Tweedle Dee And Twitter Dumb

      53 Comments on Tweedle Dee And Twitter Dumb

To borrow a phrase from Forrest Gump, Twitter is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.

For example, there’s a particular troll on Twitter who automatically dislikes anything I tweet or write here on the blog – and yet he follows me on Twitter and reads the blog, presumably as some form of penance. Among other odd attacks, he once took to lecturing me about my writing style. I replied that I don’t take writing advice from a guy with a blog hardly anyone reads and who can barely scare up a following on Twitter. At that point, he accused me of writing controversial tweets simply to gin up retweets.

Oh, if only I were blessed with such powers of prediction. I have no idea which tweets are going to generate a buzz. I’m reminded of an interview I read years ago with songwriter Paul Simon. He explained that he’s written songs he was convinced were sure-fire hits, only to see them barely dent the charts, while other songs he considered far from his best became chart-toppers. Nobody can predict what’s going to be popular, he explained.

When I tweeted a link to my post about the Harvard study on push-ups and CVD risk, I honestly didn’t expect much beyond the usual number of replies, retweets, etc. Wrong. Lots and lots of people wanted to comment on or argue about that one.

I’m all in favor of Twitter debates, of course. I just wish people who apparently can’t comprehend plain English would remain on the sidelines. As the number of arguments grew, someone with a sense of humor commented that sooner or later, people on Twitter would be accusing me of saying I’m against push-ups.

Yes, that would fit the usual Twitter pattern. Fortunately, it wasn’t the Full Twitter Pattern. To be the Full Twitter Pattern, it would have to go something like this:

  • A few people post tweets accusing me of being against push-ups.
  • Other people chime in to demand I apologize for my anti-push-up stance.
  • Still other people who can do a lot of push-ups decide I’m belittling them and offer to meet me anytime, anywhere and kick my ass because I’m obviously a wimp who can’t do 40 push-ups.
  • Someone eventually tweets that Donald Trump doesn’t do push-ups either.
  • Someone else then tweets that she saw me wearing a MAGA hat while working outdoors on the farm.
  • Celebrities and celebrity wannabes, anxious to demonstrate their moral superiority, tweet that my anti-push-ups attitude is obviously racist, and I don’t do push-ups as a way to flaunt my white privilege.
  • Someone else then points out that the Harvard study’s leader author is named Justin Yang, and I’m clearly belittling the study and telling people not to do push-ups because I don’t like Asians.
  • Reza Aslan posts my picture and tweets Honest question: have you ever seen a more punchable face?
  • Kathy Griffin tweets (in all caps) YOU KNOW THIS RACIST MOTHERF@#$%*R WOULDN’T HESITATE TO DOXX ON YOU, SO SOMEBODY POST HIS REAL NAME AND ADDRESS! – presumably so the forces of good could show up at my door to express their goodness by engaging in physical violence and/or making life a living hell for my family.
  • CNN and The Washington Post jump into the fray with articles about a growing movement of extremists who are racist, sexist, homophobic and opposed to push-ups, identifying me as a leader of the movement.
  • After people blessed with both consciences and brains post clips of my previous tweets to prove I’ve never actually stated any opposition to push-ups, CNN and the Washington Post write new articles explaining that the situation is “more nuanced” than originally believed.
  • Finally, CNN, the Washington Post and other fine examples of journalist ethics write commentary explaining that while the story about my racist, sexist, anti-push-up tirade may not have been factually true, their rush to judgment was entirely understandable — because the real issue here is that people believed the story could have been true, which is a sad, sad, sad indication of how many Americans have become racist, sexist, homophobic and opposed to push-ups in just the past three years.

The Full Twitter Pattern didn’t happen, of course. But most of us who post on Twitter eventually run into what I’m now calling the Four Types of Twitter Dumb:

1) Those who argue about something you didn’t actually say – but they’re convinced you did for no apparent reason.

Now and then I reply to arguments with something like I’m sorry you struggle with reading and comprehension. That’s because Twitter Dumb will argue vigorously against a point you never made – and continue arguing against the point you never made even after you explain you never made it.

Let’s suppose you post a tweet about the benefits of eating meat. The odds are pretty good Twitter Dumb will show up and demand to know why you’re opposed to eating vegetables.

