Australia’s response to the diabetes epidemic – shooting the messenger.
On the Sunday current affairs program in New Zealand there was a report on the diabetes epidemic in South Auckland. This is our largest (and growing) health problem, and two of the players in this tragedy had messages that stood out. An elderly woman, overweight and now condemned to thrice-weekly dialysis, told us “I didn’t do anything wrong”.
How right she was. The Ministry of Health website still offers this “healthy eating” advice – “Fill up on breads, cereals, pasta and rice.”
Junk epidemiology and junk food
The epidemiologists from Harvard recently grabbed headlines with claims that polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest fats, that chicken is one of the healthiest animal proteins, and that plant proteins are healthier than animal proteins. In South Auckland, a staple food is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Chicken is a meat naturally high in polyunsaturated fat, KFC is fried in “healthy” polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and therefore a good source of these, and it even comes with a bean salad – plant protein. This junk food meal, eaten wherever diabetes is rampant (the franchise only came to New Zealand in the 1970’s), actually ticks most of the boxes thrown up by junk epidemiology.
With this sort of dangerous misinformation on official government websites and in the media, how can anyone know what is “right” or “wrong” when it comes to their risk of type 2 diabetes?
The look of success?
One chap in the Sunday program, Kim, had it figured out. He’d reversed his diabetes by, firstly, losing weight rapidly on a low calorie diet (like the Newcastle diet, but with real food instead of Optifast), by exercising regularly, and by eating a diet described as “lots of vegetables” – we saw a delicious looking stir-fry – “no bread, potatoes, rice, pasta” – he didn’t even need to mention sugar.
Incidentally, what is a “fast-acting” carbohydrate? Previously, it was assumed that fast-acting carbohydrates were sugars or juices. It is now known that this is not true, and if there were a fast-acting carbohydrate, it would probably be a starch. “Fast-acting carbohydrate” is a term we need to eliminate from our diabetes vocabulary. – Marion J. Franz, MS, RD, LD, CDE
“So what’s left?” asked the interviewer. “Eggs, meat?” “You’d be surprised how much there is left that’s good to eat!”
Now, the direct end result of type 2 diabetes is a series of complications which include cardiovascular disease, retinopathy, neuropathy, kidney disease and gangrene (caused when vascular damage cuts of blood supply to the extremities, usually the feet, compounded by neuropathy preventing pain warning of injury, and infections fed by high sugar levels and suppressed immune function). Gangrene often requires the amputation of the affected parts, and the surgeon who has to perform this procedure is an orthopedic surgeon.
The case of Dr Gary Fettke
Gary Fettle is a friend of mine. He’s also an orthopedic surgeon in Tasmania, Australia who performs dozens of these operations on patients with type 2 diabetes every year. “I used to do one amputation every 6 to 12 months and now I’m doing one a week”. Seeing, as anyone can who has eyes in their head, the link between diet and diabetic blood sugars and the risk of complications (hardly controversial), he had dared to make a study of nutrition and diabetes literature – something which, as a highly trained medical professional, he was well able to do – and advise his patients, and the public, about how to eat to beat, and avoid type 2 diabetes and/or its complications.
Now Dr Fettke has been banned from giving any diet advice, to patients or in any media, until further notice.
Why? What he is advising is plainly good sense as well as evidence-based. It’s the same message Kim gave on the Sunday program, except that Dr Gary Fettke is a highly trained medical professional with hundreds of hours of clinical experience.
Here’s a great response to the silencing of Dr Fettke, written by Tyler Cartwright for the Ketogains website, that puts the case better than we can.
Meanwhile the Australian authorities continue to allow Associate Prof Sof Andrikopoulos to give diet advice, despite his telling the Australian public to eat sugar with burgers – based on his experience with mice. (I guess that also makes the soft drinks at KFC part of the healthy menu now).
Gary’s not the first and won’t be the last
In 2005 the Swedish dietetics authorities tried to silence Dr Annika Dahlqvist. Their heavy-handed actions led to a court case in 2008 which Dr Dahlqvist won, publicising the benefits of LCHF all over Sweden, and as a result a significant proportion of the Swedish population soon knew about the diet, and butter sales went up – leading to much hand-wringing around the world among people committed to outdated bad advice, but no adverse effects in the Swedish population – according to the Swedish government’s health data base, heart attacks are now at an all-time low.
Heart attacks in Sweden by year, 2006-2014.
In this recent Australian TV series, The Saving Australia Diet, Dr Fettke is seen advising the patient Tony on how to treat diabetes with the LCHF diet, with the help of chef Pete Evans. For no good reason that we can see, other than some virulent local strain of the Tall Poppy syndrome, the Australian establishment hates Pete Evans, and this has made some scientists who should know better indulge in bottom-of-the-barrel stunts like Ass Prof Sof Andrikopoulos’s “Paleo mouse” attacks on low carbohydrate diets. It is almost certainly his association with Pete Evans that has drawn the complaint that has led to Dr Fettke being silenced.
Of course, this kind of heavy-handed, bloody-minded action is only possible because Dr Fettke is a health professional, and therefore subject to the discipline of a regulatory body, even if it is being abused for unworthy personal ends and is clearly not in the public interest. Pete Evans, on the other hand, is a member of no such body, so he can’t be silenced, thank goodness.
This is why it’s important for everyone who speaks on nutrition to have a proper qualification – so they can be silenced when they embarrass the authorities, for example by being right about something the government and its appointed experts have been consistently wrong about. Especially in the middle of an epidemic, when damage control is the order of the day.
Well, here’s an idea – instead of “damage control” being about saving reputations, can’t we have damage control that will mean saving feet, eyes, and kidneys?
We don’t always say good things about Aussies (us New Zealanders, and vice versa), but they are our mates really and Gary Fettle is one of the good ones. Shame on you Australia and the Australian Medical Authorities for allowing this to happen.