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Applied Kinesiology:
Muscle-Testing for "Allergies"
and "Nutrient Deficiencies"
Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Applied kinesiology (AK) is a pseudoscientific system of muscle-testing and therapy. It was initiated in 1964 by George J. Goodheart, Jr., D.C., and has become quite elaborate. Its basic notion is that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a specific muscle weakness, which enables diseases to be diagnosed through muscle-testing procedures. Most practitioners are chiropractors, but naturopaths, medical doctors, dentists, bogus nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, nurse practitioners, and multilevel distributors (most notably for Nature's Sunshine) are also involved. In 1991, 37% of 4,835 full-time American chiropractors who responded to a survey by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) said they used AK in their practice [1]. Subsequent NBCE surveys found percentages of 31% in Canada (1992) [2], 60% in Australia (1993) [3], 72% in New Zealand (1993) [3], and 43% in the United States (1998) [4]. The prevalence among other types of practitioners is unknown. Note: Applied kinesiology should be distinguished from kinesiology (biomechanics), which is the scientific study of movement.

Bizarre Claims

AK proponents claim that nutritional deficiencies, allergies, and other adverse reactions to foods or nutrients can be detected by having the patient chew or suck on them or by placing them on the tongue so that the patient salivates. Some practitioners advise that the test material merely be held in the patient's hand or placed on another part of the body. A few even perform "surrogate testing" in which the arm strength of a parent is tested to determine problems in a child held by the parent. According to a 1987 book for the general public written with help from two leading chiropractic AK practitioners:

The practicing AK is a graduate chiropractor who can explain to you how your glands and organs appear to be functioning with specific muscle tests. He can suggest nutrition to help improve various conditions, and he can demonstrate with your muscles that you probably need particular nutrients. He can correct problems in your spine and in joints, and can stretch or compress muscles to improve your structural condition. He may massage certain junctures of nerve, lymph, blood, and acupuncture meridians to stimulate glandular or systemic activity. He can advise you on how to stay healthy and he will pay particular attention to your posture and your feet. He can offer an excellent second opinion if you are under a physician's care, are seeing a chiropractor who is not an applied kinesiologist, or if you have been in an accident [5].

Many muscle-testing proponents assert that nutrients tested in these various ways will have an immediate effect: "good" substances will make specific muscles stronger, whereas "bad" substances will cause weaknesses that "indicate trouble with the organ or other tissue on the same nerve, vascular, nutrition, etc., grouping." A leading AK text, for example, states:

If a patient is diagnosed as having a liver disturbance and the associated pectoralis major [chest muscle] tests weak, have the patient chew a substance that may help the liver, such as vitamin A. If . . . the vitamin A is appropriate treatment, the muscle will test strong [6].

Finding a "weak" muscle supposedly enables the practitioner to pinpoint illness in the corresponding internal organs in the body. For example, a weak muscle in the chest might indicate a liver problem, and a weak muscle near the groin might indicate "adrenal insufficiency." If a muscle tests "weaker" after a substance is placed in the patient's mouth, it supposedly signifies disease in the organ associated with that muscle. If the muscle tests "stronger," the substance supposedly can remedy problems in the corresponding body parts. Testing is also claimed to indicate which nutrients are deficient. If a weak muscle becomes stronger after a nutrient (or a food high in the nutrient) is chewed, that supposedly indicates "a deficiency normally associated with that muscle." Some practitioners contend that muscle-testing can also help diagnose allergies,and other adverse reactions to foods. According to this theory, when a muscle tests "weak," the provocative substance is bad for the patient. AK "treatment" may include special diets, food supplements, acupressure (finger pressure on various parts of the body), and spinal manipulation [7].

Goodheart states that AK techniques can also be used to evaluate nerve, vascular, and lymphatic systems; the body's nutritional state; the flow of "energy" along "acupuncture meridians"; and "cerebro spinal fluid function." The 70-page chapter on "meridian therapy" in a leading AK textbook advises that subluxations influence the status of meridian system and vice versa [8].

The leading publisher/distributor of AK educational materials for chiropractors and their patients appears to be Systems DC, of Pueblo, Colorado. Its pamphlet on infections and child health states:

When an infection develops, have your child examined by your doctor using applied kinesiology. He can evaluate the energy patterns and usually find the reason that the infection developed in the first place. By correcting the energy patterns within the body and paying specific attention to nutritional supplements and dietary management, the infection which your child (using natural health care) does develop will be adequately taken care of in most cases [9].

