A press release on the Wall Street Journal website recently announced that a chiropractor in Illinois was offering “Nutrition Response Testing”
…to help patients optimize overall health…[the test] determines the specific balance of nutrients necessary to optimize metabolic function at the cellular level… the chiropractor then uses this information to make nutritional recommendations for patients…[the test] provides precise feedback that can also help identify the underlying cause for chronic pain and illness.
My first thought was that he must be using one of the quack electrodermal testing devices that I wrote about here and here.
No, nothing so high tech. The chiropractor’s website explains:
The practitioner will do the analysis by contacting your extended arm with one hand, and contact the specific reflex area with other hand. If the tested reflex is stressed, your nervous system will respond by reducing energy to the extended arm (which will weaken and cause it to drop). A drop in the arm indicates underlying stress or dysfunction in that area which can be affecting your health.This is nothing but AK disguised with a new name. It is nonsense based on magical thinking, suggestibility, and the ideomotor phenomenon. Steven Novella has explained the role of self-deception in AK. Practitioners are genuinely not aware that they are eliciting positive results by exerting less force on the arms of patients who in turn are not aware that they are not trying as hard to resist.
My first encounter with a believer in AK was when a local chiropractor gave a talk about how he diagnosed and treated allergies. He described having patients hold a sealed vial of allergen in one hand while he tested the strength in their other arm. In one case, he suspected that the patient was allergic to work, and since he didn’t have a vial of “Boeing” to test, he just had the patient think about Boeing and that worked just as well. In his introductory remarks, he had let slip that when he was in school he “had never been very good at science.” That was the only thing in his whole talk that I believed.
One of my favorite stories from the history of skepticism is Ray Hyman’s account of how he and Wally Sampson did a double blind test of AK. A group of chiropractors claimed they could distinguish between glucose (“bad” sugar) and fructose (“good” sugar) by putting a drop of dissolved sugar on a patient’s tongue and testing the muscle strength in their arms. They demonstrated that they could reliably detect which was which… as long as they and the patients both knew which was which. Under double-blind conditions, they failed miserably. The head chiropractor then commented to Ray:
You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!I think that’s a hilarious example of how many CAM advocates think: they know they are right, and threfore there must be something wrong with science if it fails to support them.
And no, we skeptics don’t dismiss AK just because it sounds silly. AK has been tested. A typical study showed that the “use of applied kinesiology to evaluate nutrient status is no more useful than random guessing.” A systematic review of published evidence showed “the few studies evaluating specific AK procedures either refute or cannot support the validity of AK procedures as diagnostic tests.”
We know it doesn’t work. We know why it doesn’t work. We know how practitioners are fooled into thinking it works. Nuff said!
Nevertheless, AK is used by 37.6% of chiropractors in the US, according to the American Chiropractic Association. It is also an integral part of NAET (Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique), a quack treatment for allergies and chemical sensitivities that was invented by an acupuncturist and is practiced by an estimated 8500 licensed medical providers.