The VEGA Test for Food Intolerances
Bioresonance Instrument, Dousing Device or Confidence Trick?
The Spring 2000 issue of PROOF featured a comparison of several methods of food sensitivity/intolerance testing that were carried out on a patient who was undergoing treatment by Dr. John Mansfield, a well-known allergist in Hampshire. Dr. Mansfield has been working in the field of clinical ecology (environmental medicine) for some two decades and is the author of a number of authoritative books on the subject of food allergies and intolerances. What was significant about the PROOF study was that none of the currently popular tests, ranging from VEGA and Kineseology to blood tests were statistically predictive of the results obtained from Dr. Mansfield's restrictive diet and challenge testing with this patient, and they varied widely amongst themselves.
Dr. Mansfield's method is to put any patient with suspected food intolerances onto a very restricted diet (the so-called stone age diet: lamb, fish and about 7 or 8 hypoallergenic vegetables, which include parsnips, turnips, courgettes and carrots) for 10 days, and then carry out challenge tests by introducing one suspect food at each meal for the next few weeks. Any immediate reactions (such as headaches, mouth irritations, sharp increase in pulse rate, gastro-intestinal disturbances, fatigue and depression) establish the presence of a food allergy unmasked by the restricted diet and the subsequent challenge. Although this procedure is time consuming and requires a high degree of commitment from both patient and practitioner, it is considered to be the "gold standard" of food intolerance testing.
This basic method was devised by Dr. Herbert Rinkel in America over 50 years ago who, as a young improvished medical student discovered to his surprise his own masked allergy to eggs when his father's (a chicken farmer) weekly shipment of eggs to him was delayed for about a week. Young Rinkel was deprived of his principal daily food for some days, and when his supply of eggs was re-established, on consuming an egg he collapsed in a coma. Upon recovery he drew the correct conclusion from this serendipitous event; namely, that he had unmasked a hidden allergy to eggs.
As clear-cut as this dietary restriction plus challenge testing may be, practitioners have continued over the years to search for quicker, more efficient less traumatic testing methods. Thus have evolved applied kinestheology tests, in which the patient holds (in hand or in mouth) successive samples of suspected foods and the latissimus dorsi (or other) muscle is tested repeatedly for strength. Other tests include injecting minute quantities of dilute solutions of the food between layers of the skin and measuring the degree of "wheal and flare" response to the substance. A variety of different blood tests (ELISA, RAST, macrophage, neutrophil) relying on IgG response to in vitro food testing also have been developed. And, since the 1950s, a variety of electro-acupuncture tests, including the LISTEN system and the VEGA test have been devised that measure a change in the galvanic skin response (GSR) at selected acupuncture points on finger or toe. In these tests homeopathic solutions of the foods are interposed into the electromagnetic field picked up by a sensitive probe which is then amplified through a Wheatstone bridge circuit and displayed on an analogue meter.
All the tests have their proponents and detractors, and there is a general consensus that they are all about 70% accurate when compared to the restricted diet and challenge "gold standard" (J. Kenyon in C. Featherstone-Fellner,[Ed.] Medical Marriage, Findhorn Press, 1997). The PROOF study, although based on only a single subject and methodologically flawed in others ways, is a wake-up call to practitioners of alternative medicine. It is important that sound research be carried out comparing these various methods to assess both their reliability and their validity since the fact is that we know very little about their predictability.
In the present paper I discuss the VEGA test which has the advantage that it is relatively cheap (testing ranges from £15 to £65 in Britain at this time), requires only a single piece of small portable equipment, is non-invasive, and has the ability to allow a single operator to test some 50 or more foods in a single 45-minute session.
In the VEGA test the operator (usually, but not invariably the practitioner herself) places vials containing the homeopathic food substance one-by-one into a honeycomb grid through which the bioelectric current coming from the subject must pass before being amplified and displayed on a meter which both patient and practitioner can see clearly. Most VEGA machines also produce a tone whose frequency is correlated to the meter reading, so that one can actually tell the approximate reading without having to look at the meter, which is important since the operator must focus attention on the small area of the acupuncture point.
In some practices a second operator (a technician) introduces the substances into the honeycomb thereby allowing the principle operator (the practitioner) to hold the probe steady between tests. The patient grasps a ground electrode with the hand not being tested in order to complete the electrical circuit. (Some practitioners tend to use a toe rather than a finger and indeed in about one patient in 10 the skin of the finger is too tough to obtain reliable readings and the toe must be used.)