Research Findings

Although the claims of applied kinesiology are so far removed from scientific reality that testing them might seem a waste of time, competent researchers have subjected the muscle-testing procedures to several well-designed controlled tests and demonstrated what should be obvious to rational persons. Some have found no difference in muscle response from one substance to another, while others have found no difference between the results with test substances and with placebos. One study, for example, found that three practitioners testing eleven subjects made significantly different assessments; their diagnoses of nutritional deficiencies did not correspond to the nutrient levels obtain by blood serum analysis; and that the responses to nutrient substances did not significantly differ from responses to placebos [10]. Another study found no effect from administering the nutrients "expected" to strengthen a muscle diagnosed as "weak" by AK practitioners." [11] Other researchers who conducted an elaborate double-blind trial concluded that "muscle response appeared to be a random phenomenon." [12] Yet another study showed that suggestion can influence the outcome of muscle-testing. During part of this experiment, college students were told that chewing M&M candies would give them instant energy that would probably make them test stronger. Five out of nine did so [13].

Some people who undergo AK muscle-testing report that although they resisted as hard as they could, the practitioner was still able to pull down their arm. Differences from one test to another may be due to suggestibility; variations in the amount of force, leverage, or follow-through involved; and/or muscle fatigue. Distraction can also play a role. (Touching another part of the body just before pulling down the arm may cause the patient to focus less on resisting.) But trickery (deliberate or unconscious) may also be a factor. A sudden slight upward movement can cause a "set" muscle to relax so that it can be immediately pulled downward. I have found that when this is done quickly, the person being tested is unlikely to detect the upward motion. Try this on a friend.

Questionable "Standards"

The International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK), founded in the mid-1970s, has set "standards" based on the work of Goodheart and his followers who allege they have subjected AK to "extensive scientific study." Certification by its board (which is not recognized by chiropractic's official accrediting body) requires a minimum of 300 hours of study under an ICAK diplomate, 5,000 hours of practical experience, authorship of two research papers, and passage of written and practical examinations. According to ICAK's 1992 status statement:

Applied kinesiology procedures are not intended to be used as a single method of diagnosis. Applied kinesiology examination should enhance standard diagnosis, not replace it. . . .

There are both lay persons and professionals who use a form of manual muscle testing without the necessary expertise to perform specific and accurate tests. Some fail to coordinate the muscle testing findings with other standard diagnostic procedures. These may be sources of error that could lead to misinterpretation of the condition present, and thus improper treatment, or failure to treat the appropriate condition [14].

In a recent letter to me, the ICAK-USA executive board added that, "While there are numerous methods which employ manual muscle testing procedures, most are not in keeping with the standards of the ICAK . . . . Specifically . . . testing of substances by any method other than the stimulation of gustatory receptors on the tongue or olfactory receptors in the nose is specifically outside of the realm of applied kinesiology." [15] It appears to me, however, that the nutrition-related claims and practices of those affiliated with ICAK are no less bizarre than those of other muscle-testers who do not follow ICAK "standards." Not surprisingly, a review of 20 research papers published by ICAK concluded that because "none of the papers included adequate statistical analyses, no valid conclusions could be drawn concerning their report of findings." [16]

AK Offshoots

Muscle testing and "meridian" theories are involved in many other treatment systems used mainly by chiropractors:

Neural Organization Technique (NOT) includes the notion that the skull is an "extension of the spine." [17] It deserves mention because it is often directed at handicapped children. NOT's proponents claim that "blocked neural pathways" caused by misaligned skull bones can cause learning disorders, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, Down's syndrome, colorblindness, bedwetting, nightmares, and various other problems. Its practitioners claim that "adjusting" these bones by applying pressure to various structures of the head can cure these problems. This claim is not only unsubstantiated but clashes with the fact that the bones of the skull are tightly fused by age two. NOT's originator, Carl A. Ferreri, D.C., of New York City, says he has trained hundreds of chiropractors in the use of his techniques. NOT came to public attention in 1988 when chiropractors subjected children to it in a "research" program sponsored by school officials in Del Norte County, California. For five months, dozens of children from age four to sixteen, with epilepsy, Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, and various other learning disorders, were "treated" by having their skull compressed with viselike hand pressure. The children were also forced to endure painful thumb pressure against the roof of the mouth and finger pressure against their eyes. According to news reports, the children struggled, cried, and screamed as they were forcibly restrained. One reportedly experienced his first seizure when his eye sockets were "adjusted." Some of the children became violent, explosive, rebellious, uncontrollable, and lacking in self-motivation and drive [18,19]. In 1991, a jury ordered Ferreri to pay $565,000 in damages to seven children and their parents who had filed suit for physical and emotional pain related to the treatment. Two other chiropractors involved in the case settled out of court for a total of $207,000.

