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Nambudripad's Allergy
Elimination Technique (NAET)

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

NAET is a bizarre system of diagnosis and treatment based on the notion that allergies are caused by "energy blockage" that can be diagnosed with muscle-testing and permanently cured with acupressure and/or acupuncture treatments. Its developer, Devi S. Nambudripad, DC, LAc, RN, PhD, is described on her Web site as an acupuncturist, chiropractor, kinesiologist, and registered nurse who practices in Buena Park, California. In October 2002, the site's "Doctor Locator" database listed 803 NAET practitioners in the United States and 51 in Canada, most of whom are chiropractors or acupuncturists. (In 1999, the list contained 776 names for the United States). Nambudripad also runs Nambutripad's Allergy Research Foundation (N.A.R.F), which sends members a bimonthly newsletter for an annual subscription fee of $36.

Dubious History

In her book, Say Goodbye to Illness, Nambudripad states that she "suffered from childhood from a multitude of health problems." These included severe infantile eczema until age seven or eight and arthritis beginning at about the age of eight. As a young adult, she suffered from bronchitis, pneumonia, insomnia, clinical depression, sinusitis, and frequent migraine headaches. During this period, she said, she tried many medicines, changed doctors, and consulted nutritionists, but:

All the medicines, vitamins and herbs made me sicker, and the good nutrition made me worse. I was nauseated all the time, Every inch of my body ached. I lived on aspirin, taking almost 30 aspirin a day to keep me going [1:xi].

During her chiropractic training, acupressure administered by a guest speaker helped her feel better and later advised her to eat nothing but broccoli and white rice. Then:

After a week's restricted diet, I tried eating some other foods. My previous complaints slowly began to conquer me. I went on eating a white rice and broccoli diet. This time, I ate this food for three and a half years. Once in a while, I might try a bite of other foods, but my arthritic symptoms would return. I could not eat salads, fruits or vegetables, because I was very allergic to vitamin C. I could not eat whole grain products because they contained B complex. I could not eat fruits, honey, or any products made from sugars. These made me extremely tired, because I was very allergic to sugar. I could not drink or eat milk or milk products, because I was very allergic to calcium. I was highly allergic to fish groups, because I was allergic vitamin A. I was allergic to egg products, because eggs gave me skin problems. I was allergic to all types of beans, including soybeans, they gave me severe joint pains. Spices gave me arthritis of all the small joints. Almost all the fabrics, except silk, gave me itching, joint pain, and extreme tiredness. My teacher at the acupuncture college confirmed my doubts. I was just simply allergic to everything under the sun, including the sun by radiation. [1:xiii-xiv]

After "eating rice and broccoli for three and a half years," she suddenly felt better after an incident in which she had given herself acupuncture while in contact with some carrots. She then ate some carrots and found she was no longer allergic. She then reasoned that the carrots had been present in her electromagnetic field and that:

During the acupuncture treatment, my body probably became a powerful charger and was strong enough to change the adverse charge of the carrot to match with my charge. This resulted in removing my carrot allergy. I tested and treated my husband and son. In a few weeks we were no longer allergic to many foods that once made us ill. . . . Later I extended this to my patients who suffered from a multitude of symptoms that arose from allergies. [1:xvi]

I have no way to determine what Nambudripad experienced, but I can say that her story not believable.

Peculiar Theories

Nambudripad describes NAET as an "innovative, completely natural method for regaining perfect health with complete and permanent freedom from allergies and diseases arising from allergies." [4] She claims that "there is hardly a human disease or condition that may not involve an allergic factor" [1:3] and that "most of the causes of common illnesses, like headache, back aches, joint pains, addiction, PMS, indigestion, cough, body aches, and many more are, in fact, undiagnosed allergies."

Science-based allergists define allergy as a reaction of the body's immune system that take place after the body becomes sensitized to a substance (allergen), usually a protein. Allergic reactions result when allergy-causing proteins combine with antibodies to trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals that can cause skin rashes and various other symptoms. Nambudripad claims that allergens entering the body cause a clash between the "energy fields" of the allergen and the allergy sufferer. She states:

An allergy is defined in terms of what a substance does to the energy flow in the body. Allergies are the result of energy imbalances in the body, leading to a diminished state of health in one or more organ systems.

