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This entry was posted on October 12, 2010.
LITTLE Dylan Mott has a nut allergy so severe that a kiss from someone who has just eaten a walnut would be lethal if he didn’t immediately receive an injection of adrenaline.
His mother Amanda will never forget the day Dylan, then a toddler, ate half a cashew nut. “He was sick immediately. His face and neck looked like he had been pushed into stinging nettles,” she says.
“He was clawing at his throat because he couldn’t breathe. By the time the ambulance arrived he was blue and drooling because he could not swallow his saliva.”
Fortunately, Amanda, 40, and her husband Richard, 39, from New Romney, Kent, are care workers and trained in first aid.
Dylan had already been diagnosed with asthma-like symptoms and in the desperate minutes while the couple waited for paramedics they administered Dylan’s ventolin inhaler to try to keep his airways open. They were later told that without it their son would probably have died.
Dylan, three, is now under the care of specialist doctors and skin-prick tests confirmed he is acutely sensitive to cashews, walnuts and Brazil nuts. The severity of his reaction leaves no doubt about the diagnosis. His parents carry two EpiPens for an auto-injection of adrenaline at all times and Dylan wears a Mediband wristband to alert others.
All forms of allergy are rising but specialists are increasingly alarmed that many children have not been properly diagnosed and their healthis put at risk from exclusion diets that deprive them of crucial nutrients.
Health watchdog the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) believes only one in five who claim to suffer an adverse reaction to food have a true allergy.
Dr Judith Richardson, associate director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE, says: “Many of the symptoms are common to other conditions so it’s not always easy to identify and diagnose a food allergy correctly.”
NICE has warned that four widely available tests; Vega, applied kinesiology, hair analysis and IgG blood tests should not be used to diagnose allergies. The first three are non-invasive so we asked Dylan and his mum to put them to the test.
As Dylan has regular skin tests, which can be distressing, we did not think it fair to take a blood sample for the IgG analysis. Instead we asked Dr Nicola Brathwaite, a consultant paediatric allergist and spokeswoman for the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, to explain why medics believe it cannot be used for diagnosis.
“IgG analysis does have some basis in science,” she says.
“It is a genuine test in the sense that it detects IgG antibodies but it is not recognised as an accurate diagnostic tool as it measures the wrong antibody.
“The presence of IgE to a specific food indicates someone is sensitised to that food. IgG antibodies only indicate that your immune system has been exposed to that food, it does not necessarily mean it is a problem. If you do food challenges based on the results they do not correlate with symptoms.”
The findings of our investigation illustrate just how dangerous unproven tests can be.
WHAT IS IT? A machine which measures changes in electrical resonance or resistance in response to allergens. Also known as bio-energetic regulatory testing.
The test varies slightly depending on which gadget is being used.
All involve the patient holding a sensor while a second is applied to the skin to create a circuit. Vials of potential allergens are then placed in the machine to measure resistance. Dylan was tested by Lynda Jones, a medical herbalist who also offers allergy testing at locations in Kent.
On her website she says she has, “a solid understanding of anatomy and physiology; medical examination techniques; diagnosis and medical laboratory science; pathology and disease; nutrition and pharmacology of both pharmaceutical medication and herbs”.
RESULTS: The written diagnosis was an “apparent dairy problem”.
Amanda was told: “He is extremely allergic to all dairy and should avoid all shellfish. He has not got a yeast intolerance yet but will probably develop one.”
Lynda Jones said Dylan reacted to 22 foods, including dairy, egg and chocolate and seven airborne allergens including cat fur. Apart from all forms of dairy, shellfish and yeast products such as Marmite, Amanda was told he should also avoid oranges, orange juice, grapes and gooseberries for eight weeks and then have them reintroduced as occasional treats only.
Although the test supposedly showed Dylan was sensitive to nuts, Amanda says she was told: “He has a slight problem with nuts but it’s nothing to worry about.”
She was given a diet sheet on how to exclude dairy products, which suggested Brazil nuts and walnuts as good sources of calcium.
AMANDA’S REACTION: “I can see why people like these non-invasive tests but if you followed this advice you could be in serious trouble. There was never any mention that an allergy can be life-threatening. She also said he was sensitive to cat hair but we have just been looking after my niece’s Persian cat and Dylan has no problem.”
EXPERT OPINION: Dr Brathwaite said: “In this child’s case the potential for real harm is very high.
