I just had a call from my Mum who had been visiting a friend with cancer.

Despite several rounds of chemotherapy and the best treatment available, her cancer has not regressed and the future does not look good. So, understandably, she is desperate – just the type of person likely to fall victim to unconventional treatments. She has previously been a victim of hair analysis, where she was told tomatoes were the cause of her problems and she could drink gin but not red wine (ridiculous).

Tonight she had a new magic treatment to tell my Mum about – the Vega machine. This thing is so good it can analyse the type of bacteria in your gut by placing an electrode between the toes of your right foot. My Mum called me on the way home to ask me if it was BS. Of course, I strongly suspected immediately that it was, but to be sure in two clicks of a mouse and a 30 sec Google search I was found to be correct.

Vega - the biggest star in the constellation of Lyra. Unlike the Vega machine, a spectacular sight, not a spectacular rip-off.

Vega - the biggest star in the constellation of Lyra. Unlike the Vega machine, a spectacular sight, not a spectacular rip-off.

What is the Vega machine or Vega test?

The apparatus consists of a box containing a galvanometer which compares the resistance between the skin in contact with a hand electrode and the skin tested with a measuring stylus. The other contents of the box are an electrical source. For a more thorough explanation of the electronics behind the Vega machine see here.

Proponents claim; “Over 120 substances which include common foods and drinks and environmental substances are tested during our consultation. The equipment we use is a bio-electronic analyzer which measures the body’s electrical resistance to these substances. If a substance is causing a problem then it there will be a dip or drop in body’s electrical resistance”.

Food sensitivity vega machine

The Vega food sensitivity machine

Does it work? [NO]

A 2003 investigation by the BBC sent subjects to undergo Vega testing at different health food shops in the UK, and reported that test results varied from store to store. The report revealed that one subject was allergic to 33 different types of food, with only three being agreed upon by the testers across stores. Further, one reporter was told he needed to take a total of 20 different vitamins and minerals. But again, the testers couldn’t seem to agree and all three testers advised different supplements.

When the manufacturer, Health Screen International (HSL), were asked to explain themselves they said that the Vega machine is only about 70% accurate and “It does stretch the imagination how the Vega test works…But we have thousands of letters from people saying how much better they feel.”

Oh testimonials, of course. Any regular readers of this blog would know that testimonials do not constitute scientific evidence. The human mind is fallible, memories are remodelled and we sometimes inadvertently attribute an effect of one treatment when our body may have repaired itself naturally. Or we may have done something else to reverse the pain or illness. A red flag should always be raised if you come across a product or service that has no evidence for efficacy apart from testimonials. They are simply unreliable.

Even earlier than the 2003 BBC investigation, a paper was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, which concluded this:

Vega testing (the Vega test method) is an unorthodox method of diagnosing allergic and other diseases. It has no established scientific basis and there are no controlled trials to support its usefulness. Vega testing may lead to inappropriate treatment and expense to the patient and community (1).

And here’s what Quackwatch have to say about the likes of Vega test:

The devices described in this article are used to diagnose nonexistent health problems, select inappropriate treatment, and defraud insurance companies. The practitioners who use them are either delusional, dishonest, or both. These devices should be confiscated and the practitioners who use them should be prosecuted.

At sceptics in the pub on Thursday evening, someone asked me what motivates me to do this stuff, especially since, as he put it, it is largely a thankless task. Well, this is part of the reason. Quacks making a quick buck from sick, vulnerable and desperate individuals really gets my goat.

I know my Mum’s friend – she’s much too vulnerable for me to explain that she is getting scammed. I can only hope that by educating other people like you dear reader, that we can avoid more harm.

—————————-

Postscript: Upon reflection, doesn’t this sound quite a lot like the K-test, featured in LBC radio recently and criticised by Ben Goldacre on Bad Science? Whilst it’s not exactly the same, Kymatica still use the food allergy line, but claim to be able to tell the difference between allergies and resistance, which they explain with a lot of jargon about IgG and IgE antibodies. Ooooh, sciencey!

(1) C H Katelaris et al., Med J Aust 1991; 155: 113-114.

For the story of a nurse’s tale about debunking quack devices masquerading as medical diagnostics, see this article from the Skeptic.


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  • Emax

    The burden of proof is on the people making the claim. THEY are the ones who should run a proper double-blind clinical trial to demonstrate their machine works. Do you seriously suggest it is the responsibility of skeptics to run clinical trials on every single crack pot idea out there?

