Remember the Magic Eight Ball toy? You could ask it a question and shake it and a random answer would float up into a window: yes, no, maybe, definitely, etc. There is even a website where you can ask an Eight Ball questions online.
I have been meaning to write about bogus electrodiagnostic machines for a long time. These devices supposedly diagnose diseases and/or energy imbalances, indicate which remedies will correct the problem(s), and sometimes even treat the imbalances by transmitting a balancing frequency to the patient. I knew they were bogus, but I had never really realized the full extent of the deception until I viewed a set of training videos recently sent to me by a correspondent. I had never realized how similar electrodermal testing was to the Magic Eight Ball. I was further amazed at how they managed to combine every kind of alternative medicine into one incoherent package and to bamboozle patients with an appalling display of pseudoscientific babble.
This will be a two-part series. In the first, I will describe what the machines and their operators do. In the second (next week), I will address the legal and regulatory issues.
The History of EAV Devices
The first electrodermal diagnostic device was invented in 1958 by Reinhold Voll, a German medical doctor and acupuncturist. He combined acupuncture theory with measurement of galvanic skin responses in the Dermatron. He thought he had discovered that skin conductance was greater at traditional acupuncture points, and he thought he could show that these measurements correlated to diseases in the associated organs. He found that the measurements were affected by allergic reactions. He observed that readings changed when a patient had a bottle of medicine in his pocket. He concluded that some kind of electromagnetic energy was emitted from the medicine and that changes in skin conductance predicted the effects of ingesting the medicine.
One of his students simplified the diagnostic system and created the Vegatest. Other devices followed, including Accupath 1000, Asyra, Avatar, BICOM, Bio-Tron, Biomeridian, Computron, CSA 2001, Dermatron, DiagnoMètre, Eclosion, e-Lybra 8, ELAST, Interro, Interactive Query System (IQS), I-Tronic, Kindling, LISTEN System, MORA, Matrix Physique System, Meridian Energy Analysis Device (MEAD, MSAS, Oberon, Omega Acubase, Omega Vision, Orion System, Phazx, Prognos, Prophyle, Punctos III, Syncrometer, Vantage, Vegatest, Victor-Vitalpunkt Diagnose, Vitel 618, and ZYTO. This is not a complete list. New devices are constantly appearing.
The testing procedure was originally known as electroacupuncture according to Voll (EAV), but is now called by many other names including electrodermal screening (EDS), electrodermal testing (EDT), bioelectric functions diagnosis (BFD), bio resonance therapy (BRT), bio-energy regulatory technique (BER), biocybernetic medicine (BM), computerized electrodermal screening (CEDS), computerized electrodermal stress analysis (CEDSA), limbic stress analysis (LSA), meridian energy analysis (MEA), point testing, and many more.
How It Works
The machine is a galvanometer that measures the electrical conductance of the skin: the same principle used for lie detectors, Scientology’s E-meter, and biofeedback devices. The patient typically holds a metal bar in one hand while the operator applies a probe to acupuncture points on the patient’s other hand. The probe completes a circuit, and a tiny electrical current is sent through the circuit. It is very responsive, so a series of readings can be obtained rapidly. Both contacts are kept wet to improve conduction. There is a whining sound that rises or falls according to the level of conductance. There is also an audible beep indicating that a skin conductance measurement has been made and the machine is ready for the next test. The operator looks for a conductance reading of 50. (Higher readings indicate inflammation and lower ones indicate organ stagnation and degeneration.) He can control the readings (either consciously or unconsciously) by varying the amount of pressure and the angle of the probe, bunching or stretching the skin, and by adjusting the amount of moisture on the skin. He asks binary yes/no questions: a reading of 50 denotes a “yes” answer. Conveniently, the only meridians and acupuncture points used are on the hands and feet, so the patient doesn’t have to undress.
Systems Using a Hand Cradle
A skilled EAV practitioner uses intuition….On one hand, credibility may be high … because of the impressive amount of information that can be obtained through it (I know one practitioner who used the device to find out precisely how well his kids had obeyed house rules while the parents were away). On the other hand, both the fact that accurate information depends on changes in pressure applied by the practitioner and the fact that practitioner knowledge and bias plays an influential role in the results makes many people more skeptical.