So you reply that you’ve never opposed eating vegetables. Twitter Dumb will never, ever admit making a mistake (see type #4), so he’ll reply that you’re obviously opposed to eating vegetables. After shaking your head and wondering how this opinion ever found its way into Twitter Dumb’s brain, you ask Twitter Dumb to please cite the post or tweet where you expressed this obvious opposition to vegetables.

Twitter Dumb will, of course, ignore that direct challenge – Twitter Dumb routinely ignores direct challenges that would prove him wrong. Instead, Twitter Dumb will begin firing off tweet after tweet with links to articles about the benefits of eating vegetables … thus continuing to argue against a position you never took. If you are silly enough to reply, the stream of pro-vegetable tweets will go on for days.

After I tweeted a link to my Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds speech, Twitter Dumb showed up to argue vigorously against my “anti-vaccination views.” I explained to Twitter Dumb that I’ve never taken a stance on vaccinations either way. Twitter Dumb replied that I gave that speech at a Weston A. Price event, so therefore I’m obviously an anti-vaxxer. Twitter Dumb then continued to berate me for all the children who were going to get sick and die because of my endorsement of anti-vaxxers. Recognizing what I was dealing with, I ended blocking Twitter Dumb in that case.

When I tweeted about the Harvard push-ups study, a surprising number of people replied that by gosh, my criticism was unfounded because Harvard never actually claimed push-ups prevent heart disease. That true. It’s also true that I never claimed that Harvard claimed push-ups prevent heart disease. Harvard did claim, however, that they’d demonstrated the number of push-ups men can perform is a useful assessment of CVD risk – which simply isn’t true if you look at their data.

I explained this to Twitter Dumb, who nonetheless continued to insist I’d unfairly criticized the study … because by gosh, Harvard had never claimed push-ups prevent heart disease, so why the heck was I criticizing them?

2) Those who argue that nobody should listen to you if you don’t have an impressive-sounding title.

Anytime I criticize a study, the odds are pretty good Twitter Dumb will show up and tweet something like, Oh yeah, I’m really going listen to a comedian instead of doctors and PhDs. Amazingly, every time Twitter Dumb makes this comment, he thinks he’s making it for the first time and is being rip-roaringly clever.

Of course, I’m not “just” a comedian. I’m also a software engineer who deals with math and logic for a living. Observational studies put out by Harvard aren’t sacred scrolls that can only be decoded by wizards with the magic keys. Anyone with access to the study can review the numbers and see if they support the researchers’ conclusions.

As I’ve tried to explain to Twitter Dumb many times, math and logic don’t care about the title of the person who employs them. My degree is in journalism, which means according to the Title Is Everything crowd, I shouldn’t be working as a programmer. And yet I am — because my employers care about my actual abilities, not my college degree.

So when Twitter Dumb points out that I’m “just” a comedian, I reply that if my critique is wrong, he can easily prove it by citing the mathematical or logical mistake in my analysis instead of comparing titles.

Twitter Dumb never accepts this challenge. Instead, Twitter Dumb offers replies like this (which I’ve quoted directly): That title usually comes with LOTS of applicable education that was earned.

Ah, I see. A Harvard PhD has LOTS of applicable education that was earned, and therefore his conclusions must be correct even if actual data says otherwise.

I’ve often wondered where this desire to simply believe people with impressive titles comes from. I can only conclude that it’s a form of insecurity. Some people simply want the authorities to be correct … because if the authorities can be wrong, we have to accept the burden of thinking for ourselves.

Unfortunately, history tells us authorities are indeed often wrong, and sometimes intentionally dishonest. As I’ve mentioned before, my college physics professor told us to learn math no matter what our career plans were, because “math is how you know when they’re lying to you.” Granted, I was in his class more than 40 years ago, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t tell us our math could only be correct if we acquired a fancy title first.

3) Those who are wrong but can’t persuaded they’re wrong because they have the logical-thinking capacity of a turnip.

Twitter Dumb showed up several times to insist the Harvard push-up study is meaningful because the guys who could do more than 41 push-ups had far fewer heart attacks than the guys who could do 10 or fewer. I tried explaining several times that after adjusting for age, the difference was not statistically significant. It says so right there in the study. That tells us the capacity to do push-ups was mostly just a marker for age.

Twitter Dumb replied several times by pointing (again) to the raw data. Terms like “adjusted for age” and “not statistically significant” apparently don’t mean anything to Twitter Dumb, who kept repeating that push-ups are obviously a good way to assess cardiovascular risk, just as Harvard told us, because the guys who could do more push-ups had fewer heart attacks.

