I had been hoping that the release of Novak Djokovic’s new book would bring to the surface the truth about his gluten-related diagnosis, and a new editorial in the Wall Street Journal appears to have done just that. It’s been a long wait.
For those of you unfamiliar with my previous thoughts on the subject, this post from July 2011 remains relevant. In summary: Djokovic appeared to have been diagnosed using fringe techniques advocated by a Dr Igor Cetojevic, and his belief – however strong – that his gluten-free diet was responsible for his improvement in form was nowhere near enough evidence of the assertion’s truth.
And now the precise diagnostic technique has been revealed, as this extract from the article shows:
“Dr. Cetojevic persuaded the tennis star to give up gluten by administering a simple test: He told Djokovic to put his left hand on his stomach, hold out his right arm and resist as the doctor pulled down on his arm. Then Dr. Cetojevic gave Djokovic a slice of bread and told him to hold that against his stomach and repeated the test…”
Despite Djokovic describing this as seeming ‘madness’ – “there was a noticeable difference."
He appears to be describing kinesiology – which uses such muscle/strength tests to supposedly find imbalances or intolerances in the body. It’s nonsense on stilts, and its pseudoscientific silliness is nicely summarised in this Wikipedia article.
The article then describes Djokovic undergoing ELISA testing, finding an “intolerance” to wheat and dairy. I suspect this related to IgG testing, which I have written about before, and which is unreliable.
This is a rushed post, but I have several points.
Firstly, the article itself is disappointing, albeit illuminating, in that it fails to challenge or call into question the methods of diagnosis and notions Djokovic outlines. Later in the article Djokovic describes some staggering tosh involving positive energy and water – it has to be read to be believed, and I cannot help but wonder how a top athlete can come to be convinced of this stuff. “What matters is that you are open-minded,” is Djokovic’s take. Yes – but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.
The ATP – the Association of Tennis Professionals – has to take some action on this. I don’t know the ins and outs of tennis politics and officialdom, but when their number one tennis player – a hugely popular, talented figure – is communicating at-best questionable health information to readers worldwide, someone needs to speak and point out the lack of scientific basis concerning these ideas.
I assume from the above we can now start laying to rest the idea that Djokovic is a diagnosed coeliac – although I know some out there will find this hard to swallow and would like to maintain the denial of what now appears to be the unchallengeable truth.
I know too that some will argue none of this matters, that all that matters is that Djokovic has improved his life, his ability, his health, and that others may be able to use these techniques to get similar results. And so they might.
But there are problems with this. One lies with how this information will now be used. I can quite easily see applied kinesiologists using his story as evidence that their techniques work and have validity, and to market it to others – perhaps the vulnerable. It is simply not science, and it is the absence of science in this whole business that really disturbs me. Science is doing wonderful things in gluten-related disorders – it is at the centre of a potential new vaccine for coeliac disease, for example – and the idea that it is an optional way of understanding us and our bodies must continue to be challenged.