“The advice to avoid all dairy foods is also a problem as dairy is very important for calcium and it’s a very important source of protein in a young child’s diet.
“Never start avoiding major food groups without having a properly registered dietician involved.”
TESTER’S RESPONSE: Lynda Jones said: “The test is about intolerance rather than allergy. I think there are very clear distinctions.”
When Your Health pointed out that her website repeatedly referred to “allergy” testing it was updated within hours of our call. She denied the advice Amanda was given was dangerous and claimed she should have been told of Dylan’s allergy.
WHAT IS IT? “Health kinesiology is a complementary therapy concerned with rebalancing the energy system of the body,” according to Health Kinesiology UK, which provides a database of “trained and qualified practitioners”.
The organisation’s website explains: “It uses muscle testing to identify the problem areas: light pressure is applied to a muscle and the response is monitored. Once the stresses are identified, gentle techniques are used to bring the body back into balance and harmony with itself.”
Practitioner Libby Epps, from Hythe, Kent, said that Dylan was too young to be tested directly but could be diagnosed via his mother, Amanda.
She was asked to lie down with Dylan beside her and as different vials were placed on her chest the practitioner asked questions and raised and lowered Amanda’s arm to measure muscle resistance.
COST: £10 for 30 minutes
RESULTS: Dylan had 24 food intolerances but no allergies. Ms Epps was not able to specify the foods to which he was reacting.
She used crystals to rebalance Dylan’s body and address his 21 food intolerances. She advised a follow-up three weeks later to eliminate the other three.
AMANDA’S REACTION: “If the advice hadn’t been so wrong it would have been funny. There was lots of sighing and yawning: that’s apparently to release the bad energy. It was as though she was talking to someone but it wasn’t me.
“At one point Dylan started crying and she said it was because he was releasing negative energy but he was just getting fed up.”
EXPERT OPINION: Dr Brathwaite said: “There is absolutely no scientific basis for kinesiology. You might as well just make a guess. Alternative diagnoses often come up with a list of foods people are commonly allergic to and sometimes they will get it right. However, people end up avoiding 10 things when it’s only one which is an issue.”
TESTER’S RESPONSE: Libby Epps said: “Our definition of allergy differs from the medical dictionary.”
A spokeswoman for the Kinesiology Federation said members are given regular reminders “that they cannot consider themselves as doing allergy or intolerance testing and that they must be very careful not to give that impression”.
She added: “Kinesiologists are not normally able to access laboratory testing facilities, nor are they qualified to diagnose and treat any medical condition: that includes allergies, cancer, migraines, arthritis and so on.”
HAIR ANALYSIS BY U-CHECK 600
WHAT IS IT? “U-Check produces a complete diagnosis on intolerances using just a few strands of your hair,” the company’s website states.
“This safe and non-invasive method also allows us to examine your nutritional deficiencies. Hair sampling is now seen as one of the most effective ways of testing the body.”
A disclaimer adds: “Home testing is best used as an early detection of a condition as only your GP or medical healthcare professional should diagnose your healthcare problems.”
COST: £64.98 (inc P&P)
RESULTS: Dylan was found to be intolerant to cows’ milk, cocoa beans, gelatine, corn and corn syrup, cod, herring, mackerel, plaice, basil, ginger and anise. Some nuts were identified as an issue but according to the U-Check test, cashews and walnuts were not a problem.
The report found Dylan was deficient in docosahexaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid often abbreviated to DHA), glutamine, niacin, silica, vanadium and sulforaphane.
There is, however, no recommended intake for DHA, glutamine, silica, vanadium or sulforaphane, which means there is no such thing as a deficiency.
The EU recently banned supplements containing vanadium.
AMANDA’S REACTION: “Although the results mention Dylan has a nut intolerance the details are wrong.
“He doesn’t have an intolerance, he has an allergy, which is much more severe. They say peanuts are a problem when they are not but they haven’t said anything about cashews and walnuts, which he reacts to immediately.
“He also supposedly reacted to Brazil nuts which, according to U-Check, means he has eaten them recently but that’s not right. If he had, he would have needed his EpiPen.”
EXPERT OPINION: “Hair analysis can detect some toxic heavy metals such as mercury or lead but not allergies,” said Dr Brathwaite.
TESTER’S RESPONSE: A U-Check spokesman said: “The test flags up reactions to allergies and intolerances. So, for example, if someone avoids a substance they are intolerant to they will not be reacting to it. If they then take the test it will not show up as an intolerance because there are no signs of a reaction.”