Magic Allergy Testing Rubbish

I have mentioned before, many, many, many times, that I am a sceptic. I don’t believe in ghost hunting, conspiracy theories, psychokinesis, homeopathy, UFOs, or the the anti-vaxxer movement. I don’t suffer fools gladly, and I most certainly don’t appreciate people with zero knowledge of medicine or healthcare offering me medical advice. Indeed, I think I’ve made it pretty clear to not only my readers but everybody in my life that if they come at me with pseudo-scientific, superstitious nonsense I’m going to cut them off at the knees.

So why do some people never learn?

My eldest daughter has asthma, for which she uses an inhaler. I don’t have a problem with that, because why would I? A certain person in my wife’s family, however, has a different view.

‘You want to cut her reliance on that inhaler,’ she said. ‘It’s very bad to use it long-term; it causes so many health problems and it’ll give her bad teeth.’

As someone who has asthma and has used an inhaler for around half my life, I have never heard something so absurd. But she doubled down on the ridiculous by suggesting we send my daughter for an allergy test to see what we should avoid, the implication being we can ‘cure’ her asthma by going gluten-free and eating more quinoa.

She then offered to put us in touch with her nutritionist for an allergy test, which would involve connecting my daughter to a box that measures the electrical resistance of her cells and organs (a.k.a. electrodermal testing). Knowing I’m a sceptic, she offered the ‘proof’ that this same nutritionist had used the machine to diagnose a friend’s one-year-old as having too few digestive enzymes, and suggested the foods that would remedy this.

The first warning sign was when she said ‘nutritionist’. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person is a crank, but while ‘dietician’ is a registered, protected title, like doctor, ‘nutritionist ‘ is not, meaning anybody can claim to be one. That’s not to say that there aren’t professional nutritionists out there – you can probably trust a ‘registered nutritionist’ with a BSc in Nutrition who is voluntarily regulated by the Association for Nutrition, for example – but if they wear a beanie hat and smell of yoghurt, it’s probably best not taking lifestyle advice from them.

The second warning sign was when she said the nutritionist would perform an allergy test. While dieticians are qualified to give advice about diet with respect to specific medical conditions, such as coeliac, nutritionists are not – they give more general advice about diet and healthy eating. So why would a nutritionist be doing an allergy test and then giving advice about the results?

The third warning sign was, of course, the magic box that somehow diagnoses every problem in your body. I mean, seriously, do people really believe that? Have they never visited the doctor for a mystery ailment and been sent for further tests? Why would he give you a blood test, refer you for a gastroscopy, do a stool culture or dip stick your urine if he could just hook you up to a machine and know you inside and out, lickety-split?

And the suggestion that running a very minor electrical current through your body can tell a machine that you are lacking in digestive enzymes is so ludicrous, it’s not even worth discussing. All I will say is that when the NHS, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the Australian College of Allergy, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and the Allergy Society of South Africa all advise against electrodermal testing as it has no scientific basis whatsoever, it doesn’t take a genius to work out it’s a pile of BS. Yet still people believe it! Why are so many so ready to turn their backs on reality and common sense to live in a world of make-believe? I just don’t get it.

Yet despite my pointing out the absurdity of the suggestion, and stating in no uncertain terms that we would not be doing it, my wife took it seriously and is now worried about the dangers of long-term use of inhalers, and keeps asking me if there’s any harm in having the test done. The harm, dearest, is going to a snake-oil salesman instead of a medical professional in order to get fake medical advice about a chronic respiratory condition that is already being dealt with by the asthma nurse. The harm is that we’re being encouraged to turn against inhalers, the very medicine designed to treat asthma, in favour of magic beans. And the harm is that if you go down that road you lose my respect because you reveal yourself to be a gullible idiot.

But she won’t see things my way, which is so frustrating, her response being that I am entitled to my opinion and she’s entitled to hers. Oh for crying out loud, I replied – it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. The sky is blue; water is wet; electrical boxes can’t tell you how much bacteria lives in your gut. And when it comes to the safety of my children’s health, her opinions don’t matter one jot.

I reminded her that I had one of these tests done myself, around twenty years ago when I was young and stupid, and was highly dubious of it even then.

‘It didn’t work because you’re a sceptic,’ she said.

‘So you need to believe in it for it to work?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then it’s a placebo, and the bare minimum standard you can expect of a medical intervention is that it performs better than a placebo, so what good is it?’

But you can’t win them all – there’s no arguing with stupid.

For the record, steroidal inhalers can slow the growth of children, but this only affects 1 in 10,000 sufferers. And that’s with high-dose, long-term use, while my daughter’s dose is entry-level low. The risks of not treating your asthma are considerably higher, and I know this from personal experience.

