Food Quackery

One of the curses of working shift work is that you can find yourself watching the dreaded “Daytime TV”. At the moment the TV is on GMTV. One of their regular slots is all about 'food allergies'. Now for me (as a medical professional) and allergy is a severe reaction to a stimulus. What these people on the TV are talking about is a sensitivity.
So, as I'm a bit bored, I decided to take their online test to see if I have any food allergies.

“It’s pretty much guaranteed that you have an allergy”

Why is this so? Because I'm often tired (Duh! I work shifts), that I sometimes feel bloated and sleepy after eating (Isn't that the point), I sometimes get aches and pains (who doesn't? I'm carrying people all day), and that while I sometimes feel depressed I often feel better when I go on holiday (How many people don't feel better during a holiday?).

This seems like a fine example of quackery. An allergy/intolerance is diagnosed after a skin tolerance test, not from fourteen yes/no questions. People who take this questionnaire might think that a more serious condition is likely to be a 'food allergy'.

Black Triangle is excellent at shining a light on these sorts of things and is one of my daily required readings (When I'm not stuck on 12 hour shifts that is…)

He's also posted a reasoned post about the recent critical illness of participants in a clinical drug trial. I would add to his post that the drugs that doctors are using to try and save the participant's lives would all have gone through the same clinical trials as the test drug that may have caused this reaction.

16 thoughts on “Food Quackery”

  1. *snarls*I get really annoyed when well-meaning people start telling me about how I'm probably not ill, I'm just allergic to this/that/the other foodstuff. No, I am simply ill, and I am not prepared to live off nothing but ionised water and organic porridge for the rest of my life.

    If it's not making you vomit or have burning sensations or swell up or turn a funny colour then it's probably okay, as a rule of thumb.

  2. is also pretty good, I think, and not just on food quackery. It's run by Ben Goldacre, a doctor who writes the Guardian's weekly 'Bad Science' column. His dead cat has one of the same high-falutin' mail-order diplomas brandished by 'Doctor' Gillian McKeith.

  3. That was a pretty terrible test!! Allergies do run in my family, my husband is a diagnosed coeliac and has a severe medical reaction to orange, my middle daughter is allergic to sweeteners (again, having a measured medical reaction), and my youngest is also allergic to orange (and carries an epi-pen). I carry an epi-pen for wasp stings. Having said which, we are all lactose intolerant – no major medical reactions, but general ill health within minutes of ingesting dairy products – certainly NOT an allergy!! It gets me really angry to see this kind of on-line test for so-called allergies – they need proper investigation (which is generally unpleasant and uncomfortable), and proper treatment!!

  4. Very interesting post and I quite agree.I'm not intolerant in the medical sense but that's the word I tend to use when talking about food and my IBS. I guess I could go through tests but, quite frankly, if I get a strong/rapid gastrocolic reflex and/or painful abdominal cramps after eating something (on more than one occassion) then I avoid it.

    Perhaps not the medically prescibed route but if a food causes me pain I won't eat it.

  5. I get sick of these supposed 'legitimate' tests.Not only do they send the twitched amongst us running for the in-house BNF, medical tombs etc, etc, and making 'unprofessional' diagnoses, BUT they potentially mask real health concerns, be they allergies, sensitivities or whatever.

    I've been tested for gastric problems recently and my past life has helped, but believe you me, those that make themselves a victim, as a result of some of these tests, resulting in any type of intrusive, invasive investigation, calls for serious concern.

    Whilst it's good that the media are drawing attention to us looking after ourselves, being psuedo-medics is not the way forward.

    On a separate note

    The chaps who put themselves forward for medical trials, whether or not they were paid or signed consent forms, are brilliant – if I had the guts I would be there with them.

    To test on animals is wrong and inhumane, but how else, other than testing on those of us brave enough to put themselves forward for the process, would we know about and have the good drugs that we do have in our western society.



  6. Here's hoping that the awful side effects experienced by the guys in London don't cause problems for too many other trials.I work in the industry and at one company I know of, 75% of their volunteers didn't turn up yesterday and today. If this keeps up, it is going to cause huge problems for research into ALL new medications.

    Here's wishing them all a full and speedy recovery, without volunteers like these there would have been no new medications on the market for some considerable time…

  7. I used to live with a chap who was supposedly allergic to just about every foodstuff known to man.The “test” was interesting. Apparently it consisted of the chap saying “Write down on here what you think you're allergic to”, then zapping him with electricity for half an hour before saying “Yes! You're allergic to everything you wrote down earlier!”, and then charging him for the privilege.

    My other flatmate and I had mulled over the idea of allergy buckaroo, where we'd throw various things at him, and see which of us would bring him out in a rash, or whatever it was he was supposed to do.

  8. Makes me laugh because that was how my GP back at home diagnosed me with food intolerances. No skin testing or exclusion diet – just 'does it hurt when you eat this? Yes? well then you're intolerant to it' Oh ok, then!

  9. I hate to sound evil here Glenda, but before those drugs were tested in humans they were certainly tested on animals. It's one of the rules of clinical trialling. Just because human volunteers were used, animals don't get used much less in drugs trials.

  10. My girlfriend has actually got “Dr” Gillian McKeith's 'You Are What You Eat”. The recipes are pretty good, but they are dressed up in so much pseudoscientific quackery puts us off a bit.Of course, maybe we're missing the point. Quackery aside, the food is genuinely pretty good for you. I can't agree with her views on eating meat – I grew up on a farm and have seen the entire process of raising animals for meat from conception to plate, pretty much all my life, and I try not to eat anything I ddn't know personally.

    Perhaps we're missing the point. Perhaps there's something clever going on here that we haven't spotted.

    *Maybe* dressing up healthy eating in such terms (actually I can't find the book, my girlfriend might have it, or I'd give examples) – maybe that's a way to get people to buy into eating healthily. I can see how it would appeal to a certain sector of society: “Look, this woman on the TV says it's good for you and I don't understand it and she's a doctor, so it must be good!”

    Me personally, I favour a diet consisting of less processed crap. Real food, real bread, real ale, real wine. You are what you eat? Well, I'm full-fat, full-caffeine, full-strength, wholegrain with subtle hoppy notes and a clean fruity aftertaste. And that's how I like it.

  11. it's the pseudoscientific “doctor” bit that's the problem though. People are thinking there's a genuine medical problem. And rather than asking their own, medically trained GP, they're taking the TV quack's word for it.(Then they come to people like me and try to use the TV quack's generalised information as wisdom which they are convinced will magically cure my disability, and get all huffy when I tell them no, I don't have any allergies, I'm just ill.)

    When I was at school I would go to a friends' house afterwards or someone would come back to mine and we'd have a sandwich and our mums would have a cup of tea. Now a friend of mine with a school-age kid can only do that with about two friends, because the mums watching the “doctors” on daytime tv have a medical reason for their kiddies to not eat a sandwich because they can only have “special” bread and no margarine and a particular brand of cheese.

    Healthy eating, as in plenty of fresh meat and vegetables and less overprocessed McFatMeals(tm), sure. But what we're getting here is a load of neurotic, obsessive packet-checkers who think it's somehow trendy to have an allergy.

  12. Hi there,I know they were tested on animals, the humans were the next stage, but …. mmmm wouldn't it be good if non of this testing was required and we wouldn't need any drugs ever and all be healthy and happy.

    That wasn't what I was going to type, but my brains' on a go-slow.

    I will re-visit!


  13. I agree, it would be wonderful – but until we can fix DNA magically, or make designer children, or avoid accidents etc, I really don't think it's going to happen!

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