Allergy

Updated 27 May 2016

Allergy testing scams exposed

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?

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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 life-threatening.

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. Especially 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.

Pendulums and magnets 
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 Surrey 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.

So-called guru                                                                    
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 says.

The story is almost always the same: first come the unscientific tests, then unscientific diagnoses are made for a variety of ailments – usually Candida albicans syndrome, metal toxicity, food intolerances, hormone imbalances or allergies to ordinary medicines, 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).

Placebo effect
Many alternative practitioners have published research on successful outcomes or presented their findings at conferences, 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.

 

By Elise-Marie Tancred

 

 

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Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies. obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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