Novak Djokovic has just published his autobiography (entitled, somewhat predictably, Serve to Win) charting his rise from a injury-dogged, ache-plagued asthmatic to a level of fitness and endurance reached by few, even among the elite sporting community.
No, I have not yet read the book but I have read the review in the Wall Street Journal which suggests that the health regime to which he attributes his amazing physical turn-around consisted of far more than just his vastly over-hype and hugely controversial gluten-free diet. But, none the less, it has sparked the usual round of coeliac outrage (not helped by the climb-on-the-bandwagon title strap line and the publicity blurb which focuses yet again on the gluten-free diet to the exclusion of all other interventions).
Alex Gazzola and I have an excellent relationship and work closely together but there is one topic over which we always fall out – complementary/alternative medicine. Alex is a straight up and down Western medicine supporter, I lean far more towards energy medicines and the many alternative disciplines which are often called into play when Western medicine fails to solve the problem.
Alex was incensed by the publication of the Djokovic book and the massive hype once again projected around Djokovic’s gluten-free diet (to the exclusion of the other dietary measures that he has adopted). He therefore penned a vigorous ‘disgusted’ blog last week – Novak Djokovic: Wimbledon runner-up, gluten free, not a diagnosed coeliac – on which he got a number of equally ‘disgusted’ comments.
Having been away for the weekend, I have only just seen it – and in my turn I was so incensed by both Alex’s and his commenters’ comments, that I penned an equally ‘disgusted’ comment myself. However, so carried away did I get in my ‘disgust’ that I wrote more than Alex’s blog would accept! Hating to waste my spleen, I chopped it for his blog but am copying it in full below! (If you enjoy blog rants, then you should probably read Alex’s before you read mine…)
Oh dear…. I think a cold shower is needed here and then we need to start again….
Djokovic never claimed to be a coeliac or to have been diagnosed as such – I doubt that he even knows what a coeliac is.
That the coeliac community fell on his neck and claimed him as one of their own can scarcely be laid either at his door or at that of his nutritionist advisor, Dr Igor Cetojevic. Nor can the vast amount of unjustified hype that has resulted from his decision, however many months/years ago to cut gluten out of his diet.
I have not (yet anyhow) read his book but, if the WSJ article that Alex quotes is accurate, removing gluten from his diet was only one of a whole raft of dietary and lifestyle measures that Dr C. advised: drink lots of warm water and protein pea shakes, eat plenty of avocados and cashew nut butter but very little sugar. Banish caffeine, get plenty of sleep, drink licorice tea, eat Manuka honey…. And…. don’t eat gluten or dairy. Yet the only one of these measures which got picked up on was the gluten avoidance.
(Interestingly, he apparently says that his asthma improved dramatically on this new regime, which included dairy avoidance – and dairy is well known to be implicated in a number of allergic respiratory reactions. So it is perfectly possible that the improvement in his asthma was entirely dairy related and had nothing to do with his gluten avoidance.)
Djokovic suggests that everyone should remain open minded – not a trait that was obvious in either Alex’s blog or in the comments to date…
We could all wish that the arrival of Western ‘science-based’ medicine on the scene had been able to sort all our medical problems. And yes, it is amazing at patching together soldiers who have had their legs blown off by Afghan ‘explosive devices’ and has devised some miracle drugs, like the one that has got an acquaintance with MS from a point where he was not only bed bound by could scarcely speak to being a normally functioning human being holding down a job as a coroner. But there remain all too many other areas (from cancer to allergy) where it is failed fairly dramatically. Indeed, it can sometimes be argued to have killed almost as many as it has cured.
So, since Western ‘science based’ medicine does not provide all the answers it seems only common sense to consider some of the other approaches, many of which pre-date the arrival of Western medicine and are still in use in many parts of the world.
Kinesiology and what Alex describes as ‘some staggering tosh involving positive energy and water’ both fall under the heading of ‘energy medicine’ – a concept on which five thousand year’s worth of Chinese medicine is based, but which ‘science-based’ medicine enthusiasts find it very hard to get their heads around because, maybe, they can neither see it nor measure it.
Yet ‘energy’ is, in essence, electrical current. It is what allows the cells in our bodies, and the neurons in our brains to communicate with each other and keep us alive and functioning. This is not the ravings of some far out alternative crank but accepted science. I wonder why it is therefore, that the concept of ‘energy’ playing a larger role in the way that we function is apparently so hard to grasp.
No, we certainly do not understand how it works much of the time – and some people do come up with what, on the surface at least, do appear to be some pretty bizarre ideas (such as water turning green if you project negative emotions at it). But the fact that we do not understand it does not mean that it does not exist. Merely that we do not understand it.
Let’s face it, virtually every medical (and ‘scientific’) discovery that has ever been made has been dismissed as ‘staggering tosh’ by those who purported ‘to know’ when it was first made. Ask Galileo…..
But, to return to Djokovic…
Whether or not his new regime has actually improved his fitness and his ability to win tennis matches, he obviously believes that it has – which may be all that he, or any of the rest of us, need.
Meanwhile, Dr Cetojevic’s suggestions are no more than sound nutritional sense – drinking warm rather than ice cold water is well established as being gentler on the digestion, good hydration is essential if you are expending a lot of energy, avocados and cashew nuts are recognised as excellent sources of nutrition and plenty of sleep is essential to replenish energy sources – and not only many athletes but many of us could benefit by following a number of them.
So, I sincerely hope that the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) keeps well out of this. It has nothing to do with tennis – and, as it happens, nothing to do with coeliac disease.
I also hope that coeliac/gluten-free community goes and takes that cold shower, backs off and actually looks at the facts rather than the hype.