So I pointed out that among the men who could do 21-30 push-ups, the rate of cardiovascular events was 2.3%, while among the group that could do 31-40 push-ups, the rate of cardiovascular events was 3.5%. If we believe the data is solid and meaningful, that means men who can do 31-40 push-ups have a 50% higher risk of heart disease than men who can only do 21-30 push-ups. Does anyone actually think that’s true? No, of course not. But you can’t pick and choose which chunks of data you want to believe and which ones you don’t. The data is either meaningful, or it isn’t.  In this study, it clearly isn’t.

When I pointed out the 50% higher CVD rate among men who could do 31-40 push-ups vs. those who could only do 21-30, Twitter Dumb replied that he didn’t believe me. The reason? The authors of the study didn’t point out the difference themselves.

Ah, I see. Researchers who claim they discovered push-ups are a useful tool for assessing CVD risk didn’t point to the numbers that negated their claim. I guess that means the numbers don’t exist, even though they’re in the study tables for anyone to read. That’s Twitter Dumb logic for you.

This study reminded me of an observational study I once saw comparing meat consumption and cancer. In that study, cancer went up as meat consumption went up … but as meat consumption continued going up, the cancer rate went down. So what are we supposed to believe? That eating meat causes cancer unless you eat a lot of it?  No, the logical conclusion is that meat had no effect on cancer either way.  The numbers were just noise.

Same thing with the Harvard push-up study. If the rate of cardiovascular disease goes down, then sharply up, then sharply down again as men could perform more push-ups, that tells us push-ups are not, in fact, a useful measure of cardiovascular risk.

None of this logic had any effect on Twitter Dumb, who kept pointing to the (not statistically significant) difference in cardiovascular disease between the highest and lowest push-up groups.

4) Those who argue endlessly and absolutely refuse to admit they’re wrong even if you prove it.

Sometimes Twitter Dumb keeps arguing because he has the logical-thinking capacity of a turnip (see above). In fact, someone following one back-and-forth argument finally chimed in and replied to Twitter Dumb with Jesus effing Christ. You are literally too stupid to enter this discussion.

Heh-heh … yes, sometimes Twitter Dumb is like the tone-deaf person who can’t be convinced he sings off-key – because he’s tone deaf and therefore can’t hear that he’s off-key, so he refuses to believe he’s off-key. Illogical people can’t be convinced that they’re being illogical – because it takes a logical mind to recognize illogical thinking.

But other times, Twitter Dumb is actually an intelligent person who simply refuses to admit he got it wrong. He’s a walking, talking, tweeting example of the phenomenon described in the wonderful book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): once some people have taken a public position, they will defend it to the bitter end, even when proven wrong.

I don’t understand that mindset. Nobody knows everything there is to know about a subject, so everyone makes mistakes. The smart move is to admit those mistakes and move on. It’s not all that difficult to say, Sorry, looks like I got it wrong, thanks for pointing out the error.

I’ve been listening to Principles, written by Ray Dalio, who runs one of the world’s most successful investment firms. I’m not planning to become a Wall Street investor, but I wanted to know how this extraordinarily successful guy thinks.

Early in his career, Dalio lost a fortune (his money and his clients’ money) by being too confident in his own calculations. He had to lay off everyone at the firm, become its sole employee, and borrow money to stay afloat. That taught him a valuable lesson: always be willing to be proven wrong. In fact, he surrounds himself with people who are expected to challenge his strategies, his calculations, and his beliefs. All of his employees undergo training to learn to embrace having their beliefs challenged by others — which happens at regular company meetings.

Twitter Dumb would never make it as an employee of Dalio’s firm. When Twitter Dumb is proven wrong, absolutely and positively, he’ll either disappear from the conversation without admitting his mistake, or attempt to change the subject and continue arguing.

As you may recall, a doctor once chimed in on Twitter to deny that “hard-working, professional” dieticians would recommend pancakes to diabetics. I replied that a hard-working, professional dietician in a hospital had served pancakes (but no butter) to my diabetic father-in-law as a “heart-healthy” meal – a meal that caused his blood sugar to blow past 400.

Well, that’s just one dietician, the doctor insisted. It’s not typical.