    You have a “PhD in medical science” and you’ve conducted tests on Vega machines? Please share your methodology and results. Better yet, get it published in a credible peer-reviewed journal so others can replicate the results. In other words, put up or shut up.

  • Emax

    Wow, that’s really sad. That sounds like mental illness. You should get diagnosed — but hopefully by someone with scientifically-supported expertise in the area.

  • Emax

    I thought Vega test machines were outlawed by Health Canada some years ago. Why are NDs still allowed to use them? My wife dragged me to an ND several years ago and he did the test on us and our children. No surprise — we all had several kinds of allergies. The machine squealed and the needle jumped into the red when he inserted glass vials of homeopathic substances into the machine. I asked him if he knew how the machine worked. He said no. I have a degree in physics and offered to explain it to him. I reminded him that there is a galvanometer in our local Science World. You grab one electrode in each hand, and the harder you squeezed the louder the squeal. I then showed him with his Vega machine how if he presses the electrode more firmly against my skin it registers a larger response — needle and sound. I tried with the same homeopathy vial on two of us and was able to show allergies or no allergies depending how hard I pressed. My conclusion from this scientific test: Naturopaths are deluded, or ignorant, or frauds, or maybe all of the above.

  • Marco Alencar

    Ok, not defending this VEGAtest thing but you don’t show much arguments to support it is bs. Were these machines tested? “Lack of scientific basis” without actually testing the machine and personal opinions are as lazy as wanting a one-machine-total-diagnosis to be true.

  • Dee

    I had the same experience with a Herbalist using the Vega test.
    I could trace my medical problems back to 2001, I turned 40, over 80 lbs overweight, high-stress job, three kids and a husband who suffered from depression. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw; a ballooned-self, serious menstrual problems, IBS and leaning towards a serious case of depression. By then my physician had me on 300mg Effexor X1 day, Tylenol Extra and ant-acids as needed. I was a mess, I was loosing my mind, couldn’t think straight, my muscles and joints ached daily, kinda like muscle burn after strenuous exercise. My children were in the throws of adulthood, husband in Afghanistan- I had a nervous breakdown and ran away to China. There I slowed down and taught English, and started to wean off the Effexor(antidepressant). I was gone for one year, now that I’m back, I’ve taken control of my life, if it wasn’t for my saviour, a professional Herbalist, who used the Vegan testing to determine my stress in the body, I wouldn’t be able to be writing how I’ve succeeded in weaning off Effexor, controlling the effects of IBS, and Fibromyalgia by changing my diet by eliminating foods that bother me, combining foods with enzymes, adding chlorophyll to my drinking water, sprinkling turmeric on foods or in smoothies. In other words: the Vegan testing didn’t ‘heal me’, it was a tool used to guide me to taking better care of my body, you need to come to the realization that only ‘you’ can decide if you want to be healthy or not. Once you’ve made that decision, educate yourself on your body; read, research, talk to your doctor, seek alternative treatments. Vegan testing is just a small part in getting healthy.

  • Andrew Nielsen

    Quack.

  • Andrew Nielsen

    The reference range for lithium is when it is used to treat mood disorders. It is usually prescribed by a psychiatrist. The dose is usually about 20 mg per kg body weight. So, if you weigh 50 kg, you would be on 1000 mg per day or 1 g per day. Your lithium supplement should be a tiny fraction of that. Your measured lithium level should be 0 whether you were taking a supplement or not. In other words, anyone who is not taking lithium will have “low” levels on a blood test. It is like you measured your penicillin levels and found that they were low when you do not take penicillin.

    As for being on Xanax, well, well done that you got off it. It is very addictive. You would be better off off all benzos if you can do it.

    And homeopathy is a scam. I can’t believe that they let you think that lithium was helping when you were never low in it to begin with.

  • Royal Life

    I must say, it’s so easy to be sick! I would have made that moment a LIFE changing moment. DID YOU?

  • Royal Life

    YOu are an embarrassing jiZOKE!

  • Royal Life

    DR Rachie YOU my dear need to use something but not this machine no it’s to good for you. YOu do NOT need a machine to test you for your allergies, you need a machine to test you for demons! LOL

  • Royal Life

    I honestly get chills just reading your words, I can feel poisons running though my body!