When contact is made with an allergen, it causes blockages in the energy pathways called meridians. Thought about in another way, it disrupts the normal flow of energy through the body's electrical circuits. This energy blockage causes interference in communication between the brain and body via the nervous system. This blocked energy flow is the first step in a chain of events which can develop into an allergic response. Allergies are the result of energy imbalances in the body, leading to a diminished state of health in one or more organ systems [4].

Nambudripad also claims:

Dubious Diagnosis and Treatment

Although Nambudripad recommends taking a standard allergy history, her principal diagnostic method is muscle-testing in which substances are placed in the patient's hand and the practitioner tests whether the arm can resist being pulled by the practitioner. Supposedly, when the arm is weak, the substance is said to cause allergy. "Surrogate testing" can be used to test young children or adults who are weak or incapacitated. The surrogate touches the skin of the person being tested while the practitioner tests the muscle of the surrogate. Some practitioners use an electrodiagnostic device that measures skin resistance to a small current emitted by the device [5]

When testing is completed, the practitioner "treats specific acupuncture points on the back using strong acupressure either by hands or with a pressure device while the patient is holding the allergen in their palm, touching the sample with the pads of their fingers. All patients above the age of ten will then also receive acupressure or acupuncture needles on specific points on the front of the body. Then:

Patients are asked to remain for 15-20 minutes in the office after the treatment. At that time they are tested again for their muscle strength with the allergen in their hand. This time, if the treatment is successful, the patient's arm should remain strong against the practitioner's pressure. The patient is then asked to wash their hands or rub them together for a minute. Patients are instructed to avoid all contact with the allergen that they were just treated for, for 25 hours. They are also advised to read The NAET Guidebook to find the suitable foods they can eat for the next 25 hours. During the spinal NAET treatment procedure the NAET practitioner and the patient should be alone in the room to prevent "electromagnetic interference." [6] (Nambudripad claims that a third person in the room can "steal" the treatment [3:6].) On the following visit the practitioner retests the previously treated item. If the result is satisfactory, the practitioner can treat another item. A course of 30-40 visits (once or twice per week) is commonly recommended Nambudripad also claims that NAET can be used as a preventive measure in people who are not sick [3:14].

According to The NAET Guide Book , the need for specific supplements is determined by having the patient hold a supplement in one hand while the practitioner pulls on the other arm. According to the book, weakness indicates allergy. If the patient tests strong, more pills are added one by one until the patient's arm tests "weak." The total number of pills in the patient's hand then indicates "the total deficiency on that day in the present condition." The book claims:

This number can be anywhere from 1-2 pills to many thousands, depending on the deficiency. For example: in certain nerve disorders, the total amount of vitamin B-complex deficiency can be as high as 20-30 thousand grams.

If the deficiency is 1-6 pills, one may not need to take supplements. Regular balanced meals will provide the requirements.

If the deficiency is more than 6-10 pills (or the amount equals 6-10 times recommended daily dosage (RDA), then one should supplement one pill daily. If the deficiency is calculated in many tens, hundreds or thousands, supplement the person with 4-6 times the recommended daily dosage of that particular supplement. . . .

Supplements in mega doses are often needed for a number of months in the following cases: arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, any chronic problems related to allergy, hair loss, constipation, degenerative diseases, cancer, etc. [3:21]

The NAET muscle-testing procedure is an offshoot of applied kinesiology, a pseudoscientific system based on the notion is that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a specific muscle weakness. There is no scientific evidence that this is true; and test-to-test variations are due either suggestibility, muscle fatigue (from repeated testing) or variations in the test technique. The idea that the number of pills held in the hand can somehow be registered in a way that can influence the strength of a muscle is absurd. The idea that someone can be "deficient" by 20-30 thousand grams is even more absurd. That would be 44 to 66 pounds! Moreover, most vitamin pills contain less than a gram of their vitamin or mineral ingredients. Twenty thousand pills could not fit in the hand of the person being tested.