So I tweeted direct quotes from articles by dieticians advising diabetics to eat 12 to 15 servings of “heart healthy” starchy foods per day. I also screen-capped menus from a bunch of hospitals – menus designed by hard-working, professional dieticians. The menus listed sugary cereals and pancakes under the “heart healthy” section. I tweeted one screen cap after another in my replies to the doctor. I suggested several times he just admit he’d gotten it wrong.

Nope. First he tried to turn it into an argument about whether I’d properly vetted the menus. (Apparently I was required to fly to the cities where the hospitals are located and check the menus in person.) Then he tried to turn it into an argument about whether I’d needlessly insulted the entire profession of dieticians. But he never admitted his original position – dieticians don’t serve pancakes as a “heart healthy” meal – was wrong, despite the proof. He finally disappeared from the conversation.

He’s a doctor, and (I hope) not dumb. But he’s Twitter Dumb. Twitter Dumb will never admit being wrong.

I’m grateful for social media because it’s enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to flourish. Debates and disagreements among thoughtful people are part of the process that allows the good ideas to rise to the top. I did, in fact, hear from a couple of thoughtful people who disagreed with my take on the Harvard push-ups study. They weren’t Twitter Dumb.

I guess if we want the benefits of social media, we have to take the downside as well.  Hearing regularly from Twitter Dumb is one of the downsides.

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Pushups And Heart Attacks: The Usual Harvard Nonsense

I recently came across yet another example of why observational studies tend to suck. You’ve probably seen the headlines, like this one from USA today: Men Who Can Do More Than 40 Push-Ups Far Less Likely To Develop Heart Disease.

Let’s take a look at the article:

Here’s one way to predict your heart health: get down and give me 41. A new study finds that men who can perform at least 40 push-ups in one attempt are much less likely to suffer from heart disease within the next 10 years.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health say their report is the first to show how push-up capacity is linked to heart disease. They found that middle-aged men who can log more than 40 push-ups in a single try have a 96% reduced risk of developing the potentially deadly condition and other related ailments, such as heart failure, compared to those who can complete no more than 10 push-ups.

A 96% reduced risk?! Okay, guys, get on the floor and start doing push-ups! Having strong pecs and triceps obviously prevents heart disease!

I was of course suspicious when I saw this study came from the Harvard School of Public Health, which we ought to rename Meaningless Observational Studies R Us.  Sure, it’s a good idea to stay in shape, and exercise no doubt protects against heart disease to some extent. But a 96% reduction based on the ability to do more push-ups? Something doesn’t smell right.

In a speech I gave many years ago, I highlighted the weakness of observational studies by pointing out that men who are bald are much more likely to suffer a heart attack than men sporting a full head of hair. If we applied Harvard School of Public Health logic, we would assume baldness somehow causes heart disease. Eventually, we’d end up with products like this:

But of course, the reason bald men have more heart attacks is that men lose their hair as they get older. They’re also more likely to suffer a heart attack as they get older. So baldness is “linked” to heart disease. I suspected the push-up study was based on similar nonsense. If we dig into the data, we might find the “link” exists because younger men can do more push-ups. I’m sorry to say I was right.

Here’s more about the study from USA Today:

For their study, the authors reviewed health data from 1,104 active male firefighters taken annually from 2000 to 2010. At the start of the study, the average participant was about 40 years old with an average body mass index of 28.7. The firefighters were tasked with performing as many push-ups as they could, and their treadmill tolerance was also tested.

By the end of the study period, 37 participants suffered from a heart disease-related condition — and 36 of those men weren’t able to log more than 40 push-ups in the initial test.

The average participant was 40 years old. Uh-huh … now let’s look at a table from the study giving us more detail on those participants:

Well, how about that? The average participant may have been 40 years old, but the mean age of the firefighters who could do more than 40 push-ups was 35. Among those who could do 10 or fewer push-ups, the mean age was 48. Big shock. Men lose their ability to do push-ups as they age. If we start with a group of 35-year-olds and another group of 48-year-olds, which group is going to suffer more heart attacks during the next 10 years?

But that’s only part of what makes this a meaningless study. One of the greatest risk factors for suffering a heart attack is smoking. Take a look at the figures I highlighted at the bottom of the chart. Among the men who could do more than 40 push-ups, just 6.7% were current smokers when the study began. Among those who could do 10 or fewer push-ups, 24% were current smokers. Or to use a related bit of data, among the more than 40 push-ups group, 69% were non-smokers when the study began. Among the 10 or fewer group, only 45.3% were non-smokers.