  • Royal Life

    STOP lying! People who are testing you are not telling you to drink any soda pop! People who are using these machines are people who are educated, not trash! Pop and bad foods are used by people who are uneducated, because if you were educated you would not put bad things in your body and then RUN around town looking for someone to save your life! I know we all make mistakes, but come on……… after you learn about bad foods, stop eating them. It’s the Bad FOODS that are KILLING YOU!

  • Jay

    Nicola, I have to say, I can have ketchup and cooked tomatoes but not fresh. There is a whole new chemical component when cooked. It really isn’t far fetched. With my arthritis, uncooked tomatoes seize up my cervical spin and cause intense inflammation in my right knee – well cooked pasta sauce/ketchup – no problems. Personally, elimination diets and strict documenting of symptoms and foods eaten is probably the best approach. I would never trust the food pyramid and gauge what works for an individual. Years of low fat, high grain brought on much ill health to me. High fat, low grain (gluten free) got me off of thirty years of medication. No doctor would have suggested this to me. At least my Rheumatologist doesn’t discourage me from this route because he sees it working.

    Can’t say I’m skeptical about vega testing and I would try if I didn’t figure out on my own the triggers that cause my AI conditions (high carb, gluten, dairy (except high fat), soy, pea protein, nightshades). Two years medication free!

  • Mother McGoo

    I too was sceptical of the Vega Allergy/Intolerance Test. My daughter suffered with excema and perscriptive creams alleviated symtoms but didn’t tackle the cause. I saw an advert at a health food shop and tried the Vega test. She was shown to be intolerant of/allergic to, cow’s milk, wheat, aspartame, bananas, peanuts, grass pollen and dander (horse hair). I elliminated dairy from her diet and after 2 months the excema began to clear. 2 yrs ago she began complaining of nausea, and her appetite dropped. I took her to the doctors several times and eventually her blood was tested. The results corroborated the findings of the Vega test. She has mild wheat, nut and dairy allergies as well as intolerance of animal hair, dust mite and grass pollen.

    Healthy sceptisism is good but so is an open mind. I now know this test works. My daughter has remarked on how bananas make her gums sore, she has reacted to rabbits and cat hair with itchy rashes and swollen eyes, she is highly allergic to dust, grass pollen and animals with hair – they cause her asthma to flare up.

    The woman conducting the test told me that it took her some time before she was competant at conducting the test. This may explain the varying results from one ‘tester’ to another in the ‘experiment’ mentioned. I believe if one is suffering and diet/environment are suspected this can be an affordable and accessable way to take crontrol and be empowered. As in any profession, some are better than others so try to find a practioner by word of mouth or ask how long they’ve been testing for as a way of obtaining quality results…..

  • Sue

    On the contrary, Dr Rachael IS a REAL professional who achieves results….in contrast to most commenters here.

  • Sue

    ”Most complimentary therapists could only dream of having the life style Dr.’s have”

    Nope – since most non-science based therapists are paid well to spend a long time with people who aren’t very sick, and never have to be on-call for emergencies, or work out of hours, or be responsible for outcomes, I;d say the majority of doctors would be envious of THAT lifestyle, if they weren’t too ethical to pursue it.

  • Sue

    Since skin impedence is all about moisture – Vega and homeopathy seem to have a lot in common – including zero plausibility as a health care modality.

  • Sue

    Paul – how do they work? Can you explain how testing skin resistence (which is mainly a factor of moisture) could tell you anything about systemic health? (Thanks in advance)

  • Sue

    Alastair – which field of medical science is your PhD in, and how would you use medical science to explain how such a gadget could say anything about a person;s systemic physiology?

  • http://intentionallyhomeless.org/ Gold

    Alastair,

    Before treatment are commercialised the trials you’re asking for aught to be perfomed.

    Before clinical trials are performed some form of efficacy aught to be established.

    The BBC tests show that efficacy has yet to be established.

    From the BBC tests alone this appears to be little more than a scam.

  • http://intentionallyhomeless.org/ Gold

    Sounds like you should repeat the tests in multiple venues. See if they agree.

  • Nala

    I have been searching for a practitioner in my area but can’t find one. My whole family did a vega testing in Europe and the results are more than incredible! My sister struggled with loosing weight, my father had high blood pressure, he was overweight. My mother struggled with heart problems and weight too. After two months from the testing and following the instructions of the doctor my whole family can’t describe the joy from the progress they have made. My sister lost 16 kg, my dad and mom more than 10! They fell fantastic!