To get around this problem, Zyto and other companies eliminate the probe and use a cradle where the hand rests. These devices supposedly interrogate the body with hundreds of tests in a minute or two, producing a computer graphic showing imbalances. Then the operator selects remedies on the screen and the computer indicates how many imbalanced items that remedy would bring back into balance. Testing can even be done remotely through the Internet by connecting a hand cradle to the client’s computer. They acknowledge that the results are not reproducible; but they explain that away. The first reading is the most accurate. It creates observer interference: the act of measuring or observing changes the body’s energetic profile due to quantum indeterminacy. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch has written about Zyto as “Another Test to Avoid.”
Since all these machines can basically do is generate a small electrical current, how can that single stimulus be differently interpreted by the body to provide all that complex information? How could the body know whether you are asking it about the liver or about the benefit of a homeopathic remedy? Never mind. They are gathering information from the subconscious mind which “knows” the intention of the machine or the operator. You have to believe this, because if the operator is skeptical, the quantum link between the operator and the patient’s mind will interfere with patient response.
An energy medicine website further explains
Remedy testing works with names, symbols and even thoughts of the item to be tested. In all these cases, there is neither substance nor energy involved and the remedy testing works either when the remedy representation is in close proximity to the patient or miles away, and whether he is electrically connected or not.
A Typical Examination
The training videos I viewed were produced by Standard Enzyme in Bremen, GA; the system used was the CSA2001. My correspondent had downloaded these videos from the Internet a long time ago. They are no longer available online, and the company’s website no longer advertises the CSA 2001; but it does continue to offer training courses and seminars on CEDSA (computerized electrodermal stress analysis). I’m guessing the website has been “sanitized” in an effort to avoid regulatory action.
Note: I apologize for the length and mind-numbing detail of the following description, but I think it is helpful to understand what actually goes on during one of these testing sessions.
In the videos the operator tests a volunteer, an apparently healthy 24 year old woman, to demonstrate how he would do an initial assessment on a new patient. The procedure can be broken down into 3 basic aspects: stress analysis, remedy selection, and other stuff.
Click to enlarge.
In the first stage of the demonstration, he assesses various organs and systems by taking readings at different points on her hand and foot (see diagrams above). On her hand, he takes readings for things like the adrenal, circulation, jaw, hypothalamus, ileocecal valve, “organs,” heart, and “triple warmer.” A reading on one side of a finger joint shows allergies; a reading further down the finger shows food allergies. On her foot, he uses points for things like protein metabolism, fiber, uric acid, carbs, triglycerides, joints, skin, fat metabolism, and the ovary/uterus point. The first screen on the computer lists 35 of these points. The operator applies the probe to each. Of 35 readings, every single one tests abnormal on this patient.
Next he pulls up a screen with a list of the numbers from 1 to 10. He asks how many issues the patient has. It’s OK to use any convenient point for this; he picks circulation. He doesn’t have to verbalize what he is doing. He asks One? Two? Three? When he gets to 3, he gets a 50 reading, so she has 3 major issues. He addresses the first of these 3 issues:
- Are her issues are emotional or endocrine? The machine tells him endocrine.
- What major organ is the problem? With yes/no questions he narrows it down to pancreas or intestine. He gets a 50 reading for the pancreas.
- How many vital force issues does she have? One? No. Two? No. Three? Yes: 3 vital force issues for her pancreas.
- “I’m going to ask her right brain if it’s an organ, nerve, lymphatic or circulation problem.” Her right brain, or the machine, or something, answers organ and circulation.
- How much energy will it take to balance out circulation meridian? An 800X dilution.
- How much energy to balance the organ meridian? 1000X.
- Are the islets out of balance? Yes.
He repeats this procedure for the other major issues.
Problem no. 2 is the liver. Its vital force is 1. The organ itself is OK but there is a circulation problem, so he takes measurements at the circulation meridian. He asks if there is a hormone issue and determines that her insulin level is 55% above normal. It’s not clear why insulin comes up under liver rather than pancreas.
Using a series of lists, yes/no questions determine what remedies will correct each of the problems he has identified.
- He opens a computer screen showing a group of products, highlights each and uses the probe at the circulation point to determine what will balance the circulation meridian in her pancreas. It says Alpha orthophos. Then he goes back and looks for other products and finds one more: Circuplus.