As a baby, my parents were adamant that I had asthma. The doctors were adamant that it was whooping cough. By the time the doctors realised their mistake, my asthma had been untreated for so long that I was left with scarred bronchioles. Bronchioles are the tubes in your lungs that carry the air you breathe to the different regions, and they are designed to be elastic, expanding to increase airflow when you’re exercising and need more oxygen and contracting when you’re at rest. Guess what? Scarred bronchioles don’t stretch.

What this means is that no matter how fit I get or how healthy I am, I become out-of-breath very quickly during exertion because my tubes just won’t open up. When I get stressed or anxious or ill, I can’t take the deep breath needed to make me feel better, and if I ever do yoga or tai chi, I have to take two breaths for every one that you’re supposed to take. All because I didn’t have an inhaler when I should have.

So, no, I don’t take it lightly when somebody advocates replacing tried and tested and scientifically proven medicines with sugar pills, especially when my wife is unduly influenced by her family members.

I just can’t comprehend why seemingly rational people so often switch off their critical thinking skills when it comes to their health. But maybe my wife is right, and it comes down to belief. They put their faith in the nutritionist and his mysterious box the same way they trust the tarot card reader and her pack, the fortune teller and her crystal ball, the astrologer and his birth charts – because it offers certainty, however false, in an uncertain world.

You know, I think it might be fun to send my wife to have one of these tests herself. Since her hands are always sweaty, and the tests work through skin conductivity – or galvanometric skin differentials that signal energy imbalances along meridians, apparently – she’ll probably test positive for every allergen and health problem programmed into it. Then we’ll see if she continues to think it’s real, or if she’ll admit it’s a con to sell her nutritional and dietary supplements!

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Giving up sugar for Lent

I may have made a mistake. A big one. I gave up sugar for Lent.

Not all sugar, of course – there are sugars in all kinds of food. But I’ve given up foods to which sugar is added, and I’m advising anybody who reads this cry for help – don’t. Don’t do what I did.

But why sugar? I hear you ask. Why not something easy, like chocolate? Are you a masochist?

Yes. And resoundingly no.

I’m a chocoholic. I buy a 200g chocolate bar with the intention of making it last two days at least, and within 20 minutes it’s gone. And living close to the shops, who always have special deals on their chocolate, I can get through a fair few bars in a week. And I know that’s bad, particularly since chocolate doesn’t agree with me. Heart problems, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity – my chocolate addiction is going to shorten my life. That’s why last year, I thought it would be a good idea to give up chocolate for Lent.

But here’s the rub – because I stopped eating chocolate, I doubled down on sweets, biscuits, cakes, ice-cream and doughnuts. If you’re going to sacrifice chocolate, you have to do it for your health, and if you’re just going to binge on sugar as a replacement, what’s the point?

So I decided this year to nix sugar altogether. Surely I’d feel better, healthier, more alive?

I feel like I’m going to die. It’s been thirteen days. The first week I had cravings, sure, like an addict in need of a fix, but I ate a lot of potatoes and fruit and wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner.

The second week has been hell. I have no energy. I fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I’m not just irritable, I’m angry. My joints ache. My back hurts. My eyes flicker at the sides. I’ve got a constant headache. I’m dizzy and nauseous. I have earache and a sore throat. My belly feels heavy and tender. I can hear my heart in my ears, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I can’t take a deep breath or I cough. My teeth are now chattering, even though I’m wearing a T-shirt, shirt, hoodie, dressing gown, woolly hat, fluffy slippers, and I’m wrapped in a blanket.

Hmm. Actually I think I might have flu.

[Next day]

Okay, so I just spent all last night shivering and sweating, drifting in and out of consciousness, my mind racing (I wrote an entire novel in my head), and woke up feeling a little better, albeit as grimy as a cinema floor and weak as a  newborn lamb. Yes, this might have been a 24-hour fly bug.

But I stand by what I said – giving up sugar has kicked me in the nuts and knocked me for six. Apparently, you’re not supposed to give up all at once – like any addictive drug, you’re meant to wean yourself off it. But I hope that I’m now past the worst of it, and will start to feel better from now on.

But one thing I have to point out is the weight loss, which might surprise you. When I joined Slimming World a few years ago, I lost 9lbs the first week, 4.5 lbs the second, and 35lbs over 12 weeks.

So how much weight have I lost from giving up sugar for two weeks? 10lbs? 5lbs? 1lb?

Not one solitary ounce.

Hardly seems worth it, does it?