  • DrRachie

    I’m the idiot who wrote the blog. Care to provide some links to the testing you’ve done Alistair?

  • Alastair

    Have
    any of the idiots who write this rubbish actually ran a clinical trial on the
    device? I bet they haven’t. Please don’t pooh pooh anything until you have run
    a clinical trial. basically if the vega didn’t work it would have died out
    years ago. My PhD is in medical science and I have out of interest have lab and
    field tested many such devices and they
    all have merit that cannot be denied by anyone with more than one brain cell
    and no I am not a Vega practitioner

    Alastair

  • becks

    clearly none of you have any idea what you are saying, vega testing is meant to tell you what you are allergic to or sensitive to, it was able to diagnose my liver failure a few years back and tell me that i am highly sensitive to mold

  • Paul

    You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. I have used Vega testing for ten years and it is so clear when someone has no idea about Vega testing. Unless you have used a Vega machine you don’t have the right to make a judgement. It is like me making a comment about a doctor, plumber, carpenter, accountant etc I have never had experience in that are of work so how can I comment on what they do.

  • DrRachie

    And may I say, you sound like a shill for Big Naturopath ;)

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  • Patrick

    Maggie
    you sound like a bitter old prune. I would put myself in the hands of a Naturopath any day rather than one of your drug peddling docs.

  • Charlotte

    I go to a homeopathic professional who has 20 some years experience utilizing Vega Testing. I came down the chronic fatigue in 2005. In 2007 I was told at a food/vitamin store that this homeopathic person was coming. I was grasping at straws as I had been to many a md and got no help, and was hoping to get some clue to my health but I had complete distrust in the vega machine system. Because of my skepticism, I took my husband with me who was a picture of health. He was tested with the Vega machine and the only issue found with him was mercury. I sat down with all my health problems, told this man absolutely nothing about my issues and I blew the machine up as pre-cancerous. I was still skeptical and never went to him until last year. I also did hair analysis and felt better while I did that too. I continued to believe that MD’s was the only way to go. I went to 18 specialists, finding bits and pieces of problems along the way. I have an overactive adrenal gland which causes chemistry issues. These changes I can feel within my body (so can the rest of my family) but the chemistry panel ranges never identify a problem. The vega testing did show kidney issues which show up on my GFR at my md, but the md dismisses it care because my bun/creatinine ratio is ok, actually they are on the low end, however I hold a lot of fluid. The Vega machine shows that my copper is normal and my zinc is low. I had a blood test and found this to be true. The Vega test also showed low lithium. I was afraid to take lithium without going to my family doctor and so I asked him to test it. It was very low. Lithium normal range .6-1.4, mine was .1. Since I have been taking lithium supplement I feel like my normal self. Been the whole zoloft, effexor and such and just can’t take it. Raises bp and gives me irregular heart rates. My personal experience, I trust doc’s 70%, I trusted my homeo guy 80% up until the lithium issue and he is now at 90%. All the prescription meds I have taken have about killed me, though with self prescribing herbs I have made myself feel bad but not dead. So I’m on board with my homeo guy. I would like to add that after requesting for years for my GP to take me off xanax which he finally did after 7 years on it, and put me on valium, that that did wonders for my thinking. Generic xanax is a joke, at least for my family, as it delivers differently in the body than brand name, and I contribute that drug to much of my problems. I am doing much better on Valium, however I do wish to get off that drug as well. In time, I do believe I can. This is my story. What works for one person may not work for the next. Opinions are like buttholes, everyone’s got one, that doesn’t make yours right or wrong. It’s like writing, some right handed some lefties. That doesn’t change the grade on your exam does it? As long as the person who is sick sees results is the ultimate goal. I personally like to follow up with my GP for confirmation after vega testing, that’s what I did and boy did it work and was confirmed. 7 years later I’m doing much better, through both medical and homeopathic professionals. There is a place for both. One confirming the other is the way I like to go. There is alot of arrogance on this board, some need to get over themselves.

  • Brony

    Nobody can dismiss it unless you have tried it with someone that is properly trained to use it (with medical qualifications behind them). It sounds like many of the people who have posted and used one of these machines went to someone who is not properly trained. If your a sceptic then seek someone who knows what they are doing and get tested, you don’t have to tell the practitioner what issues you have, the machine will pick it up. It is accurate if it is in the right hands, with the practitioner having an accurate knowledge of the body (otherwise it’ll like going to a poorly trained surgeon and ending up with complications).