The entire circuit thus includes: (1) the patient, (2) the practitioner, (3) the substance which can interact with the current flowing , presumably by capacitive induction, and (4) the properties of the Wheatstone bridge amplifier which includes a variable rheostat gain control. The practitioner attempts to calibrate the machine by first establishing a reading on the upper end of the meter scale when there is nothing at all inserted into the honeycomb grid. The probe is touched to the selected point with as constant pressure, angle, and duration as is possible. Up to half a dozen substances can be tested per minute, depending on the recovery time of the subject's point, and the dexterity of the operator. In some patients some few seconds must elapse to allow the point to recover from the minute amount of energy drawn out by the probe. In others it is possible to go quite quickly through a series. When readings are low the operator generally retests immediately one or even two more times just to be certain, since even a shade off the point can make a significant difference in the reading obtained.
As each patient's point is unique, both in location and "hot" area, the variables of angle, pressure and duration have to be chosen by trial and error during the calibration phase. Once the operator is satisfied that the point is producing reliable high readings with the honeycomb empty (which can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes) it is necessary to find a second low anchor reading. For this it is necessary to select some substance which clearly would be highly noxious to the organism. Many practitioners use paraquat weed killer, others use a dead AA battery as that size fits conveniently into one of the honeycomb slots and contains highly noxious chemicals. By repeated tests back and forth between the poison and nothing at all, the practitioner attempts to find a reliable "window" with an empty honeycomb giving a reliable high reading (and a high tone) and the poison yielding a reliable low reading (and a low tone).
Once a reliable window is established, all the foods to be tested should give readings somewhere in that window: ideally not so low as the battery, nor quite so high as an empty grid. The practitioner can generally gauge the responses to the various test foods then as () okay or clear, (+) mild sensitivity, (++) moderate sensitivity, or (+++) high sensitivity.
The calibration procedure of establishing a window can take anywhere from a minute or so, to a quarter of an hour. With practice one gets quicker. When I first began testing I often failed altogether to be able to establish a reliable window, and so could never actually proceed to carrying out food testing at all. Later, with practice, I learned how to do it quickly. I also discovered that instructing the patient to "imagine eating the battery" helped, thereby verifying my intuition that the device can act as a biofeedback system.
Although theory holds (See J. Kenyon op. cit ; Dunstan Fox, A. Letting VEGA choose, Journal of Alt and Comp. Med., 1997 [July], 18-23) that the VEGA machine is an objective test of the degree of electrical impedance offered by a particular substance to a particular patient's electrical current, many practitioners actually regard the machine as a sophisticated-looking dousing device. Significantly, the operator, but not the patient, knows what substance is being placed into the honeycomb. The patient is asked not to try to read the labels on the homeopathic vials, and the operator inserts them in such a way as to make this difficult. One is trying in this way to avoid any emotional response (such as, "Oh, noI hope I'm not allergic to chocolate!") that might well occur were the subject to know what is being placed into the machine. Such emotional responses, if allowed to occur, would definitely affect the outcome, since changes in the GSR are the basis of the lie detector test which relies on the GSR being influenced by emotional psychophysiology.
The fact that the practitioner knows the substance being introduced (this is even true when there is a second technician operator introducing the substances, since a fixed order, easily memorised, is used) and the patient does not introduces the startling possibility that the practitioner, consciously or unconsciously, is producing the actual result. Since the handle of the probe is not insulated from the tip itself, the operator's own GSR interacts with the current coming from the patient. Thus if the operator believes her patient to be sensitive, then the very real possibility exists that the practitioner's GSR, not the patient's, is the actual controlling variable. Even more devious, since minute changes in pressure, angle and duration of each probe test determine the actual meter reading, there is ample opportunity for the practitionerconsciously or unconsciouslyto effectively determine the result obtained. In my experience having tested now some 300 patients as well as a dozen or so colleagues, none of them have ever complained that a low reading (and hence a putative sensitivity) might be due to my having partially missed the point or misapplied the probe. Evidently minute and virtually undetectable differences in technique can result in large differences in outcome.
