Not a good way to treat allergies.

Not a good way to treat allergies.

AllergiCare Relief Centers are a chain of franchises started by a man called David Tucker who is not listed as having an MD or any other title. They offer diagnosis of allergies by biofeedback and treatment of allergies by laser acupuncture. They admit that the method is not backed by any science, and they claim that what they are doing is not medical treatment.

Responsible journalism might have investigated this as quackery or practicing medicine without a license. Instead, irresponsible journalism has helped promote these centers and has given them invaluable free advertising.

From one news story:

Tucker said the device works based on biofeedback. The allergy sufferer wears a sensing clip on his finger for testing, and the computer simulates the bio-frequency for 10,000 known allergens. As the body responds to those stimuli, the computer lists which substances are irritants. “This digitized allergen actually matches the harmonic frequency of the actual allergen, making the body believe it is in contact with the real substance,” Tucker said. “The body will react if it is allergic to the particular substance.” ….Once the allergens are identified, a laser stimulates biomeridian points on the body — the same points used in acupuncture and acupressure. Tucker said the idea is to strengthen organs to act properly the next time they encounter the allergen — that is, to treat them as harmless…So far, there is no science to prove the devices work, but Tucker claims a 70 percent positive response rate.

They asked a representative of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to comment. He wimped out, saying, “AAFA is not familiar with this treatment option and therefore cannot comment.” An allergy specialist, Dr. Goldsobel, was a little more forthcoming. He called the AllergiCare business “a media campaign with specious claims.” The reporter compared the new treatment to conventional allergy treatment and in the process, managed to cast doubt on conventional allergy treatments.

The company website says “The BAX3000 is the first and only FDA cleared, US patented system for eliminating allergies.”

That’s not exactly true. The BAX3000 is a biofeedback machine, approved ONLY for biofeedback by the FDA. The only thing the company has patented is the digital conductance meter. The BAX3000 is just another in a long line of quack electronic diagnostic and treatment devices that started with electroacupuncture according to Voll (EAV) in the 1950s. They basically measure galvanic skin conductance. There are various versions making different claims. In this version they claim to be measuring what a patient is allergic to; then they return the same frequencies back to the acupuncture points as treatment. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch doesn’t mince words: he says

I believe that EAV devices should be confiscated and that practitioners who use them are either delusional, dishonest, or both.

They treat runny nose, sinus congestion, watery eyes, itchy skin, hives, asthma, wheezing, stomach upset, eczema, lower GI problems. Fatigue, lack of energy, almost anything could be a sign of allergies. They don’t claim to treat anaphylaxis. I wonder why.

You can go to their website and use their allergy symptom checker to enter your own symptoms and get a preliminary idea where your problem lies. I had fun checking various combinations of symptoms. Entering “headache, yearly, evening, and indoors” produced glutamates, gliadin, yogurt, gluten and iron. Checking “IBS, after meals, and indoors” yielded inactive digestive enzymes, inorganic salts, H-C-L [sic], histamines and iron. Checking “bloating and cramps in the morning” yielded histamines, salicylates, coffee, mucigen and mucin. Checking EVERY symptom on the list yielded “Mucus Membranes, Mucus, Mucin, Mucigen and Glutamates.” It wouldn’t give an answer if I checked nothing, but when I checked only “morning” it yielded Coffee, Epithelial Cells, Mucus Membranes, Dust Components, and Leukotrienes.

I knew I was allergic to mornings, but I thought coffee was the treatment, not the allergen. How could anyone be allergic to mucus membranes? Or iron? Or in the case of a patient mentioned on the website, vitamin B12?

I phoned the company to ask some questions. I got a confused rigmarole of pseudoscientific hogwash. The machine is a biofeedback device that acts as an ohm meter, with impedance indicating the acupuncture meridians. There are some kind of mysterious skin receptor molecules that receive the information and then send signals to the rest of the body. They refer to named acupuncture points and meridians that they assume are real. They use a laser to reprogram specific acupuncture meridians, apparently teaching the body not to respond to the allergen. He kept trying to tell me that there was some kind of neurologic response to immune stimuli but couldn’t explain it coherently.

I asked how they determined the unique frequency of each allergen in the first place. He said they did it with an oscilloscope. I asked how they managed to accomplish that and he couldn’t explain. I asked if the measurements were repeated and validated (apparently not). I asked how they could verify that they had the correct frequency. He answered,

When the wellness of the patient takes place.

I had great difficulty maintaining my composure at that point in the conversation. He admitted there were no studies yet, and that it required a leap of faith. But he could give me lots of testimonials and recommendations from lots of chiropractors. He was really sure it worked because he’d seen the results.

I don’t doubt it. If you are diagnosed as being allergic to something you’re not allergic to, then you can be exposed to it without getting any symptoms, and that counts as success. If you have any vague symptom that goes away on its own or responds to suggestion, that counts as success. If you really are allergic to something and the symptoms vary over time (as they almost always do), that counts as success too.

After the phone call I e-mailed the company again and asked if their technical experts could tell me the frequency of ragweed pollen. They never answered.

They are charging patients several hundreds of dollars for this nonsense. And they have happy customers. They claim a high success rate: “proven by over a decade of consistent results with solid success with tens of thousands of people who have had their allergies/sensitivities completely eliminated.”

They have a disclaimer: “The treatments we perform are not medical treatments. It has been developed from an entirely different field of therapeutics using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the study of human physiology and an in-depth knowledge of allergens.”

The reporter didn’t do his homework. He could easily have found out that using a biofeedback machine (with or without lasers) to diagnose and treat allergies not only doesn’t work but is illegal. The FDA confiscates these machines whenever it learns about them and has the time and manpower to act. In a recent series in the Seattle Times, reporters Mike Berens and Christine Willmsen did a thorough expose of related “energy medicine” devices, an expose that led to prosecutions and regulatory actions. This reporter missed the chance to do something equally useful.

Posted by Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.