Curiously, Nabudripad's Web site warns patients against "being lured into clinics by doctors promising NAET allergy elimination treatments, but they are not receiving NAET treatments." The methods she list include: (a) placing colored slides at various locations on the body, (b) lying on a special bed while holding an allergen, (c) placing their fingers into a computerized dish with flashing lights while "some mumbo-jumbo is done on them," (c) touching cetain body parts and sitting alone while thinking about the allergen or "allergic thought," (e) prescribing $400 to $500 worth of supplements, vitamins, enzymes or sublungual drops on the first visit without removing any allergies, and (f) shining a laser light on their back while they hold the allergen in their hand [6].

BioSET

Bioenergetic sensitivity and enzyme therapy (BioSET) is a NAET variation developed by Ellen Cutler, DC, who operates the BioSET Institute in Larkspur California. Proponents claim that BioSET achieves more permanent results by adding digestive enzymes and a system of "detoxifying" the body [7]. Cutler's book, The Food Allergy Cure, includes the following information:

Cutler has applied to trademark the name BioSET, but the U.S. Patent Office has not decided whether to approve it. Bioset® is a trademark registered to Bioset, Inc., a company in Houston, Texas, that is completely unrelated to Cutler's activities. This company, which manufactures and markets the BIOSET Process for sludge management, was founded 1995 and has objected to Cultler's trademark application.

Cutler claims that over a thousand practitioners worldwide use BioSET [8:5], but her site does not list their names. In October 2002, Google searches brought up more than ten times as many NAET links as BioSET links. Since NAET, which has been around longer, is claimed to have fewer than 1,000, I wonder whether Cutler's number includes Nambudripad's database of NAET practitioners in addition to those affiliated with BioSET.

In 2002, Cutler and Nambudripad acquired "MD" degrees from the University of Health Sciences - Antigua (UHSA), which offers a medical degree program that chiropractors can complete in 27 months. Students receive credit for two years of basic science courses taken at chiropractic school. UHSA's coursework consists of a 3-month preparatory course (which can be taken online) and 24 months of clinical sciences. For their clinical training, students must either find a hospital that will provide it or go to a UHSA-affiliated hospital in Ohio. (UHSA won't reveal the hospital's name until after the student enrolls and pays tuition.) USHA's program is obviously inferior to standard medical school training in the United States, and the school is not accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (the medical school accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education). However, its graduates who pass United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) appear to be eligible for further training and licensure in many states—but not in California, where Nambudripad and Cutler practice.

"Emotional NAET"

The most bizarre form of NAET I have encountered surfaced in a recent lawsuit by a woman who, among other things, was trying to recover the cost of her treatment with Walter J. Crinnion, N.D., a semi-retired naturopath who practiced for many years near Seattle, Washington, and is now semi-retired. Crinnion also teaches "environmental medicine" at Bastyr University and wrote the chapter on that subject in the major naturopathic textbook. Documents in the case indicate that the woman had paid Crinnion $30,521 for 286 visits over a 3-year period during which he had treated her for headaches that he attributed to childhood sexual abuse and environmental toxins.

Crinnion's services included sessions in which he held the patient's hand with one of his hands while she talked to him or while they sat quietly. During the sessions, which took place at his home, Crinnion asked himself questions while placing the third finger of his other hand over his index finger and pressing down to "test the strength" of his own second finger. In his deposition, he stated that the ability of his index finger to resist being pushed down indicated to him whether each question should be answered yes or no. At various times, he pressed on the woman's back to "desensitize" her to whatever substances or emotions he imagined to be the problem. He also claimed to "balance her energy" with his hands by touching her head or moving his hands through the air two to four inches from her body [9]. In my report to the defense attorney, I summarized these sessions as "two people holding hands while one pays the other to press on her back and think to himself," Crinnion called the procedure "emotional NAET." I regard it as a combination of abuse and larceny.

