A three-year case into his conduct in an incident on Twitter has left Professor Tim Noakes feeling isolated from his peers and frustrated at the health industry’s reluctance to listen to his scientific advice on nutrition.
“Inhumane rejection, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance”, are the words used by a relieved Professor Noakes to sum up the last three years of his life.
Professor Noakes was found not guilty of unprofessional conduct by the Professional Conduct Committee of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), bringing the case to a close, with a 4 to 1 majority decision.
Professor Noakes was charged with conducting himself unprofessionally for the advice he gave to a breastfeeding mother. In February 2014, he used social media to advise Pippa Leenstra that she could introduce her baby to a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet. This led to the HPCSA charging Professor Noakes with unprofessional conduct for giving “unconventional advice” to the breastfeeding mother using Twitter.
Professor Noakes is happy to be able to move on from the incident.
“Mixture of relief, elation and appreciation for all those who have supported me and my wife over the past three years.
“The relief is that the cloud that had hung over both of us for so long had finally been removed so that we can now move on with our lives,” said Professor Noakes, describing his feelings after the verdict was handed down.
His personal life had been immensely impacted by the case.
“My wife and I simply could not escape it – we spoke about it endlessly, wondering why it had come about; how we might have avoided it; how heartless were the people who were driving it and we even wondered at times whether our lives might be in danger,” Professor Noakes said.
The worst part of it all for the professor was the involvement of the four UCT Faculty of Health Sciences professors who Professor Noakes said wrote a defamatory letter to a newspaper in August 2014. This became the central pillar in the decision by the HPCSA to prosecute Professor Noakes.
“What that letter did was to isolate me from my university and my faculty; from the university unit that I had started and from the Sports Science Institute of South Africa which I had also helped found,” he said.
On February 2, 2014, Claire Julsing Strydom, the former president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, lodged a formal complaint against Professor Noakes.
The advice that he gave Ms Leenstra is believed to be listed on the green list in Professor Noakes’ book, Real Meal Revolution.
Noakes’ counsel was led by advocates Michael van der Nest and Dr Ravin Ramdass, who argued that the information provided by Professor Noakes on social media was diffused on Twitter and caused no harm. During last year, the HPCSA issued a statement that caused massive confusion, when they incorrectly announced that Professor Noakes was found guilty of unprofessional conduct, but retracted the statement three hours after releasing it.
They released a second statement stating that Professor Noakes had testified and called his witnesses in defence of his case. The matter was argued before the committee, who deliberated on the issue and came to a decision between April 6 and 7.
Professor Noakes said he learnt that the nutrition experts and dietitians organisations in the country “have not the slightest interest in engaging with science” they presented.
Along with expert witnesses, Professor Noakes presented 12 days of testimony including more than 6 000 pages of scientific materials and over 100 slides and said: “But it was as if we had not spoken, so little impact did it have on those people”.
“It is clear to me that nutrition in this country is taught as if it is a religion. The ‘truth’ has been handed down from above and cannot, and will not ever change. I find this most sad since the truth is that no caring profession can exist if it is not based on the best scientific evidence of what works,” Professor Noakes said.
“The public have lost patience. They want the truth and they want it now. This trial has shown them what is the truth.”
Through his foundation, which is funded through the proceeds of his writings and public donations, they will continue to raise external funding for research of the LCHF so called Banting Diet. Last year, they raised R6m to fund a study of the mechanisms by which the Banting Diet might put type 2 diabetes into remission.
Professor Noakes said they will be rolling out more interventions under their Eat Better South Africa campaign, the goal of which is to show that it is possible to eat a Banting Diet on R30 per day.
“Our original interventions show that the poorest South Africans eat the worst possible diet but benefit remarkably when they cut sugar and excess carbohydrates from their diet, according to the Banting approach,” Professor Noakes explained.
But right now, Professor Noakes is only looking forward to returning to his wife’s garden and keeping fit, setting his goal on getting his running times back to where they should be.
“My wife and I just hope that no one else will ever be forced to go through what we have had to experience. If people of honour and conscience has been involved at the various stages of the decision to prosecute me, this could never ever have happened,” Professor Noakes said.