Is Tim Noakes the Malema of medicine?

World-famous sports scientist Tim Noakes has recently turned the food pyramid on its head. Could he be right? [Excellent report from Mail & Guardian. Ed] Tim Noakes is busy. In addition to his usual duties as a professor at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Cape Town where he conducts research and lectures students, he has been fielding up to 200 queries a week about his diet from individuals and the media. On the morning of our interview his name appears in the papers again.

A group of six doctors, comprising cardiologists and University of Cape Town academics, have written to the Cape Times suggesting that Noakes has gone too far in claiming his low-carb, high-fat diet is suitable for all patients, and that his statements about statins, a class of cholesterol- lowering drug, are at best unwise and may be harmful.

“Having survived Aids denialism we do not need to be exposed to cholesterol denialism,” the letter reads.

Noakes is a genial, animated man, given to drumming his hands on the desk as he speaks.

“It’s great,” he said, referring to the letter. He explains that a scam is about to be exposed, a scam he only became aware of two years ago because it is not part of conventional medical training. Noakes is convinced that he is right, but goes on to say that scientists are allowed to be wrong too.

“The key is you must not be irrelevant. The fact that I can stir up this controversy is because I’m relevant.”

The charismatic rebel professor first gained popular acclaim in 1985 as a 27-year-old wunderkind when he published Lore of Running, a tome of biblical proportions, which is now in its fourth edition and for years most serious runners have considered it gospel. Following Noakes’s advice on nutrition, athletes began carbo-loading religiously to improve their performance. Bruce Fordyce and Paula Newby-Fraser, both exceptional ultra-endurance athletes, became but two of his many high-profile followers.

Noakes’ academic career took off. He published a paper in a prestigious American scientific publication describing, for the first time, the uncommon, but occasionally life-threatening condition of exercise-associated hyponatraemia (low blood sodium). The paper was initially met with mixed responses and some scepticism, but his continued research in the field of fluid balance, in which he challenged powerful sports drink companies, came to the sensible and scientifically sound – conclusion that athletes should drink when they are thirsty and stick to water…..

Mail && Guardian: Read the full article

Related reading:

Doctors warn on Noakes diet theory – and he retorts back

Tim Noakes on carbohydrates – fad or fact?

Glycemic Index and fat differentiation sheds new light on high fat and low carbs debate

“Carbo is really a no-no” says Prof Tim Noakes