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   Inside Out - South: Monday 17th February, 2003

FOOD SENSITIVITY

Chris Packham holding a vitamin capsule
ALLERGY | how reliable are food sensitivity tests?

In the current climate of self help, alternative treatments and complimentary therapists, food allergies appear to be the latest cause of ill health. But how accurate are these food sensitivity tests? Chris Packham goes undercover to find out.

Hundreds of thousands of people take a food sensitivity test every year to discover if their ill health is a direct result of their diets. Most walk away with a list of foods to avoid. Chocolate, cheese and wheat are among the usual suspects of irritant foods.

Chris Packham undercover at Holland and Barret
Chris pays a visit to three Holland and Barrett stores to be tested

Problem foods are detected using a Vega machine. The machine claims to measure the bodyís energy levels. These levels are meant to decrease when the body comes into contact with certain foods.

Health food chain, Holland and Barrett are one such company offering these tests.

Undercover investigation

We sent Inside Outís Chris Packham to three Holland and Barrett stores across the South to find out more.

Chris took the Vega test in Newbury, Chichester and Farnborough, only to discover that his allergy results differed from store to store.

In total, Chris was sensitive to over 33 different foods, including staples like wheat, potatoes, milk, tomatoes, tea and coffee. But out of the 33 products, there was only two that all three testers agreed on - cheese and chocolate.

Chris Packham in the kitchen
According to the three Vega tests, Chris should avoid a total of 33 foods - good luck Chris!

Chris was also advised by Holland and Barrett staff to take a total of 20 different vitamins and minerals. But again, the testers canít seem to agree and all three testers advised different supplements.

It seems your allergies may not be determined by food alone, but also your location.

Second time lucky

To give Holland and Barrett and the erratic Vega machine a fighting chance to get it right, we sent another member of the Inside Out team.

This time it is the stores in Southampton, Brighton and Dorchester that were put to the test. Once again the machine showed different results in different stores and this time the testers could only agree on one food product.

Inside Out put these findings to Holland and Barrett, who informed us that the tests carried out in the stores are actually conducted by another company called HSL, Health Screening UK Ltd.

Response

The Vega machine
The Vega machine is only 70% accurate

A spokesman for Holland and Barrett assured us that the points raised in the programme are being investigated.

"In light of the issues raised, we are already carrying out a full review of the services that HSL provide."

Chairman of HSL, Roy Harris admits that the food sensitivity tests are only about 70% accurate.

"We have an imperfect system that works in the end because people eliminate certain things from their diet," says Roy. "It may just be the discipline of sitting down with somebody and agreeing to cut out the nasty things in their diet."

If this is the case, what use is the Vega machine?

"It does stretch the imagination how the Vega test works," admits Roy. "But we have thousands of letters from people saying how much better they feel."

So whether itís a case of mind over matter, or sheer guesstimation, the Vega testing appears a dubious form of diagnosis.

While Chris battles on minus his 33 food products, Holland and Barrett battle to secure a more satisfactory form of food allergy testing.

See also ...

Inside Out: South
Alternative cancer cure claims

On bbc.co.uk
Allergy Guide (Health)

On the rest of the web
Energetic Medicine - Vega
Food Intolerance Testing
All Allergy

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Suzi
I am 22 and have suffered 3years of problems. Bloating, wind, chronic pain, rumblings, lethargy, etc. Having read about the Food Sensitivity Test at my health shop, i have decided to get one, i dont have alot of money but i dont feel i have any other choice.

I asked recently for a Food Intolerance test and my doctor told me that they didnt do them anymore (that was a lie) i was later told by my pharmacist that my doctor could have easily referred me to see a specialist for a Test at the Hospital. I was disgusted but not surprised!!

I am therefore left to get tested myself, or else i will go on for years suffering. I hope that the test will show me some answers and help me. For myself to eliminate this food and that food is going to take too long and i have kept a food diary myself and not eaten certain things and i have found no pattern. So I am going to give this test a go.

Inside Out South
In response to the comment posted by Marie Thomas, we strongly advise you consult a GP or qualified medical practioner so they can put your mind at rest.

At a more national and less individual level you can visit the Cancer Research UK website, www.cancerresearchuk.org

and look under the section www.cancerresearchuk.org/aboutcancer/specificcancers

But this website is not a subsitute for seeking professional medical advice.

Inside Out South would like to get in touch with Marie to find out further details of this diagnosis.

Marie, if you would like to be contacted, please email insideout.south@bbc.co.uk and mark the email for the attention of Joe and Andy.

Marie Thomas
I recently had a vega test because I smoked and had a reasonbly poor diet. The accupuncturist, who is also a herbalist told me I had cancer. He said it was in the very early stage perhaps miniscule were his words and I needed to go immediatley on a 30 day juice diet and chew Apricot Kernels.

Now I know this is good advice for someone with cancer but can these machines ever pick up diseases like cancer?

