Blog Post

Watch Out for Wacky Allergy Treatments!

woman holding stomachMA asks: "I’m wondering if you’ve run across any negative information on ALCAT or other companies who test for food sensitivities.  Supposedly, if a person is sensitive to a certain food, then staying away from that food allows the body to heal.  Scientifically, it makes sense to me, and I don’t see any elements of New Age in this.  What do you think?"

Great question, MA, and very timely for those of us who are enduring the early spring allergy season!

ALCAT is based on a lot more than just telling people to avoid foods to which they experience sensitivity (which is, as you say, just plain common sense.)

According to a Board Certified Allergist ALCAT (antigen leukocyte antibody test) is a specific kind of test created by American Medical Testing Laboratories and marketed by Cell Science Systems. Also known as cytotoxic testing or Bryans', this method involves incubating a patient's white blood cells with dried food extracts on a microscope slide. Any changes in the appearance or movement of the cells is interpreted as representing a sensitivity to that food. ALCAT  claims on its website that this method is considered to be the "gold standard" method of identifying non-IgE mediated reactions to food, chemicals and other categories of substances.

Unfortunately, this is not true. According to a study by the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, "These results have been shown to not be reproducible, give different results when duplicate samples are analyzed blindly, don’t correlate with those from conventional testing, and 'diagnose' food hypersensitivity in subjects with conditions where food allergy is not considered to play a pathogenic role."

While ALCAT is not based on New Age beliefs, the Australian study and numerous others have found that ALCAT and several other popular alternative-based tests "are unproven methods for which there is no scientific rationale."

woman blowing noseRather than name companies, I thought it best to name methods used because more than one company can be offering a specific allergy test. Some of these methods might sound wacky, but they are much more prevalent (especially among chiropractors) than you may want to believe. I relied upon the Australian study as well as some of our own research to offer this helpful list of other allergy tests that people should avoid when determining allergic reactions.

Vega testing (electrodermal testing)

This method uses a Vega machine that supposedly detects alterations in the body's electrical charge. The patient holds a negative electrode in one hand while the positive electrode is applied to acupuncture points on the fingers and toes. A food extract in a sealed contained is brought into the electrical circuit and a reduction in current is interpreted as being a sensitivity to that substance.

Studies have found that this manner of allergy detection is "unable to distinguish between healthy and allergic individuals, between control and allergen extracts, and results do not correlate with those obtained using conventional testing," the Aussie study states.

Kinesiology or Muscle Testing

This practice is based on the concept that exposure to toxins or allergens are reflected in a reduction in muscle strength. Allergic reactions to foods are tested by administering drops of food extracts under the tongue or holding a vial of food extracts in one hand. First the parents are assessed, then the child. The two test results are then subtracted to give the final results.

"This technique has no physiological basis, and interpretation is innately subjective. Formal studies have shown poor reproducibility between duplicate testing, and poor correlation with the results of conventional allergy testing."

Radionics (Psionic Medicine, Dowsing)

Radionics is based on the idea that all life forms are submerged in the electro-magnetic energy field of the earth and that the presence of allergies or diseases are reflected in "imbalances" in an individual's electromagnetic field. A pendulum-like device is used to amplify these imbalances. Other instruments may be used to "tune in" to certain energies and, along with focusing their own thoughts and energies, practitioners say they can restore "normal energy balance."

"This technique combines concepts of kinesiology, reflexology, vega testing, 'ESP' and the paranormal," the Aussie study concludes. "This technique has not been subject to formal study, and there is no published evidence that it is effective for the assessment or treatment of any disorder."


This method is based on the idea that each part of the body is represented by a corresponding part of the iris and that a person's state of health can be diagnosed by the color, texture and location of pigment flecks in the eyes. Dietary supplements and herbal medicines are then used to treat the patient.

"Iridology shares a similar conceptual framework with those of reflexology and acupuncture," the authors of the Aussie study write. "Studies have shown that iridologists are unable to distinguish patients with disease from healthy subjects, and to give varying diagnoses when examining iris photographs from the same individuals taken a few minutes apart. Furthermore, iris patterns are unique and remain constant throughout life, enabling them to be used for reliable personal (‘biometric’) identification. This calls into serious question the theoretical basis of iridology."

Pulse testing

This is another questionable practice used to determine allergies and food sensitivities. It is based on the notion that allergic reactions can be determined by temporary increases in heart rate.

"This technique is subjective by its nature, and there is no evidence that results are useful for diagnosing any disorder, including allergies," the study states.

Hair Analysis

iAnalyzing strands of hair for trace elements is another method used to pinpoint allergies.

"While hair analysis is employed for toxicological/forensic use, there is no evidence that vitamin or mineral analysis from hair samples is useful for diagnosing disease or that treatment based on its results has any clinical utility," the study concludes.

Dysbiosis Testing

This practice is based on the idea that there is a balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria in the bowel of each person with imbalances resulting in disease. Testing is down with stool and urine samples and other means.

"Such tests are often used by unorthodox practitioners as a rationale to guide (a) megadose nutritional supplementation; (b) ‘probiotic’ and/or antibiotic therapy; or (c) dietary modifications. These treatments are promoted as a means of restoring a ‘healthy’ balance of bowel flora."

The bottom line is that there is no scientific support for dysbiosis.


This is by far one one of the most bizarre methods in use. It is founded upon the belief that internal organs actually communicate with each other via sound waves, with each organ vibrating at different frequencies. Practitioners claim that a computer-assisted analysis of a patient's voice will help them determine what these organs are "saying" and where there might be a dysfunction.

Not surprisingly, the Aussie study concludes: "There is no scientific rationale for this technique, and no evidence that results are useful for diagnosing any disorder, including allergies."

NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique) was developed by Dr. Devi S. Nambudripad, a chiropractor/acupuncturist who believes allergies can best be explained through the principles of Oriental medicine, such as the belief that allergies cause blockages in the body’s meridian energy pathways.Dr. Nambudripad employs muscle testing to diagnose the allergy, then treats patients with a combination of acupuncture and spinal stimulation.

She claims to have discovered the technique after giving herself an acupuncture treatment while in contact with carrots to which she was allergic. After the treatment, she ate the carrots and found that she was no longer allergic. She came to believe this was because the carrots had been present in her electromagnetic field and that: “During the acupuncture treatment, my body probably became a powerful charger and was strong enough to change the adverse charge of the carrot to match with my charge. This resulted in removing my carrot allergy. I tested and treated my husband and son. In a few weeks we were no longer allergic to many foods that once made us ill. . . . Later I extended this to my patients who suffered from a multitude of symptoms that arose from allergies.”

There may be plenty of other methods in use out there, but these are the most prevalent.

If you're suffering from allergies, either seasonal or food related, the best way to combat them is by seeing your family doctor who can refer you to an allergy specialist if necessary.