Food Allergy - Tests and Therapies

One of the biggest crocks of quackery is the claim that allergy tests are simply not thorough enough to accurately detect food allergies and sensitivities. Most of the practitioners who denounce standard allergy tests promote their own supposedly superior tests to uncover hidden allergies and sensitivities that can cause everything from acne and fatigue to obesity and even cancer.

These dubious tests are risky at best and dangerous at their worst for several reasons:

  • These tests and treatments have not been validated by sound medical research data and are not supported by the medical community.
  • They’re often expensive, and your insurance won’t cover them.
  • They’re unreliable.
  • Test results typically call for convoluted and costly treatment regimens that don’t work.
  • Testing and treatments may discourage you from seeking effective medical treatment, leading to the potential danger of a severe reaction.

Back in the early 1980s, alternative practitioners, nutrition consultants, and chiropractors got all excited about cytotoxic testing — also called Bryan’s test, the Metabolic Intolerance Test, or “sensitivity testing.” “Cyto” means “cell” and you know what “toxic” means, so the idea behind this type of testing is to discover substances that poison your white blood cells — the blood cells that primarily fight infection.

To perform the tests and recommend treatment, the practitioner does the following:

  1. Draws a sample of your blood and then separates out the white blood cells.
  2. Applies samples of the white blood cells to a large number of microscope slides, each of which is coated with a dried food extract, such as those used for skin testing.
  3. Examines the slides under a microscope at various intervals to see whether the white blood cells changed shape or disintegrated — supposedly signs of allergy or sensitivity to the particular food.
  4. Diagnoses your symptoms and recommends a personalized diet program that includes vitamins and minerals, most of which are conveniently for sale at the clinic.

Advocates of cytotoxic testing claim that food sensitivities can cause acne, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, baldness, bedwetting, conjunctivitis, constipation, depression, diarrhea, eczema, excessive sweating, fatigue, headaches, hearing loss, hoarseness, hypertension, hyperactivity, insomnia, learning disorders, nosebleeds, obesity, rashes, sinus trouble, stomach disorders, susceptibility to cancer, and just about any other physical ailment you (or they) can imagine.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the nation’s largest group of allergists, has concluded that cytotoxic testing is ineffective for diagnosing food or inhalant allergies. Its position paper noted the following:

  • One study found that white blood cells from allergic patients reacted no differently when exposed to substances known to produce symptoms than when exposed to substances to which the patients were not sensitive.
  • Another study found that cytotoxic test results did not correlate with allergic reactions or other negative reactions to foods and that the results were inconsistent when repeated in the same patient.
  • In a double-blind controlled study, positive cytotoxic tests were frequently obtained to foods that produced no clinical symptoms, and foods that tested negative in cytotoxic tests did produce symptoms.
  • Another double-blind study found the test results varied from day to day.


The ELISA/ACT test is another medically unproven test that its advocates claim can uncover hidden allergies. According to a brochure promoting this test, scientific estimates show that hidden allergies are responsible for as much as 60 percent of all human illness.

The brochure states that any of the following conditions may indicate the presence of hidden allergies: chronic headaches, migraines, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, runny or stuffy nose, postnasal drip, ringing in the ears, earaches, blurred vision, irregular or rapid heartbeat, asthma, nausea and vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, hives, skin rashes (psoriasis, eczema), muscle aches, joint pain, arthritis, nervous tension, fatigue, depression, mental dullness, and difficulty in getting your work done.

To perform ELISA/ACT testing, a clinician draws your blood; cultures the white blood cells (lymphocytes); and observes how they react to up to 300 foods, minerals, preservatives, and environmental substances. Upon receiving the test results, the practitioner (typically a chiropractor) recommends dietary modification and supplements. Sound familiar?

Valid scientific studies have shown the ELISA/ACT test to have no value in the diagnosis of allergy. Moreover, many of the symptoms listed in SPL’s brochure are unrelated to allergy and require proper medical care rather than supplements for effective treatment. (SPL is short for Serammune Physicians Lab, the people who developed ELISA/ACT.)


Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) is one of the more interesting and useless tests and treatments for food allergies and sensitivities. 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.

NAET essentially combines kinesiology with acupuncture. To test for food sensitivities, the practitioner instructs you to hold a food or other suspect substance in your hand or brings the food or substance in close proximity to your body — supposedly in the path of your energy flow. You hold your arms akimbo, and the examiner pulls down on your arms.

If your arms show little resistance, then the tested food or substance is deemed to be a problem. (Some practitioners use other ways to test the effects of foods and other substances on muscle strength, but you get the idea.) Positive test results reportedly diagnose a weaknesses in your energy field that can then be remedied through acupuncture or acupressure. Unfortunately, as your arms get more and more tired during the procedure, the tests often return more and more positive results.

