Alternative diagnostics

Some alternative diagnostic tests aren’t all they’re quacked up to be.
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02.Dodgy testing

Dubious tests

Applied kinesiology

Kinesiology is the science of human movement. Applied kinesiology (AK) applies nonsense theory to this science. Practised by some chiropractors and other natural therapists, the premise is that every gland and organ dysfunction is accompanied by a weakness in a specific corresponding muscle, and by testing the strength of various muscles, the therapist can diagnose stresses, imbalances and suboptimal functioning. Similarly, nutrient deficiencies and allergies can be diagnosed by having the "patient" hold a test substance while the practitioner tests their muscular strength. According to allergy expert, Professor Chris Corrigan, “This is all completely bizarre and, I am afraid, utter nonsense. There is no scientific evidence or mechanistic base to suggest that these tests could be remotely effective.”

Going hand-in-hand with AK is Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET), which is based on the notion that allergies, caused by energy blockages diagnosed with AK, can be permanently cured with acupressure and/or acupuncture treatments. Suffice to say, if you have a previously unknown allergy diagnosed with AK and miraculously cured with NAET, it probably never existed in the first place.

Hair Analysis

Hair analysis is used legitimately to detect certain chemicals and metals, which indicate their presence in the body. Troubled footballer Ben Cousins agreed to regular hair analysis for illicit drugs – then shaved his head and waxed his body before fronting up for a test! Meanwhile people in high exposure environmental or occupational situations may be concerned about overexposure to heavy metals such as mercury, lead or arsensic, which can all show up in hair.

But is it useful for the average Joe to get an analysis from their naturopath? Probably not – they’ll almost certainly find some metals, but whether it’s of any clinical significance is dubious. The reliability of hair testing for mineral deficiencies is questionable, and claims it can detect allergies are completely unfounded.

Iridology  alternative diagnostics_iris

Iridology is the study of the iris (the coloured bit of the eye) to diagnose disease, based on the notion that every organ in the human body has a corresponding location within the iris. By examining the markings and patterns of the iris, the practitioner can determine whether a particular organ is healthy or diseased.

It’s true that there are signs of certain diseases in the eye - for example, a whitish ring around the iris indicates high cholesterol. But the claims of iridologists go way beyond these broad signs. Clinical trials that put iridologists’ skills to the test variously find there’s little consistency between practitioners, that seriously ill people may be diagnosed as healthy (and vice versa) and a practitioner presented with the same iris more than once will diagnose it differently each time.

Patterning of the iris is often used for bio-identification because it’s so consistent and unchangeable over time: this wouldn’t be the case if it changed to reflect new illnesses, such as cancer, and surgery, such as hysterectomy. This may be why the claims of some iridologists have tempered in recent years to suggest that the iris simply shows underlying health weaknesses, which may or may not be activated according to your lifestyle.

According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, “The practice of iridology has no basis in science and is considered to be disproved alternative health care.”

CHOICE verdict

As Quackwatch observed, “These [electrodiagnostic devices] and similar tests are used to diagnose non-existent health problems, select inappropriate treatment, and defraud health insurance companies. The practitioners who use them are either delusional, dishonest, or both.” 

If you consult a natural therapist, take their advice with a grain of salt, and certainly avoid paying for any tests or therapies similar to those above. A nice massage, a chakra realignment and some sound dietary advice (that doesn’t exclude major food groups) could do some good, even if only mentally. Any suggestion of allergy, food intolerance, genuine nutrient deficiency or serious illness should be verified by a medical specialist or allied health professional. If you have a real health problem, visit a qualified doctor for a correct diagnosis.

Are you paying for dodgy diagnostics?

Most health insurance funds offer extras cover rebates for services such as naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic and iridology and other alternative therapies whose scientific and medical validity has been questioned. Even if you don’t use them yourself, you’re likely to be subsidising someone else who is! Some policies offer more than others – choose accordingly.

More information

Visit BreastScreen Australia for information about the national breast cancer screening program.

The Australian Council Against Health Fraud is a non-profit association which focuses on health misinformation, fraud, and quackery as public health problems.

The Australian Skeptics regularly run articles about non-proven medicines and therapies.

Quackwatch covers unproven and scientifically questionable claims of alternative health therapies, vitamin peddlers, and other health frauds.

The TGA’s advertising Complaints Resolution Panel recently ruled on a complaint regarding advertising claims about a number of diagnostic tests offered by a natural health clinic. Some of the tests are discussed in this article, including Hemaview live blood analysis (LBA), heavy metal testing and electro-interstitial scanning (EIS). The Panel found that the claims were unlawful, misleading, and unverified and breached the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, and the advertiser was ordered to issue a retraction on its website. 



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