- Back to the organ meridian. He gets a 50 reading on antioxidants. Yes/no questions identify sangre de drago. Several other immune support remedies come up: 2 IV products and graviola. He comments that this shows she is weak in the immune system.
- He goes back and asks her right brain: is there something more you want to tell us about your pancreas? Yes, some more on organ, but not circulation. Miasm and sycosis show up (miasms were Hahnemann’s homeopathic explanation for the cause of all diseases; sycosis was one of the 3 main miasms).
- Is there a 4th thing? Yes. Digestive enzymes. She needs dydrin forte. He concludes that she has some hypoglycemic issues.
- Is there something else? Yes, trace minerals IV. The IV Minerals checklist includes things like heparin, bicarb, procaine. He comments that you need to be careful to get it right, because putting remedies in veins can cause reactions. She needs germanium. How many cc? One – no, 1 ½, no, 2, 2 ½, 3, 3/12, 4, 4 ½ – all no. 5cc finally gets a yes answer. She needs potassium chloride 3.5 cc. For magnesium chloride she needs 31 cc. This is a lot: it shows she has quite a deficiency of magnesium. She needs molybdenum 4.5 cc. and manganese 8 cc. With manganese deficiency you get a lot of headaches because it is necessary for the hypothalamus and pituitary.
- He asks the machine if that is all for the pancreas? Yes. Finally!
He repeats the process for her other issues. He determines that her adrenals are compromised, with a vital force of 3 and an imbalance on organ and circulation but not on nerve or lymphatics. 1000X balances it. What does this dilution mean? He can’t really explain, but he says it can be measured on consecutive visits and if it goes up it shows she’s getting better. Her adrenal hormone is 5% low. She needs Adrena plus and Norepinephrine. As he goes through more remedies, he comments that “She’s almost a story book case.” I had to laugh: it is certainly more compatible with a storybook than a textbook.
Then he double checks. When you think you’re done, go back to the food allergy point [why that one?] and ask if there’s anything else.
Now he goes back and retests the original 35 points to see which have normalized. Most have, but lymphatics and lung are still high. There’s a problem with the uric acid point: “that would give me some sort of an idea that there’s some acidosis involved.” [Umm… uric acid has nothing to do with acidosis.] There’s also a urinary bladder problem.
Why did these points not balance? Let’s check for drainage and herbs. The Amazon rainforest group matches. Arcazon matches – it’s good “for any viral, bacterial, whatever, might be in the system.” Back to see whether adding arcazon to the remedy list restores balance to the unbalanced items. It does.
Next phase: dosing. Now he has a list of all the remedies she needs – 11 of them (not counting the trace minerals). For each, he asks what dose she should take (for example, 55 drops). Then he asks how many times a day she should take it. Take with meals or between meals? Can we reduce it after the first bottle? 2 are for IVs: is it necessary to give them IV? Yes. How many IVs? Every 4-7 days. Can they be combined with mineral IVs? Yes. Can they be given as a push? Yes.
He asks the machine when the patient should come back for followup. Typical is 4-6 weeks. For her, it says 11 weeks. Then he asks it how many bottles of each remedy he should dispense. He tells her if she runs out of a remedy before 11 weeks, that means she no longer needs it. If she has some left over, the next evaluation may or may not show that she still needs to take it.
How much water does she need to drink a day? Yes and no questions narrow it down to precisely 50 oz.
He uses a vital force checklist: What is her overall ideal? 86. What is her actual level? 14. He checks vital forces for individual organs: blood 1, immune 3, digestive 2, etc. What do these vital force numbers mean? He explains it is like carrying water in a leaky pail: vital force is leaking through her holes. She needs to plug the holes so she can retain energy.
Yes/no-ing all areas rated under 10 can give more information about factors common to various problem areas, usually a virus, bacteria or toxin. He tells an anecdote about another patient: “radiation” came up as a common factor for her. He was puzzled at first, but then found the explanation: she had been microwaving her coffee and other foods.
But wait! There’s more! He asks it what her biological age is and determines that it is 71. She looks really good for her age!
Her WTL (will to live) is 1 on a scale of 100. She’s given up internally and needs to do some psychological work.