A positive result may indicate only that you need to spend a little more time in the gym. Because NAET is such a kooky idea, any scientist worth her science degree won’t even test it, so little reliable data is available to support or refute NAET’s claims. You can read more about NAET at, but after you read the hype, I encourage you to visit to learn some interesting facts about NAET and its developer, Devi S. Nambudripad.

Other Dubious Tests

Cytotoxic testing, ELISA/ACT, and NAET are a small sampling of the tests and procedures that are routinely marketed as food allergy tests and treatments. Although not all these treatment approaches have undergone rigorous study, none has been shown to be of any diagnostic value. Following are some of the more common and dubious tests and treatments:

  • Pulse testing recommends that you take your pulse soon after eating to determine if you’re sensitive to the food you just ate. If your pulse rate increases, then you supposedly are sensitive to a particular food. Although your pulse rate may increase after eating something, an increased pulse rate can be due to other causes and certainly does not provide a reliable indication of food allergy or intolerance.
  • ALCAT testing is very similar to cytotoxic and ELISA/ACT testing. It tests the changes in white blood cell count and shape when the blood is exposed to certain known allergens and other problem substances.
  • NuTron testing supposedly measures the reactivity of white blood cells to food and other substances. Practitioners use the results of the test to design a diet that eliminates foods that cause white cell activation, whatever that is. Proponents claim that the diet can help overweight people lose weight and cure many other conditions “caused by the release of inflammatory chemicals from the activated white cells.”
  • The LEAP Program uses the Mediator Release Test (MRT) to identify “delayed food allergies.” Treatment involves dietary changes and sometimes the addition of supplements or herbs.
  • Provocative testing consists of injecting increasing doses of a potential allergen under your skin until you report symptoms. These tests are no more accurate and could be more dangerous than standard skin tests, although, the small doses typically administered during the tests are usually not all that dangerous.
  • Sublingual testing consists of placing suspected foods under your tongue to see what happens. Again, sublingual testing is no more accurate and is more dangerous than standard skin tests.
  • Neutralization progressively administers smaller doses of substances until you no longer react. This is similar to desensitization protocols, which I discuss as potentially useful in next article. Neutralization, however, is typically performed with ultra-low doses (such as those given with homeopathic remedies), and the treatments are typically used to cure conditions such as ADHD or chronic headaches. Neutralization is not effective in preventing future food allergy reactions.
  • Immune-complex and IgG tests assess immune reactions that are common but not necessarily related to allergy. These include food-specific IgG and IgG4 tests, which typically yield multiple positive results (many false positives) and may indicate a normal immune response to food. They do not predict true food sensitivity and can lead to recommendations that result in malnutrition.
  • Electrodermal skin testing uses a computerized galvanometer to detect supposed energy imbalances when you come in contact with a food or substance. Think of it as a hi-tech variation on the theme of applied kinesiology, described next.
  • Applied kinesiology (used in NAET testing as discussed in the section on NAET) tests your muscle strength after foods and other substances are placed in the your mouth or hand or held in close proximity to your body.
  • Iridology practitioners claim that they can spot the cause of a wide range of health conditions simply by peering into your eyes. Although medical doctors can diagnose several medical conditions, including Wilson’s disease, by peeking in your peepers, your eyes hold no hidden clues that you have a particular food allergy.
  • Hair analysis studies the mineral content in your hair to supposedly determine whether you have mineral deficiencies or heavy metal poising that’s causing your food allergy. Studies prove that no reliable connection exists between the mineral content of hair or the existence of heavy metals in your system and the presence or absence of food allergy.

The list of bogus tests I provide here is certainly not all inclusive. New bogus tests and theories are always popping up, so remain vigilant and skeptical. When you see a new test or treatment that sounds promising, run it past your doctor before trusting your health and wallet to unproven theories, tests, and treatments.


Homeopathy, founded by Hahnemann in the early 1800s, relies on the principle that the same substances that cause disease can cure it. Homeopathic remedies consist of ultra-diluted forms of the substance that’s causing symptoms — so diluted in some cases, that the solution in which the substance is suspended contains only a “memory” of the substance.

Homeopathy is a holistic approach to medicine, with particular emphasis on the homeopath-patient relationship. The scientific interest in homeopathy for treating asthma, food allergies, and other chronic illness is considerable, as attested to by a large number of published studies, but clinical trials show no clear benefit of such treatments.

A recent review compared more than 100 clinical trials of homeopathy and conventional medicine in treatment of the same diseases and assessed the outcomes of the two types of treatment. After a detailed analysis, this review concluded that according to the results of the clinical trials, conventional treatments are much more effective than homeopathic remedies for the same diseases.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs

By eating a well balanced diet and perhaps supplementing it with a good multi-vitamin once a day, you provide for all your body’s nutritional needs. Packing your body with mega-doses of vitamins and minerals doesn’t make you any healthier, although it does help you lose weight as your wallet becomes lighter. Herbal remedies may be effective in treating some diseases, even food allergies.

The effectiveness of some medicinal herbs in treating some conditions is no surprise. Many common and effective drugs are derived from plants and herbs that often contain several active pharmacologic ingredients. Some medical systems (traditional Chinese medicine, Japanese, Kampo, and Ayurvedic) largely use herbs, often in fixed mixtures (for example, ma huang and saiboku-to) to treat diseases, including asthma and rhinitis.

The problems with herbal concoctions are that most of them are no more effective, no less prone to producing negative side effects, and often less safe than approved drugs that your doctor recommends:

  • Contrary to what many people who choose herbal remedies over pharmaceuticals often think, herbal remedies can cause serious side effects and drug interactions. “All natural” does not mean “safe.” Cyanide is a naturally occurring poison, and it’s certainly not safe.
  • Herbal remedies may not be as potent as manufactured medicines, so they’re often not as effective.
  • Herbal formulas don’t have to meet the strict manufacturing standards of bona-fide medications, so they’re more likely to be tainted by incorrect collection of plants, mistakes in preparation or manufacturing, variations in dosage, and contamination.

Another theory that attempts to focus food allergy on the digestive system rather than on the immune system is the hypothesis that people who have food or chemical sensitivities actually suffer from an over-permeable stomach lining that allows chemicals and allergens to pass through the stomach directly into the bloodstream and surrounding tissues.

This condition, referred to as leaky gut syndrome has received a lot of press and generated far more attention on the Internet and in various articles and books than it deserves. Some patients with eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease, which I discuss later, may truly get a leaky gut when their disease is out of control.

This is pretty extreme though, and the notion that most of our maladies are due to leaky gut is primarily a fictitious diagnosis made on the Internet and in other publications by alternative practitioners. Don’t fall for the hype that leaky gut syndrome is responsible for causing your food allergy or intolerance.

Mind, Body, and Soul Manipulations

Attending to your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs is useful in preserving your overall health and improving your quality of life. Through proper nutrition and exercise, you preserve your physical wellbeing. Meditation and relaxation techniques can reduce stress — a common trigger for many maladies. Developing productive interpersonal relationships can further reduce stress and improve your emotional well being.

And addressing your spiritual needs can provide you with a sense of interconnectedness and community interactions that can be very rewarding. I encourage you to establish a healthy lifestyle and avoid unhealthy habits. Whatever improves your overall health can be a useful complementary therapy to proven medical treatments.

However, I recommend that you avoid falling into the common trap of thinking that any combination of mind, body, and spiritual development can cure your food allergy. After reading the following facts, you should come to the same conclusion:

  • Chiropractic manipulation of the spine may help you feel better overall, but any claims that chiropractic care can cure allergies is unproven. Done wrong, a spinal manipulation can even harm your body.
  • Breathing exercises, including those practiced in Kundalini yoga can make you feel more relaxed and help with fatigue. Practitioners often recommend breathing exercises to help with asthma and food allergies, but no clinical test results prove that they’re effective. At best, patients see some marginal improvement.
  • Yoga and other relaxation techniques can have a positive effect on selfperceived well-being, providing an additional benefit, but they do not make food allergy go away.
  • Hypnosis and biofeedback techniques have been tried to help asthma sufferers, but have not proven effective.
  • Reflexology and other massage techniques attempt to physically manipulate your body in such a way to relax muscles, improve blood flow, restore the body’s immune system to optimum functioning, and even rub out allergies. No clinical test results prove that any type of massage effectively reduces the incidence or severity of allergic reactions, including food reactions, but hey, if it feels good, don’t let me get in the way.
  • Other treatments and procedures, including aromatherapy, chromotherapy, Bach’s flowers, anthroposophy, Hopi candles, hydro-colon, urine therapy, and clinical ecology have no reliable data to support their effectiveness in treating allergy or asthma, although they may help you forget that you have it for awhile.

Acupuncture or Acupressure

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine and is widely used for the treatment of chronic illnesses, including asthma. The theory behind the use of acupuncture is to restore the balance of “vital flows” by inserting needles at exact points of the body surface, where the “meridians” of these flows lie.

If your acupuncturist is highly skilled, you don’t even feel the needles going in . . . or so I’m told. If you can’t stomach the thought of being poked with needles, variations of acupuncture are available, including acupressure techniques, such as Shiatsu, and laser treatments.

We can study acupuncture in a rigorous manner by using sham acupuncture as a control procedure. Several randomized controlled trials have assessed the efficacy of acupuncture in asthma, and no convincing evidence proves that acupuncture of any form is effective in treating asthma, rhinitis, or food allergy. Stick with proven diagnostic methods described earlier and proven treatments.