In the study itself, the authors of course state they applied regression models to account for age and BMI, blah-blah-blah. Interestingly, they don’t mention applying a regression model to account for smoking. Or perhaps they did, but chose not to mention the results.

In any case, just balancing for age and BMI presents a different picture:

Even after adjusting for age and BMI, we observed an independent association of push-up capacity with CVD outcomes. Increased capacity was associated with a lower risk for CVD outcomes, with the comparison of the 21- to 30-push-ups group vs the 0- to 10-push-up group being statistically significant (hazard ratio, 0.25; 95% CI 0.08-0.76), although the other group comparisons did not reach statistical significance.

Adjust for age and BMI (again, no mention of adjusting for smoking), and the only significant difference in push-ups vs. heart disease is between the 10 push-ups or fewer group and the 21 to 30 push-ups group. So much for that 96% reduction in heart attacks for men who can do more than 40 push-ups vs. men who can’t do more than 10.

This study doesn’t actually tell us diddly about the ability to do push-ups versus the likelihood of developing heart disease. It simply tells us that younger men and men who don’t smoke are less likely to develop heart disease during the next 10 years.  And by the way, they can also do more push-ups. Duh. And yet in the media articles, we get quotes like this:

“Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,” says the study’s first author, Justin Yang, an occupational medicine resident at the school.

No, your findings provide evidence that observational studies from Harvard are usually meaningless garbage dressed up as science.  It’s a wonder anyone keeps funding these turkeys.

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On the Aligned Life Podcast With Dr. Devin Shea And Rachel Freeman

I was recently a guest on the Aligned Life Podcast with Dr. Devin Shea and Rachel Freeman.  We talked about Fat Head Kids, of course, and other topics.  You can listen to the episode here.

Rachel warned me in an email that the audio at their end had some little pops, but my answers were unaffected.  Sure, I heard a few pops in the audio, but you can clearly hear their comments and questions, so no big deal.

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Back From Being Sick and Tired

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Pardon the unexplained absence and the slow response to comments. I spent the last 10 days or so becoming reacquainted with what it feels like to be sick and tired.

Tired came first. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m prone to occasional bouts of insomnia. The good news is that I hadn’t experienced a serious case of it in a long time. Back in the summer, I finally went to see a sleep specialist. Among other things, he recommended I take a dose of melatonin about an hour before I intend to sleep. That seems to help. I’ve had a sleepness night here and there, but no consecutive nights of staring at the ceiling.

Until last week, that is. Since I’ve been dealing with this stuff my entire adult life, I know when it’s pointless to try to fall back to sleep after popping awake at 2:00 AM or so. I get a feeling like there’s an engine spinning somewhere in my body. Doesn’t matter how tired I am, if that engine is spinning, I’m not sleeping.

So on those nights, I accept reality, get out of bed, drink some coffee, and put in my programming hours for the day. I usually fall asleep after the sun comes up. Most of the time I’m able to sleep normally the next night, and I’m back on track.

But then there are those bouts of insomnia like last week’s … ugh. I go to bed exhausted after being awake most of the previous night. I fall asleep … then pop awake two hours later, with that damned engine spinning again.  Oh-no … it’s going to be one of those multi-night versions …

I’ve had occasions when the engine started spinning because an idea got ahold of me and refused to let go. I’m okay with that. It usually means a multi-day burst of creativity and productivity. One of the best programming ideas I ever had came to me while I was asleep. I woke up thinking, Wait a minute … could that actually work?!

I went on a multi-day programming jag, sleeping an hour or two here and there.  I’d snap awake thinking about the next bit of code and start programming again. The idea worked.  It solved a problem that had been nagging my company for months. It was worth being physically tired.

But sometimes (like last week), the engine seems to start spinning for no reason. No Big Idea.  No Big Worries keeping me awake.  If I lie awake in bed, I’m treated to what feels like a non-stop conveyor belt of unrelated and unimportant thoughts. I find myself wondering, Why the @#$% am I thinking about that at 3:00 AM? It’s like my brain has decided to empty the trash after months of hoarding, and I’m forced to witness the process.

