By Marika Sboros
Many doctors and dietitians are still pessimistic about diabetes. They tell patients that diabetes is chronic, progressive and irreversible. They tell patients that they’ll need more drugs for the rest of their lives to manage their condition.
The Noakes Foundation has now received a full grant of R5.6 million (around $400 600) for ongoing research that could radically change that perception. That research is investigating reversal of diabetes through diet alone. It also aims straight at the heart of a powerful vested interest: the medical growth industry of diabetes.
It’s a big one – none bigger in the medical industry, says scientist Prof Tim Noakes. Its growth in profits last year alone was about 20%. “It is not interested in a possible cure or reversal of diabetes,” Noakes says. He has worked out who is protecting that industry’s commercial interests. Here’s who.
Diabetes remains a grave danger to people across the world. It kills 1.5 million annually. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that there are 415 million adults with diabetes worldwide. That number grows annually and alarmingly.
The most common form of the condition is type 2 diabetes. However, all diabetes types can lead to complications. These include heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, leg amputation, vision loss and nerve damage. And, of course, diabetes significantly raises the risk of premature death.
Experts rightly say that the economic burden that diabetes poses to nations, communities, patients and families is “staggering”. That burden accounts for the estimated $673 billion spent worldwide on diabetes care in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). That’s aside from the “overwhelming obesity epidemic facing the planet”, the WHO says.
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Noakes set up the Noakes Foundation in 2012 to meet “the critical need for robust research into nutrition”. By that, read research that is independent of powerful vested interests in food and drug companies.
Noakes is directing the research team looking into reversal of diabetes through a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet. The team includes doctors, dietitians and scientists at the University of Cape Town’s Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine. Noakes is an emeritus professor of the university.
The Foundation received the first portion of the R5.6 million for the study that began early in 2016. The driver of the research is simple. It’s the high number of people worldwide who say that they have reversed their type 2 diabetes on LCHF alone.
Consequently, they have avoided carbohydrates and sugars and increased their fat intake – including saturated fat. In other words, these people say that just by eating certain foods and avoiding others they reversed a disease that doctors and dietitians say is irreversible.
The funders so far prefer to remain anonymous. All I could prise out of Noakes is that they are international philanthropists who are independent of food and drug companies.
“The Foundation has to find this money from philanthropy”, he says, “because funds that governments allocate have not, and will not ever, be invested in this type of research.”
Noakes gave a talk with US Cross-Fit creator Greg Glassman at a one-day Visionaries of Change conference in Cape Town on December 3, 2016.
Glassman positions CrossFit as both a physical exercise philosophy and competitive fitness sport. Workouts incorporate elements of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), also Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics (jump training), gymnastics, girevoy (kettlebell) sport and other regimens.
Glassman is not a funder of Noakes’ research but he did give insight into why it is essential. Noakes says that after speaking to Glassman and his team, he came to an intriguing realisation.
“An Industrial-Government-Academic (IGA) complex is protecting the commercial interests of the medical growth industry of diabetes,” says Noakes.
“This includes ensuring that sick people continue to take medications whether or not they work.”
In other words, it’s about lucrative repeat business – sick care, not health care. It explains why the “experts” continue to promote insulin and high-carb diets for type 2 diabetes, says Noakes. It’s also why the IGA complex does so despite research showing that insulin worsens the long-term outcome in type 2 diabetes.
“The IGA complex is not about to provide money to anyone who might show that you can reverse diabetes with diet in many, though not all, cases,” says Noakes.
The only hope is for independent NGOs (non-governmental organisations) such as the Noakes Foundation to provide this support, he says.
The funding support comes at a critical time in South Africa, where 7% of the population suffers from diabetes. Obesity rates are also high in that country as they are globally.
“We need, as a matter of urgency, to find the biological explanation for the reversal of these diseases to save the human race from grave illness,” the Noakes Foundation says in a press release.
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On its website, the Foundation gives its goal as support for the “dietary revolution” that will reverse the global obesity and diabetes epidemics. As such, it aims to advance medical science’s understanding of the benefits of an LCHF diet. It will do so by providing “evidence-based information on optimum nutrition that is free from commercial agenda”.
In its recent and first-ever Global Report on Diabetes, WHO director General Dr Margaret Chan says that effectively addressing diabetes “does not just happen”.
“It is the result of collective consensus and public investment in interventions that are affordable, cost-effective and based on the best available science,” Chan says.
Critics of LCHF – or Banting as it is popularly known in South Africa – often say it’s not affordable, cost effective or evidence-based. The Noakes Foundation’s Eat Better South Africa campaign shows that Banting is both affordable and cost-effective. As well, Australian research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015 shows a hefty reduction in expensive diabetes medication from an LCHF diet. A growing body of research, including by US professors Stephen Phinney, Jeff Volek and many others, shows that it is, indeed, evidence-based.
Thus, Noakes believes that the many doctors and academics researching LCHF worldwide may prevail against the IGA complex.