Saturday 1 October 2011

The in-toeing epidemic (pigeon-toed gait) - estrogen?


The mystery of the in-toeing (pigeon-toed) epidemic among young women continues:

(I am convinced that this gait is not an affectation - I am sure it is involuntary in most instances.)

The best suggested explanation came from Paul Jaminet - vitamin D deficiency; with its bone-softening effects.

This suggests that in-toeing may be a result of softening of the feet, in some way, shape or form; if not bones them perhaps joints?...

Which then leads on to the idea that it might be due to some increase in estrogen - whether natural, in contraceptives, or as an environmental pollutant (which may explain why surprising numbers of men walk this way too).

The only 'evidence' I can present for this is that estrogen softens and loosens joints (i.e. softening the ligaments that join bones to bones - this is well known in pregnancy) - perhaps making the ankles or internal joints of the foot more 'floppy', and hyper-flexible feet may cause the observed change in gait?

Well, I'm not very convinced by this - but the phenomenon is real and new, and there must be some explanation!


NOTE added - on further reflection I think the problem is likely to be neural - neuromuscular - rather than musculoskeletal - and subtly neuromuscular - hence perhaps related to basal ganglia dysfunction.

What ever causes basal ganglion dysfunction might be environmental toxins of some sort; but could also be infective - as many new diseases eventually turn-out to be.


The Crow said...

An ongoing reduction in, or surrendering of, dignity.
Body language has become a subconscious preoccupation with me.
I can tell leftists by their gait, at thirty paces.

Bruce Charlton said...

If the cause of in-toeing really is psychological, then it is involuntary and international (affecting non-Europeans - especially East Asians, but also some Africans).

This is a pathological gait, presumably symptomatic evidence of some pathology.

But it may not be local to the ankle or foot, nor need it be skeletal or muscular - pigeon-toed gait could well be (indeed I think quite likely is) *neurological* - and therefore might well be something going on in the brain - or something developmental (some stress or 'insult' in the womb or during childhood perhaps).

Anonymous said...

If it were a vitamin D deficiency, you would not expect to see the phenomenon very often in Australia. But you do.

dearieme said...

Where did peanut allergy come from? Whence anorexia?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - thanks for that information. Vitamin D was the best suggestion I had, but I don't think it is right - see above note...

@Dearieme - One necessary condition of the epidemic of anorexia seems to be access to weighing machines - specifically the invention then increasing availability of weighing machines (this idea from David Healy).

Peanut allergy presumably came from the vastly increasing exposure to peanuts in the post war years - it is very infrequent autoimmune reaction to peanut exposure, but now peanuts are everywhere...

Paul Jaminet said...

Good ideas, Bruce.

Cerebral palsy causes in-toeing, so surely other neurological defect could do it too.

The estrogen idea is also a good one. Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) causes femoral anteversion (which is in-toeing or pigeon-toed walking) ( And the gene polymorphisms associated with DDH are in the vitamin D receptor (VDR) and the estrogen receptor (EH) (

I don't think the Australia evidence necessarily excludes vitamin D as a partial cause, because many Australians avoid the sun and have vitamin D deficiency associated diseases.

Proph said...

Curiously, I have the opposite problem -- excessive thigh rotation, so that while standing or walking my knees point about outward by about fifteen or twenty degrees and my toes even further. When walking my toes are almost at a 45-degree angle!

If being pidgeon-toed is caused by an excess of estrogen, I can always hope that my naturally open stance is a product of an overabundance of testosterone. The thickness of my hair and my inclination toward leanness would seem to argue against that, though.

dearieme said...

Does it correlate with anything else? e.g overweight, vegetarian.....?

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - I can't work it out - it's not overweight, but I don't know about vegetarian - might be worth thinking about...

baduin said...

I have recently read the following recension of an illustration of the fight of Eowyn with Witch-King done in the Art Nouveau style

There is one relevant sentence there:

"We see her knees bent in, and feet pointed slightly together, a common image in playful advertising geared at men."

Pigeon-toed pose in women seems submissive - but it is both indirect and deniable - and therefore does not contradict the feminist orthodoxy, and can coexist with empowered behaviour in general.

I would check therefore whether it is not caused by psychological reasons.

tina said...

Are you sure it' just a trait that you've noticed has increased in bright young women, not young women in general?

I was thinking that at least here in the US, parents began putting "fashionable" and "cool" footwear on their young toddlers about 20-25 years ago. For instance, sneakers that mimicked what adults wore were foisted on those who just began toddling. Perhaps the parental practice of choosing to put ill-suited footwear on the very young has led to malformed feet.

Bruce Charlton said...

@baduin - this doesn't seem to be a trait of girls trying to be sexy - they look as if they can't help it.

@tina - maybe? The point is that I seem to be the only person IN THE WORLD who has noticed this phenomenon and there can be no 'consensus' over its cause until the actuality is more widely known than readers of this blog (plus a few who may have seen Marc Abrahams' note on Improbable Research -
in-intelligent-women )

baduin said...

This pose does not denote so much sexiness as helplessness and asking for help. An attitude of pleading for support can be very helpful for women in modern academic setting, esp. in less mathematicized, softer fields - where the success is based entirely on the appraisal by the superior.

When one spends 20 years of her life asking "Can I get better appraisal etc, very, very please?" (out loud in the beginning, subliminally later) some things can become ingrained.

It can be connected with increasing successes of women in universities. They have better attitude.

Jonathan said...

Speaking of physical changes relative to a few decades ago, have you noticed that everybody's chin is drooping?

When I was a boy in the 70's and early 80's, most people's chins had flat undersides until they reached late middle age or even until they were elderly, whereupon the skin under the chin and on the upper neck would start to droop.

Now, it seems that half of American 35-year-olds have this droop, sometimes quite dramatically; and half the twentysomethings have the beginnings of a bulge on the underside of their chin. Even Asian college girls in significant numbers are starting to get the droop.

I would guess the cause is dietary, like obesity, but the chin droop seems to arrive a decade or two before the full-body bloat.

I've begun to find flat chin undersides on women to be sexually attractive, perhaps because they've become rare.