So I get up and work. Or get up and watch TV. Anything beats lying there and watching the mental trash go by.  That’s what it was last week: a long stretch of being awake for no apparent reason, then a few hours of sleep. Another long stretch of being awake, then a little more sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After five days of this nonsense, I decided I’d had enough and went for the less-than-ideal cure: I waited until 9:00 PM – at which point I’d been awake for 33 hours – and drank a bottle of red wine. That nearly always shuts down the random-thought conveyor belt. Then I’m able to sleep through the night. It’s not quality sleep, of course, but it gets me back on the normal-person schedule of sleeping at night and being awake during the day.

Unfortunately, I landed back in Normal Person Land just in time to get hit with a nasty chest and sinus infection for the first time in years. Dang, I almost forgot what that feels like.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I rarely get sick since adopting a good diet. Mentioned? Aw, let’s be honest: I like to brag about it. Some bug goes around, co-workers and acquaintances start dropping like flies, and the most I usually get is a sniffle for a day or two.

“Where’s Joe? He’s been out sick all week? What about Deborah? She’s out sick too?”

Well, that probably wouldn’t happen if they’d stop eating that nasty sugar and flour, he thought to himself, turning up his nose a bit.

Perhaps my immune system was weakened by several days of too little sleep. Or perhaps the universe decided to provide a lesson in humility by reminding me I’m not invincible. Whatever the reason, I ended up spending the next several days hacking and coughing and sneezing and dripping and generally feeling as if someone had stuffed a gallon of gooey stuff into my skull. I managed to put in my programming time working from home, but as soon as the workday was over, all I wanted to do was vegetate in front of the TV before bed.

I still don’t feel normal, but at least I had the energy to drive to the office today. I can tell I’m on the mend.

So that was my week. How was yours?

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On The Adventures Of Keto Woman Podcast

      11 Comments on On The Adventures Of Keto Woman Podcast

I was recently a guest on The Adventures of Keto Woman podcast with Daisy Brackenhall — a woman with a lovely English accent who lives in France.  (Perhaps it’s easier to get good butter there.)

We had great time talking about Fat Head Kids, wacky Wikipedia editors, the origin of Fat Head pizza, and dealing with naysayers.  You can listen to the episode here.  I love the cartoon graphics Daisy uses for her episodes, by the way:

 

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Wheat Is A Pain In The Neck

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Throughout my thirties and forties, I experienced fairly regular backaches. I’m not talking about excruciating pain, mind you. It was more like a tightness and dull ache in the lower back that usually came around at night. Sometimes it was enough to wake me from sleep. I’d try to fix it by lying flat on my back, raising my right leg, then tossing it to the left. Then I’d repeat the process with the left leg. Sometimes I’d feel little pops, like when you crack your knuckles, and that seemed to loosen up the tightness.

Those backaches went away when I switched to a low-carb diet and stopped eating wheat. There was no great AHA! moment. It wasn’t like experiencing sudden relief from nagging pain. It just occurred to me after some months that I wasn’t waking up with those annoying lower-back pains anymore.

Chareva had a similar experience, only her little aches and pains were in her neck. It seemed every other night, she woke up and began fluffing her pillow, trying different arrangements of pillows, all in an attempt to find the perfect angle of support so her neck felt comfortable. I used to tell her I’m glad we’ve opted for cremation when we die; otherwise I’d worry she’ll spend eternity lying in a casket with her neck propped at an angle she finds disagreeable.

As in my case, there was no sudden, life-changing sense of relief after giving up wheat. The neck pains just went away. Eventually we both commented on how the annoying aches and pains were gone, figured the change in diet probably had something do with it, and otherwise didn’t think much about it.

I did think about it recently because of my daughter Sara. She inherited my body type, all the way down to the O negative blood. Once she hit puberty, sugary foods made her feel queasy – exactly what happened to me in my teens. She noticed a couple of years ago that when she eats white flour, she gets little red, itchy patches on her arms afterwards. Consequently, we don’t have to preach to her about the health effects of sugar and wheat.  She generally avoids them.

However, last weekend she participated in a speech and debate tournament in a town about an hour from here. After the tournament, the organizers served the kids pizza. Sara was hungry and figured what the heck? So she ate pizza.

Later that night, she was watching TV with Chareva and me and started shifting her head a little this way, then that way. Then she complained that her neck was bothering her and she couldn’t find a comfortable position. Since she’s been listening to us talk about this stuff for several years now, she made the connection herself: it could be a reaction to the pizza, some kind of inflammation.