He does a pH assessment. pH is one of the most important things. Overall her ideal pH is 6.7and her actual pH is 0.7. I don’t know what imaginary universe he’s in at this point, but in the real world that pH would be way incompatible with life. Even stomach acid doesn’t have a pH that low. Her urinary ideal pH 6.5, actual 4.6. “Because she’s got so much acidity in the tissues – everything is acid.” Acid people can’t wear rings because they turn jewelry black. Saliva pH ideal 6.8; actual 6.4. Her blood pH is OK at 7.3 [Science tells us homeostatic mechanisms keep blood pH between 7.35 and 7.45, but he don’t need no stinkin’ science.] You could use test strips to measure urine pH, but why bother when you’ve got a machine? The machine might disagree with the test strips, but if you are using one method consistently you will see a response.
Using a checklist for other treatments, he also determines that she needs:
- Footbath – Yes, 3 a week
- BEST/chiropractic treatments – yes
- IV EDTA – no
- Minerals IV
- Alk ash food diet
Now he asks what makes her vital force so low. 5 issues: miasm, circulation, metabolic acidosis, pancreas, immune dysfunction, in order of priority.
He adds pH enhancer and alpha green to her list of remedies.
Now he asks how many issues there are with the pancreas. It says 3: miasm, acidosis, and emotions. She needs to correct emotional stress and strain. Yes/no answers narrow her problem down to: emotional issue, incident in past, 16 years ago (at age 8), involves another person, family member, male, father. This is the most important emotional issue and is affecting her blood sugar, acidosis, etc. He stops investigating at this point and leaves the rest to her psychologist: probably a good idea to stop before the machine can accuse her father of raping her.
Now he asks the machine if the analysis is complete. Yes. But we’re not finished yet.
Back to trace metals: we already knew she needs IV infusions of germanium, potassium, molybdenum, and manganese. He adds vitamin C and B vitamins to the list. Asks how much of each she needs. What is best fluid to mix them in? Water, dextrose, or normal saline? Normal saline. What size bag? 500 cc. Duration? 3-3 ½ hours. How many bags? 11. How often: 1 per week. Does she need a hydrogen peroxide IV? No. Does she need a separate glutathione IV? Yes. At the same time? No, but it could be given at another time later in the same day. Then he asks if she will tolerate this? Yes, you don’t need to worry about side effects.
As silly as this demonstration is, there is even sillier stuff out there. On one website, an operator places a laser pointer on the machine and supposedly imprints it with the needed “balancing” frequencies, then runs the light from the laser across the patient’s ear over all the auricular acupuncture points. You have to do this not once but three times. Three’s the charm. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
These tests identify numerous nonexistent problems and offer useless remedies. Some of them are potentially dangerous, like IV chelation and IV infusions of trace minerals and vitamins. Some of them are just laughable, like detoxifying foot baths.
Patients are lured away from science-based medical care. They are told that their prescription medications are interfering with the actions of these alternative remedies that could otherwise restore their energetic balance.
And what about the emotional impact of being told at age 24 that you have a will to live of only 1 (out of 100) and a biological age of 71? And being told that you need a complicated regimen of oral and IV remedies to improve your health. Along with footbaths, psychotherapy, chiropractic, etc. At a cost of several thousand dollars.
On a blog, one patient describes her feelings:
every time I walked out of that office I felt horribly flawed, horribly sick, and doomed, somehow. Like every move I made in my life was bad for me. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be healthy in the modern world. But what a weight I felt on my shoulders… I felt like I was 75 years old after those visits and it took me a few days to recover.
Where’s the Evidence?
There isn’t a shred of prior probability, but even the craziest-sounding methods “might” work. If the evidence showed that it worked, we would have to accept it and then try to figure out how it worked. I think this falls under Carl Sagan’s definition of extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence. In this case, there isn’t even any ordinary evidence, only the usual testimonials.
I could find only one study suggesting that electrodermal testing might work for anything: it found that electrodermal testing could discriminate between allergens and non-allergens. But a later study by the same group found it useless for diagnosing allergies And other double blind studies have shown that it could not detect respiratory allergies.
A review of diagnostic methods for allergies classified electrodermal testing among alternative methods that have “no proven benefit and may endanger patients via misdiagnosis.”
Electrodermal testing makes no sense and is not supported by any credible evidence. It is not based on science or grounded in reality; it is more akin to divination with a Magic 8 Ball. It merits a favorite phrase of Orac’s: a fetid load of dingo’s kidneys.
Next week, in Part II, I will discuss legal issues and regulatory actions.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog