Debunking Alternative Food Allergy Tests and Therapies

This article first appeared in the 2007 summer issue of Support Net, a newsletter published and distributed by Kids With Food Allergies.

If you or a loved one has a food allergy, chances are pretty good that you have done some research on the Internet. You probably have come across some intriguing food allergy tests and treatments that your doctor failed to mention–tests and treatments with names that certainly sound legitimate, like NAET, ELISA/ACT, cytotoxic, IgG testing, and provocation-neutralization testing.

You read up on these tests and treatments, and perhaps the reasoning seems logical. Maybe your body is missing something or has too much of something that has disturbed its balance. If you just had the right vitamins and minerals, maybe you could shake that food allergy for good. So, why did your doctor fail to mention these tests and cures? Is there some medical conspiracy to keep this information under wraps?

I am a medical doctor, an allergist who specializes in diagnosing and treating food allergies. When I denounce these tests and treatments, proponents often say things like, “Well of course he would be speak out against an alternative cure–he is part of the medical establishment.”

In addition to being a medical doctor, however, I am a patient who has lived with severe peanut allergy for most of my life. I can tell you without reservation that no conspiracy of silence is at work here. I would love to tell you and the thousands of patients I see who have food allergies that a miracle cure is available. If I could cure my own peanut allergy by popping a fistful of vitamins or drinking some magic herbal potion, I would do it in an instant. The facts, however, prove that such therapies offer very little promise and even less scientific evidence of success. Some may even be dangerous.

The more popular tests often claim to reveal hidden allergies that medical allergy tests cannot detect. Most of these, including cytotoxic, ELISA/ACT, ALCAT, and NuTron testing study the changes to white blood cells in the presence of certain allergens. All of these tests deliver unreliable results, usually because white blood cells have been proven (through reliable scientific studies) to change count or shape and break down for any number of reasons, whether or not a known allergen is present.

Another common and equally useless allergy test and treatment regimen is NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique). The idea behind NAET testing is that some foods can block your energy fields, thus weakening your body–sort of like the effect that kryptonite has on Superman. The practitioner tests changes in muscle strength in any of various ways as certain foods or other substances are placed in contact or close proximity to the body.

NAET testing typically reveals all sorts of supposed “sensitivities” that can then be cured by acupuncture (or acupressure), temporarily avoiding the substance, and perhaps taking some vitamins, minerals, or herbs. The fact is that no scientific studies prove the reliability of NAET testing or the effectiveness of this treatment, and no standards are in place to ensure consistent testing, treatment, or oversight. This makes NAET testing and accompanying treatments questionable at best, and downright dangerous at their very worst.

I see patients every week who have had IgG testing for food allergy, in which their blood was tested for IgG antibodies instead of IgE antibodies (the antibodies typically associated with allergies). These patients often come in on extremely restricted diets because they had tested positive to so many things. This is no surprise though because a normal immune system is supposed to make IgG antibodies to foreign proteins, and a positive IgG test to a food is therefore a sign of a normal immune system rather than a sign of food allergy.

A final test that we commonly run into is called provocation-neutralization testing. In this test, a small amount of the test substance–say milk or egg–is injected under the skin or placed under the tongue. If this test dose produces symptoms, then a larger dose is given which supposedly neutralizes the first dose. If you say this doesn’t make sense, I say you are correct, it really doesn’t. While reacting to the first dose could certainly indicate an allergy, proceeding with the larger dose would only be expected to make the reaction worse, not neutralize it.

These alternative tests and treatments are more than simply a waste of time and money. They pose a significant risk by focusing your resources on unproven options. Test results may even falsely proclaim that you are allergy free, making you believe that you can go back to eating a food that causes severe, potentially life-threatening reactions.

I can save you a lot of time, money, frustration, and unnecessary risk by offering a few simple words of advice: See an allergist qualified to test for and treat food allergies, get tested, and stick with the best care currently available–scientifically proven medical tests and treatments.