A couple of days later, I went looking for the first time to see if there are studies or least some interesting articles on a connection between gluten and backaches or neckaches. Yup.

I wasn’t surprised when one of the first articles that popped up was from Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly Blog:

I believe we need to add back pain to the list of common health conditions that are relieved with wheat elimination.

Not to say that all back pain goes away with wheat; it course it does not. But there are people who obtain substantial relief from even years of debilitating pain with wheat elimination.

After sharing a reader’s letter about debilitating back pain disappearing after ditching wheat, Dr. Davis writes this:

I am very grateful that Wendi experienced this life-changing event, an effect I’ve seen in many other people. But the question that plagues me is why? What is it in this crazy creation of geneticists that would cause such an effect? Is it some inflammatory response triggered by wheat lectin? Is it some peculiar gastrointestinal effect of gliadin expressed in the back?

Good questions. Dr. Amy Burkhart writes about similar experiences with patients in a post on The Celiac MD site:

In my previous practice as an emergency room doctor, I saw numerous people with back pain. It was often due to a traumatic injury related to lifting, a fall or a car accident. However, sometimes we could not pinpoint exactly why someone was suffering. We evaluated and treated the back pain, even when the true cause could not be identified.

Fast forward 10 years to my current integrative medicine practice. Many of my patients have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. As they tell me their medical history, many recount back pain so severe it required MRI’s, medication and therapy. Some had mysterious pain that no one could explain. In many cases, the back pain in these patients simply resolved with a gluten-free diet.

There is scant information in the medical literature on the relationship between low back pain and celiac disease, but what is available is worthy of mention. In a 2010 study evaluating back pain and sacroiliitis (inflammation in the joints around the tailbone), 70% of adult celiac patients were found to have changes or involvement of the sacroiliac joints.

The 2010 study Dr. Burkart mentions is this one:

All patients were currently on gluten-free diet and none of the patients had gastrointestinal symptoms at the time of the study. Using various imaging techniques, involvement of the sacroiliac joints was confirmed in 70% of celiac patients. Imaging revealed different morphological changes in the sacroiliac joint, e.g. accumulation of synovial fluid, synovitis, erosion with concomitant sclerosis, sacroiliitis or calcification of the ligament. These changes probably represent different clinical stages and/or manifestations of the same process. In a follow-up study of eight patients, after 11 years on a gluten-free diet, the great majority of patients had no clinical symptoms; yet, a subclinical progression of the sacroiliac joint involvement could be verified.

Interesting. The study suggests that the celiac patients still had damage at the base of the spine, but were no longer feeling the pain after going on a gluten-free diet.

This article on the Arthritis Health website was interesting as well:

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints and scaly patches of skin known as psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis occurs in people with psoriasis, but not everyone with psoriasis develops the arthritis.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes severe itching, most commonly in patches on the elbows, knees, and scalp. An estimated 10% of patients with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, with the joint symptoms often appearing approximately 10 years after the start of the skin condition.

Psoriatic arthritis will first manifest as the skin condition in most cases, sometimes years before joint symptoms will be present. The joints that are most commonly affected with psoriatic arthritis include those closest to the tips of the fingers and toes. The joints of the hips, knees, and spine can also become involved.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had a patch of psoriasis on the back of my head that went away after I gave up wheat. The Arthritis Health article doesn’t mention wheat or gluten, but the connection between psoriasis and arthritis certainly points to a common cause.

As. Dr. Davis and Dr. Burkhart both mentioned in their articles, there’s not much research out there directly linking gluten to back and neck pain. But there seems to be rather a lot of experience. As Dr. Burkhart writes:

Anecdotally, I do see low back pain as a manifestation of celiac disease and it commonly resolves after diagnosis and initiation of a gluten-free diet. It also frequently recurs if gluten is ingested.

I don’t have celiac disease. Since I don’t seem tolerate wheat very well, I had the test just to be sure. But I’m convinced you don’t have to be diagnosed with full-blown celiac disease to experience problems with wheat. Eat wheat, I have back pain and other problems. Don’t eat wheat, the problems go away. Same goes for my wife and older daughter. Makes you wonder how many people are popping pain pills and running out for chiropractic treatments when what they really need is to ditch the wheat, doesn’t it?

My psoriasis wasn’t severe. My back pains weren’t severe either. But man, I’m glad they’re both gone. Giving up wheat was a small price to pay.

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