Veterinary NAET

NAET has also acquired a following among veterinarians. The leading promoters are Roger Valentine, D.V.M., and Rahmie Valentine, O.M.D., L.Ac., who operate a "holistic" pet center in Santa Monica, California. They state that "veterinary NAET NAET is an ideal diagnostic and treatment modality for all holistic veterinary practices." [8} Their Veterinary NAET Web site maintains a referral directory with about 100 names. The claim that allergic conditions treatable with NAET include "eosinophilic lesions, toxic chemical reactions, vaccine reactions, 'idiopathic' bowel disease, gingivitis, gastritis, cystitis, sinusitis, rhinitis, asthma, constipation, diabetes mellitus, chronic recurring infections, conjunctivitis, external otitis, dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and pancreatitis, as well as the more commonly agreed-upon allergic conditions: over-grooming, flea allergy dermatitis, food intolerance and allergic bronchitis." [10] Instead of testing the animal, they perform "surrogate" muscle-testing in which the spine of a person touching the animal is tested:

The NAET treatment phase in animals consists of stimulation of the spinal nerves of the surrogate. While maintaining contact with the animal and the identified allergen, acupressure is applied to specific meridian points along the spine of the surrogate. This activates all of the spinal nerves, thereby triggering the nervous system into a fresh recognition of the perceived allergen. This is an actual reprogramming of the nervous system to recognize the allergen in a new way. The allergen is no longer perceived as an irritant and "bad", but as a newly neutral substance. The body then experiences a state of balance in the presence of the allergen, and is non-reactive. In the human protocol, additional body acupuncture points are stimulated to reinforce the new identification [10].

A Fatal Case

In 2009, an Irish newspaper reported that 43-year-old Thomas Schatten had begun having an anaphylactic reaction during a visit to a chiropractor who was using NAET to treat him for peanut allergy. During his appointment, Schatten developed coughing and chest tightness after eating a small bit of peanut and decided to go home. Neither he nor the chiropractor recognized that these were early symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Shatten's condition got much worse at home, and he died about 90 minutes later [11].

The Bottom Line

NAET clashes with the concepts of anatomy, physiology, pathology, physics, and allergy accepted by the scientific community. The story of its "discovery" is highly implausible. Its core diagnostic approach—muscle testing for "allergies"—is senseless and is virtually certain to diagnose nonexistent problems. Its recommendations for dietary restrictions based on nonexistent food allergies are likely to place the patient at great risk for nutrient deficiency, and, in the case of children, at risk for social problems and the development of eating disorders. I believe that practitioners who use NAET have such poor judgment that they should not be permitted to remain licensed. If you encounter a practitioner who relies on the strategies described in this article, please ask the state attorney general to investigate.

References

  1. Nambudripad DS. Say Goodbye to Illness. Buena Park, CA: Delta Publishing Co., 1993.
  2. Goodman AG, Goodman LS, Gilman A. The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 6th edition. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980, p 695.
  3. Nambudripad DS. The NAET Guide Book: The Companion to "Say Goodbye to Illness." Third edition. Buena Park, CA: Delta Publishing Co., 1999, p 21.
  4. Nambudripad DS. What is NAET? NAET Web site, accessed Oct 11, 1999.
  5. Cutler EW. Winning the War against Immune Disorders & Allergies. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishing, 1998.
  6. Nambudripad DS. An open letter to NAET patients. NAET Web site, accessed Oct 14, 1999.
  7. Zacherl TW. What is BioSet? About.com Web site, accessed Oct 25, 2002.
  8. Cutler EW. The Food Allergy Cure. New York: Harmony Boks, 2001.
  9. Crinnion WJ. Deposition in Superior Court of the State of Washington (King County) Case No. 00-2-30314-9 KNT, Jan 3, 2002, pp 50-55.
  10. Valentine R, Valentine R. Veterinary NAET: The veterinary application of NAET; a breakthrough approach to allergy resolution. Veterinary NAET Web site, accessed Aug 10, 2000.
  11. O'Halloran G. Man died an hour after being treated for peanut allergy. Independent.ie, April 25, 2009.

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This article was revised on October 30, 2012.