boot.

It has emerged that the hearing is really a battle of attrition. The theatre of war is the venue at Belmont Square, Rondebosch. The prize is the control of nutrition science.

What is also crystal clear about this trial is that the ultimate finding will determine how to treat and prevent a host of serious disease that are epidemic worldwide: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia. Dementia is becoming so prevalent these days that doctors are calling it type 3 diabetes because of its documented links with diet.

At stake, is the “business” of cardiologists, who prescribe statins, and perhaps, the liability of doctors prescribing them.

Dietitians don’t seem to want Noakes – or any other doctor – giving dietary advice. They seem to think they should enjoy that monopoly. They seem to be of the view that their degree confers some kind of omni-“science”  when it comes to evidence-based dietary advice…..

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