Many practitioners regard the principle use of the VEGA test device not so much as an objective allergy test as a way of showing a patient, through what appears to be a highly sophisticated computerised piece of modern technology, their food allergies which have been already established through a detailed history of the patient's daily eating habits. In that history one asks what foods seem to give symptoms (significant clues are bloating, headaches, IBS, fatigue and depression), which foods they crave, and even more saliently, which foods they would positively hate to do without. Clinical ecologists have long known that masked food intolerances actually behave more like addictions than they do like allergies, so armed with just this kind of knowledge the 70% accuracy of the VEGA tests appears assured.(2)
More difficult to explain are the results of a considerable proportion of practitioners who take little or no history whatsoever, but simply use the VEGA machine much as others use a pendulum to douse whether or not allergies exist. It is difficult to gather evidence on the reliability of such dousingwith or without the addition of the VEGA machinebut the fact that gifted practitioners do have long waiting lists indicates that something of considerable value comes from their tests.
I suspect that the VEGA test is probably open to a number of different interpretations, no one necessarily conflicting with another. Different practitioners probably use it in different ways, and either knowingly or unwittingly influence, if not fully determine, the actual result. Since the patient believes that the VEGA test is objective and scientific (I always demonstrate to my patients the analogy with Polaroid lenses impeding light, suggesting that the way the molecules of the glass cut down light, is similar to how a sensitive substance can cut down an electrical potential when it is in the way of it) the stage is set for maximising the placebo effect,(3) something that Andrew Weil (Spontaneous Healing, 1998) and myself (J. R. Millenson, Mind Matters, Seattle: Eastland Press, 1995) both regard as not only useful in treatment, but something that should, rather than be excluded, be maximised.
If the VEGA machine were an objective measuring device the manufacturer would long ago have devised a finger (or toe) cot which would snugly fit the patient's digit and eliminate altogether the operator's variability on the four principal parameters of angle, duration, pressure and location. Such an apparatus, presumably simple enough to produce, would remove operator bias completely from the procedure. I feel sure that such devices have been tried and found to give totally unreliable results, hence their non-existence. The literature is silent, and I suspect for very good reasons: the VEGA test needs the operator, hence it is always going to be more art than science despite appearances to the contrary.
Personally, I take a very detailed history of the patient's eating habits before starting a VEGA test. I do not merely ask "What do you eat?" Rather, I go through at least one, and often two or three, 24 hour periods noting exactly what the individual puts into their mouth and the times. If the last day or so were unusual (say a holiday or an unusual few meals out) then I ask for the daily fare of a typical day. I am not satisfied with general answers, such as toast or tea or pasta. I want to know what kind of toast, what went on it, what kind of tea, what went into it, and what was in the pasta sauce and whether it was tinned or fresh. I also go over the patient's presenting symptomatology and ask about whether certain meals affect the symptoms directly. I want to know before I start if they have any true IgE food allergies, for instance to peanuts, shellfish or strawberries. I want to know how many units of alcohol they consume per week, whether Chinese meals bother them (MSG is often used in Chinese cooking) and whether they use cosmetics and if so which kinds. All this takes me 1/2 hour or longer and by the time I do a VEGA test I already have a good idea how it is going to turn out, although occasionally an item will surprise me.
Where does this leave us? I find the test and the machine extremely useful. Patients see and hear (the VEGA machine emits a tone whose frequency is proportional to the meter reading) their intolerances. And because we live in a time when science is our religion, they believe the results much more willingly than they would without the "scientific proof" and so they are far more likely to act on what they see and hear. Over several years of VEGA practice I have seen countless numbers of patients improve their health markedly after acting on the results of their VEGA tests. I do not need any more evidence of the machine's effectiveness than these patients' improvements in their health.
Very occasionally, perhaps less than one in 10, a patients health is not significantly recovered by dietary modifications based on the results of a VEGA tests (which generally, in my hands at least, implicates the most common food allergens: tea, coffee, wheat, cow dairy, eggs, citrus and soy, plus sensitivitynot a food intoleranceto sugar). In those few cases I am obliged to recommend a more detailed ELISA IgG blood test. The ELISA test is not necessarily more accurate, but it tests for twice as many foods and often, in my experience in such difficult cases, will pinpoint something that the VEGA test did not.
As a rough and ready, cheap and non-invasive food allergy/intolerance test, the VEGA machine remains of immense practical value at this time. Whether its results are basically placebo, practitioner derived, a dousing device or an electro acupuncture bioresonance instrument that presages a new science of vibrational medicine does not seem to me to be as important as the fact that it remains a clinically useful way to demonstrate to patients their food sensitivities and thereby motivate them to find ways to reform their diets in accord with well-established principles of healthy eating.
References and Notes
(1) Address requests for reprints to the author at HealthWorks, 5 Bank Lane, Forres 1V36 1NU, Scotland.
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