Allergy testing scams exposed

By admin
02 September 2008

Every year, South Africans – desperate for help and advice – spend thousands on tests to determine allergies and food intolerances. The question is do allergy tests really work – or are they just a money-spinning racket? By Elise-Marie Tancred

Coughing, sneezing, itching and unsightly rashes aren't simply irritating; they can be highly debilitating too. More serious allergic reactions such as wheezing, gasping for breath and anaphylactic shock can even be lifethreatening.

It's no surprise desperate sufferers are willing to dig deep into their pockets for tests they hope will pinpoint the cause of their discomfort. Following the "diagnosis" they usually embark on stringent diets in the hope of scratching, or calming, the allergy itch.

When described by their practitioners, some of these allergy tests sound wonderful, logical and like the answer to your prayers. Especial- ly when the "doctor" also carefully explains your illness, takes a blood sample or uses special equipment and procedures with names like Vega, Scio Quantum, Alcat or kinesiology.

Practitioners claim some tests can measure up to 3 000 substances in your body in just three minutes.

Some healers even claim to be able to "read vibrations" over the phone and diagnose your allergies that way. Then there are the home test kits that can be ordered off the internet.

Some of these tests may sound believable, even scientific – but the simple truth is they don't work. nor do the outlandish tests that measure your body's energy fields or use pendulums and magnets for diagnosis.

None of them is based on reliable, scientific proof or research. Instead they rely on extremely controversial and shaky theories.

Even the two most popular food allergy tests, the ImuPro and Alcat tests, supported by British nutrition pioneer Patrick Holford are at the centre of a scientific storm.

People who have these tests done are wasting their time and putting their faith in dubious, unscientific "diagnoses", warns world-renowned allergy specialist Dr Adrian Morris of the Sur- rey Allergy Clinic in Britain.

There are only four standard allergy tests in the world that take a scientific approach to diagnosing allergies: skin testing using a prick or puncture technique, the RAST/IgE blood test, and the CAST and APT Patch tests.

These four are literally the only allergy tests registered and ratified by the South African Medicines Control Council (MCC) and supported by both doctors and registered homeopaths.

"Even so, thousands of rands are paid to the so-called guru who swings his pendulum to treat headaches, gas, forgetfulness and tiredness, while serious allergies could remain undiagnosed," Dr Morris tells YOU Pulse.

The story is almost always the same: first come the unscientific tests, then unscientific diagnoses are made for a variety of ail- ments – usually Candida albicans syndrome, metal toxicity, food intolerances, hormone imbalances or allergies to ordinary medi- cines, colourants or preservatives.

Everything from hyperactivity to autism is blamed on an incorrect diet. "Often illnesses and allergies that don't exist are diagnosed, such as a yeast or sugar allergy. Sugar isn't even an allergen – an allergen must have a protein or protein bond," Dr Morris says.

The treatments also always follow the same formula: a strict diet without wheat, dairy, sugar and coffee combined with bottles of herbal supplements and even claims of healing.

Many people find their condition improves while on the strict diet but medical researchers say this is due to the placebo effect (the patient is reassured but the remedy has no therapeutic value).

Many alternative practitioners have published research on successful outcomes or presented their findings at confer- ences, but on closer inspection their results have been ascribed to the placebo effect.

The diet and supplements also detract from the real cause of the patient's physical discomfort, which is often a genuine allergy. It then delays effective treatment and, if left untreated, can even result in death.

Dr Morris recently came across the case of a small boy with a serious nut allergy. His mom took him to an alternative therapist who diagnosed a yeast allergy and encouraged the child to eat nuts.

Yet a piece of peanut the size of a pinhead is big enough to kill children allergic to nuts. Fortunately a correct diagnosis was made before a catastrophe occurred.

Strict diets can also be dangerous for growing children as they don't offer a balanced array of food necessary for normal growth. Plus, too much of certain herbs can damage developing organs or interfere with the workings of other medications.

Scientific studies of some Chinese herbal remedies have proved that while a few can relieve allergic reactions such as eczema, some can also cause liver damage.

It's therefore essential to know which allergy tests work and which are just fads.

DID YOU KNOW?

About 50 per cent of children with allergies outgrow them, but this depends on the type and degree of the allergy.

What are allergies and how do they affect the body?

An allergy is your body's abnormal reaction to certain "ordinary substances" (proteins) in your environment.

People with allergies develop anti­ bodies called IgE, which trigger the secretion of histamines that make you sneeze or puff up, cause your chest to feel tight or even result in a life­threatening shock reaction.

Just the smell of shellfish or a single bee sting can cause a deadly allergic reaction within minutes in someone who suffers from allergies.

Tests that don't work

ALCAT (known as the Nutron test in Britain and as Bryan's test or the Leukocytotoxic test elsewhere)

The background:

The test was developed in 1956. Every few years it's marketed under a new name with great media fanfare.

The claim:

According to the test's marketers, a patient's white blood cells swell when they're mixed with the troublesome allergen.

When this swelling exceeds a certain limit it indicates a posi- tive result for an allergy.

According to AlcatSA's medical adviser Dr John Pridgeon, Alcat is a revolu- tionary food allergy test that measures delayed al- lergy response and is registered by America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

He accuses South African doctors of waging a vendetta against Alcat. "I believe in this with all my heart and can state I have helped hundreds of people with it," he says.

Alcat's website claims patients can be cured of all sorts of allergies with a three-month exclusion diet based on the test.

The conclusion:

Based on a number of studies, the world's foremost allergy experts are unanimous: the test is diagnostically unsound.

he only study in the past 20 years to show Alcat tests work was discredited shortly after publication.

During studies done over many years it's become apparent that the Alcat test will reveal a positive allergy test for broccoli on one day, only to reveal a negative one two days later and another positive one a few days after that. This is impossible – you either have a food allergy or you don't.

"The test is measuring something but it's not something that's scientifically useful," says Harris Steinman, an international allergy expert linked to the Allergy Association of South Africa (Allsa).

"Claims that illnesses such as nettle-rash and Crohn's disease can be cured through treatment based on the test are excessive and give false hope.

A food allergy can't be cured overnight. One has to wait for it to run its course. Some people may outgrow it. Currently no treatment can in- stantly cure the allergy."

The Alcat machine is FDA-registered but the clinical conclusions drawn from the results are not.

The Imupro test (also known as the York test in Britain and the IgG ELISA allergy test)

The background:

It's simply the 30-year-old IgG ELISA test in a new form.

The claim:

It measures various IgG antibodies to certain foods. According to Dr Denis York of ImuPro, IgG levels show whether a person is allergic to a specific food or not.

Dr York says the ImuPro Test has FDA registration. "ImuPro helps es- pecially with the diagnosis of illnesses such as coeliac disease, where people develop a gluten or wheat intolerance as a result of a genetic predisposition."

The conclusion:

Measuring IgG levels to indicate a specific food as an aller- gen is meaningless, Steinman warns. There is no proof the test has any diag- nostic value. In fact there is proof IgG antibodies can protect you from devel- oping a food allergy!

The ImuPro equipment has FDA registration but not the clinical conclusions drawn from the results.

Applied kinesiology

The background:

The tests involve your arm being pushed down, a pendulum being swung over you, or a magnet being held in front of you in order to measure your energy field.

They were developed in 1964 by American chiropractor George J Goodheart.

The claim :

Its proponents say energy fields exist inside the body and these can be used to test for allergies and food intolerances.

The practitioner usually asks you to hold a test tube containing the allergen. You then hold out your arm and the practitioner tries to push it down.

If this can be done easily the test for the allergen is diagnosed as positive. The antidote to the allergy is then held in front of you and if your arm can't be pushed down easily it's regarded as the correct one.

The conclusion:

There is no scientific proof to show the strength of your arms, a pendulum or a magnet can help diagnose an allergy in any way, says Dr Morris, citing the findings of international allergy researchers.

SCIO (QX quantum machine)

The background:

This is actually a biofeed- back machine used to teach people to self-regulate their stress levels, which practitioners have adapted to diagnose allergies and illnesses.

The claim:

Electrodes are placed on your ankles, wrists and head, after which a computer does a "scan" for imbalances. According to Cape Town naturopath Dr Charl du Randt the Scio works like an ultrasound scan (sonar).

It can "observe" an overload of certain sub- stances in the body and even "redirect" it.

Should you correct 50 per cent of these so-called overloads by eat- ing correctly and taking supplements, you can im- prove your quality of life by 60 per cent, he says.

Dr Du Randt is the author of the book Demonising Doctoring, in which he says Satan is behind classic medical thinking, immunisations are the mark of the devil and make people ill, and the medical industry "chemically maims, murders and maltreats the public" with ordinary medications.

He uses the Scio (QX) Quantum machine and a "living blood analysis" to indi- cate irritants and allergies in the body and, according to him, to heal cancer.

The conclusion:

Neither the FDA in America nor the MCC in South Africa register the Scio machine as a device for the testing or diagnosis of allergies or other illnesses.

The machine may be used in America for bio- feedback only. There is no scientific proof it's useful for anything other than this.

The Vega test

The background:

The Wheatstone Bridge Galvanometer is used to measure energy build-up on the skin.

The claim:

The test is an electronic adaptation of acupuncture. It's based on the idea that the body has measurable energy lines. The patient has one electrode placed over acupuncture points and the other applied to a battery of allergens and chemicals in a metallic honeycomb. A fall in the electromag- netic conductivity indicates an allergy.

The conclusion:

A study led by respected international medical researcher and allergy specialist Prof Stephen Holgate could find no scientific accuracy.

Living chemical blood analysis

The background :

Your finger is pricked; a drop of blood is placed on a slide and is "read" by a computer.

The claim:

The "health" of red and white blood counts is determined and deductions are made about "parasite contamination" and allergies.

The conclusion:

International allergy experts say the test has no scientific value and nothing that can be seen in a drop of blood under a microscope can tell you anything scientific about allergens or an allergy.

What does a proper scientific test involve?

An allergy test must be registered with the South African Medicines Control Council, be based on solid scientific research, be reliable and reproducible.

Established scientific tests measure antibodies (IgE), delayed hypersensitivity reactions or the release of histamine.

Tests that work

The tests below are used by doctors and often by registered homeopaths.

Skin prick test:

A needle prick deposits the allergy serum in the skin. The area around the prick will either become red and swollen or not react at all.

The former is regarded as a positive result for the allergen. The test doesn't measure the delayed allergic reaction that in- dicates a certain type of sensitivity to an allergen. For this the PATCH test is required .

RAST/UniCAP IgE blood tests:

These measure IgE antibody levels in the blood. There are two kinds: a total or a specific RAST test.

Usually both are done so a full diagnostic history can be used to make a diagnosis.

CAST (Cellular Allergen Stimulation Test)

This blood test has been available for the past 10 years. It isn't a good test for a food or pollen allergy and is mostly used to test allergies to preservatives, medications and food additives.

Atopy Patch Test (PATCH)

This tests for delayed food allergies and hypersensitivity. Small containers of fresh food are glued to the skin for 24 hours, after which skin inflammation reaction is analysed.

This test is especially useful in diagnosing allergies in eczema sufferers.

Dr Neil Gower, national secretary of the Homeo- pathic Association of South Africa, says the association doesn't support the use of any unregistered machines, computer programmes, techniques or tests to diag- nose allergies and illnesses "especially when the peo- ple using them aren't registered practitioners".

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