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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Ask for Evidence - Allergy Tests & Treatments

VoYS members Dominic, Chelsea, Jess, Eloise and Rosie have been myth-busting allergy tests and treatments, as part of the Ask for Evidence campaign. For more on allergies, see Sense About Science’s public guide Making Sense of Allergies.



Rosie: "I had never heard of a salt pipe before, therefore I decided to Ask for Evidence to find out the science behind the benefits of the saltpipe".
"After sending an email to get in touch with the company, I was left at a dead end. The initial response led me to numerous webpages which explain what the salt pipe is and suggest how it works but lack actual evidence. I pushed a little further and asked for the scientific literature, to which I got a response stating the literature was in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish ‘which we cannot read.’ I asked if I could be sent the papers despite the language barrier, to which I had no reply. I decided to turn to Twitter. I had no response from @thesaltpipe. I retweeted it a few times and still did not receive an answer. I then tried Facebook and Instagram. The one reply I got on Facebook gave me the names of the treatments e.g. salt therapy and halotherapy but when I pushed a little further I heard nothing. The lack of answers may be due to many reasons however I feel the silence is very telling…"

Read Rosie's full Ask for Evidence on her blog.

(Image courtesy of Paul Walker).

Eloise: "When I came across an advertisement by a company called the Salt Cave that claims to treat asthma I wanted to Ask for Evidence".
"As someone who has lived with family members with severe asthma who have tried various treatments and remedies, I was intrigued when I came across an advertisement by a company called the Salt Cave claiming that "Salt Therapy is a natural, safe and beneficial method of treatment for Asthma and other respiratory illnesses". Aside from a few personal recommendations from people who had used the salt cave, their advertisement didn't appear to be any evidence supporting their claim that salt can be used effectively to treat asthma, despite claiming that "In most patients, after a course of Salt Therapy, airways become normal and symptoms ease. The treatment's efficacy is estimated at 75-98%". I thought this was particularity worrying because they were having a "special offer" in conjunction with World Asthma Day. To find out the scientific evidence underpinning their claims, and to see if it could actually be a worthwhile visit, I emailed their London office and am currently waiting on a reply."

(Image Courtesy of Dubravko Sorić)

Jess: “I’m studying for a PhD in asthma immunology, and knew that Sense About Science were launching a Making Sense of Allergies guide, so I decided to see what online services are offered to identify food intolerances and allergies.”
“During my browsing I came across The Intolerance Testing Group, who claimed that their “One Step Test” uses the latest in bio-technology to produce a report that lists the items of food and non-food that a person is intolerant to. All you have to do is send a hair sample and items that have shown an intolerance of 85% and over register as positive. It wasn’t clear from the website how they actually use the hair samples to assess food intolerances and how they established an 85% threshold for intolerance… so I asked for evidence! I am currently waiting for a reply from the company”

(Image Courtesy of Marc Laroche)

Jess: “I saw an advert for HayMax nose balm that claims to prevent allergens like pollen entering your nose and causing an allergic reaction – I decided to Ask for Evidence."
“HayMax claims that by putting a balm on the nostrils, dust and other allergens won’t enter your body as readily, and that you will therefore have less of a reaction. I was actually quite impressed by the provision of evidence already available on their website, so I decided to ask if they now used clinical trials or had any peer-reviewed studies supporting their claim. I’m waiting for HayMax’s reply to let me know what evidence they have”

(Image Courtesy of mnraaghu)

Dominic: “A clinic was offering acupuncture to treat hayfever. After I asked for evidence, requesting relevant references to support their claim, they edited their blog to include sources.”
“The clinic sent me a PubMed citation within a few days. I was directed to an abstract of a study published in "The American Journal of Chinese Medicine", which was a study published in 1975 on 22 subjects with hayfever - Lau et al. (1975). 50% of subjects were "virtually symptom free", 36% received "a moderate reduction in symptoms" and the remaining subjects received no significant relief. I am unable to access the full text of the article, but the abstract fails to mention the use of a control group. As a hayfever sufferer I am familiar with the way that hayfever symptoms can come and go, so if no control group were used in this study then the apparent relief of 50% of subjects may not necessarily be due to acupuncture. But I'm unable to verify this suspicion without access to the full article. Since my initial email went to the clinic, they've updated their blog post about acupuncture and hayfever by adding additional references to the page. One additional trial has been cited, but a separate blog commenting on its methodological flaws cast doubt on seemingly positive results.”

Verdict: Perhaps as good as a placebo

(Image Courtesy of Lars Plougmann)

Chelsea: “I know that homeopathy is woo, but when I saw it promoted to treat allergies – which can have very serious consequences – I decided to Ask for Evidence.
“Homeopathy is highly effective in the treatment of allergies”. This is a statement made in an article on the Homeopathy Zone website. The piece goes on to say “homeopathic allergy treatment is the strengthening of the organism at its spiritual core, leading to increased resilience of the organism.” And recommends “…clean diets such as the raw food diet” in order to cure food allergies. I got in contact with the naturopath and homeopath who wrote the article, to ask for evidence – but his response didn’t address my question.

Verdict: Not worth it.

(Image Courtesy of Mayur Patel)

Dominic: “I saw The Intolerance Testing Group (ITG) promoting intolerance testing on DNA from your hair – I decided to Ask for Evidence.
“The (ITG) differentiate between allergies and intolerances by claiming allergies are genetic whereas intolerances are caused by environmental factors. The intolerance testing will cost £54 and involves sending a cut of your hair to them. They claim to have developed “the most comprehensive intolerance test available in the world”, incorporating “the latest bio-technology.” They responded very quickly – “[Bio-resonance technology] is a form of holistic therapy, backed by little science.” They described their test: “The bio-resonance therapy works by scanning the hair sample to create a profile of this particular person's energy that radiates from the DNA … with this profile we can then scan all of our items against the hair sample profile (the saved DNA energy pattern). If, for a specific reason, a particular item's pattern does not harmonise with that of the hair sample then the energy is distorted, showing as an intolerance.” I’m pleased that the response was so honest, but displeased that the test was based more on pseudoscientific ideas of “energy patterns” than sound scientific principles.”

Verdict: Save your money

(Image Courtesy of Aciamax)


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  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

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