Doug Peters
Wow - we need the press to point out we are being duped? Get a blood test - very accurate. Or - just do an elimination diet - very simple.

Tony Donovan
I've been suffering from acne roacia for some 11 yrs. A few years ago it got out of control, whne I was in a stressful personal relationship.

I've had a VEGA test every 6 months for the last 4 years or so. The cronic rash of spots that I suffered on my face has been under control, I no longer suffer from colds & my waist line is back to where it was 20 yrs ago.

There are many other advantages of removing the 'bad' foods from your diet - eg. sorting out: stomach disorders (pains, flatulence), insomnia, headaches &, most importantly, DEPRESSION!

By all means go for several VEGA tests & take note of THE COMMON DENOMINATORS.

That's enough for now ...

Colin Francis
Confirms what I have long thought - the TV programme was very interesting and gives one the thought that perhaps other "fasionable" alternative medicines and therapies are also suspect!

Barry Davies - NutriVital Sales Limited
As a leading UK importer of EAV equipment, similar to the Vega featured in your programme, we are acutely aware and have been concerned for sometime about the varying standards across the industry.

Nevertheless, we would like to point out that, when used properly by well-trained operators, this equipment is a powerful tool, which can provide a wide range of invaluable information on a patient’s health status.

The main weakness of the equipment and the root cause of the variance in results is the probe, which can give inaccurate results when used by inadequately trained operators.

We have spent considerable time and money on our training programmes to ensure purchasers of our equipment (which does not include the Vega system) are trained to the highest standards.

Because we are concerned about the varying standards of EAV practitioner expertise around the country we are attempting to form a cross-industry association aimed at improving training for the technology and setting up minimum standards for practitioners.

The Biotech Health & Nutrition Centre, our associated clinic, was one of the pioneers of EAV technology in the UK and has an enviable track-record of success in solving patients health problems. The clinic continues to be an innovator in this field.

Marianne Hill
Sadly I didnt see last nights progran Re Food allergies. But having read the above I understand your concern, but I have a BEST machine, and without doubt having had problems caused through my family by the NHS which are unable due to lack of information to achieve so with my son especially.

With the aid of my BEST machine and taking the last year researching/training I KNOW what foods he is intolerent to, why he has the eczema (which is actually candida exacerbated but you try and find a GP to agree it!) and as such have it much diminished.

In this last year I have used it on my friends with great results (especially in full body mode), and having almost exhausted my financial resourses in trying to help my son, you may, if you were in my place also be considering offering a service based on such machine and knowledge.

One comment. having trained with people less health motivated, I know that the probe use is the key to getting the results, and I would doubt that anyone having done just the basic training with such a machine could have the needed ability/sensitivity.

Robert Wolfenden
About five years ago I developed an uncomfortable rash and was referred by my GP to another local doctor for an allergy or intolerance test which was very similar to the ones you undertook; albeit that mine took place at the doctor's house rather than in a shop, and cost twice as much.

I was also unhappy with the results, the doctor came up with a list of foods which seemed to bear no relation to my diet. He also seemed to think that the most important thing I should avoid was my cats, even though my symptoms were much less severe during the weekend when I spent more time with my pets.

Having decided that his results were rubbish, I too gave some thought to the actual test and concluded that it made no scientific sense.

Specifically: - as your reporter said, you can't measure electrical resistance through glass.

- I then wondered how all these various foodstuffs could be reduced to identical, clear, liquids. Even essence of cat appeared in the lineup.

- For a scientific experiment, I shouldn't have been able to see what was in the vials; however, the labels were made clearly visible to me.

- There was also some tosh about aligning the electrodes with nerve endings on my hand and foot.

After pondering for a while, it dawned on me that the machine was, in fact, assessing my response to seeing the labels, by measuring the change in resistance of my skin.

In other words, the machine is a polygraph or lie detector. If we accept that there is a psychological component in allergic reactions, then I suppose that there may be some validity in using such a machine, but since my results were nonsense I have to say that I think that a more scientific, controlled, approach is required.

Out of interest, as you explained, there is a great difference between the immediate and violent reaction of an allergic response, and the less acute but sustained damage caused by an intolerance.

I later saw a reflexologist - you'd hate that, it's entirely subjective and relies utterly on the skill of the practioner!

She came up with a list of foodstuffs that I should avoid: wheat, dairy products, caffeine and refined sugar ("The usual suspects", as my GP later described them).

Be that as it may, with some effort I managed to largely eliminate them from my diet and my rash disappeared almost overnight.

And I can still share the house with my cat.

Mrs J Berry
Your article is very interesting. I was tested at a local health store several yrs ago and was found to be dairy & egg intolerant.

Within a week of cutting these out of my diet I felt very much better.

Several months later I found I was also intolerant of most grain.

I have had a life of stomach problems and am now 90% better. Although IBS still causes some problems.



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