Contact Reflex Analysis (CRA) proponents claim that over a thousand health problems can be diagnosed with a muscle test during which the chiropractor's finger or hand is placed on one of 75 "reflex points" on the patient's body. If the patient's arm can be pulled downward, a condition corresponding to the "reflex" is considered present, and dietary supplements (typically made from freeze-dried vegetables or animal organs) are prescribed. CRA's chief proponent,. Dick A. Versendaal, D.C., teaches that 80% of disease is due to allergy; the two main causes of disease are gallbladder disease and staphylococcus infections; and obesity is commonly caused by parasites.

Neuro Emotional Technique (NET) focuses on "releasing patients' emotional blocks stored in the body's memory." Proponents claim that everyone has such blocks and that the body "replays" these old memories, which can adversely affect health [20]. According to a recent article, when chronic patients do not seem to get better over a course of treatment, and where structure, nutrition and "toxicity" have been addressed, NET practitioners look for a "Neuro Emotional Complex (NEC) " that they feel is preventing healing. The practitioner then use muscle testing to "isolate a troublesome event," then ask the patient to hold in mind a "snapshot" of the emotional state while the chiropractor adjusts the patient's spine and prescribes supplement products and homeopathic remedies. NET's developer, Scott Walker, D.C., of Encinitas, California, states that during the ten years he has been teaching the technique, 2,700 health care practitioners (mostly chiropractors but some physicians, psychologists and dentists) have leaned it, and most use it regularly in their practice. According to Walker, "the reason homeopathy works so well is that it allows the body to remember what toxins it needs to get rid of in order to reestablish homeostasis." He also says that although psychotherapy is valuable, an "emotional memory locked in the body" can't be resolved through therapy alone [20]. The ONE (Our NET Effect) Foundation was incorporated in 1993 "to help NET practitioners scientifically validate their technique, promote their practices, and bring NET to the world." [21]

Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) is based on the bizarre 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, Dr. Devi S. Nambudripad, is described on her Web site as an acupuncturist, chiropractor, kinesiologist, and registered nurse who practices in California.

Whole System HealthScan is said to be a system that "provides access to stored information in the body's computer." Developed in 1992, by Don Anderson, D.C., and Greg Wastl, D.C., it "uses the electrical pathways of the body, including the nervous and meridian systems, to obtain information about the organs, glands, muscles, bones, and other body tissues." According to its developers:

Unresolved issues -- structural, physiological and emotional traumas that the body has accumulated -- can pile up like layers in our body. Using the Whole System HealthScan, we identify which layer needs to be addressed first. . . . As the problems of that layer are resolved, the body presents the next layer to be addressed. By honoring the body's wisdom and recognizing its innate ability to communicate what is most important in the healing process, we are able to identify the appropriate sequence and protocol for each layer of healing. Nutritional supplements and herbal tinctures specifically formulated for the Whole System HealthScan are used to assist the body during periods of detoxification, cleansing and rebuilding. If indicated, chiropractic adjustments, electro-emotional adjustments and lifestyle changes are utilized to assist the body through the healing process [22].

The developers further claim that the practitioner "will be able to check for structural, physiological, and emotional traumas on each visit, what to do to assist the body to correct it, and do this all in LESS THAN 5 MINUTES." [23] Its recommended products include Whole System EEP, a homeopathic pill that "helps balance the emotional connection between the brain and the various organs."

Body Restoration Technique (BRT) is said to "use the knowledge of the acupuncture meridians (energy pathways) and muscle response testing to assist in neutralizing the adverse effects of toxins in the body. It also helps to balance hormones and restore glands." [24] If the patient's arm tests "weak" when the patient holds a bottle of the test substance, "restoration" is done by administering acupressure and massage while the bottle is held near allegedly relevant body part(s).

Thought Field Therapy and several other varieties of "emotional acupressure" are said to be rooted in ancient Chinese medicine and applied kinesiology. Their advocates claim that negative emotions are caused by a disruption in the body's "energy system" and that correcting "energetic disturbances" can often correct emotional problems. The treatment is performed by tapping on "acupuncture points" while the patient thinks about a problem. These practices are claimed to be effective against a long list of emotional and physical problems.

The Dawson Program, also called vibrational kinesiology, was developed over 28 years by Cameron Dawson, an Australian businessman. According to Dawson's Web site:

The Dawson Program uses the Kinesiological technique of muscle testing to trace and identify the root cause of each imbalance affecting the body's energy system and impeding the body from self-healing. This results in conditions such as Dyslexia, learning difficulties, chronic fatigue, depression, stress, Eczema, Asthma, Psoriasis and behavioural problems.

Correction is effected quickly and painlessly by applying energy in the form of sound. Each aspect of the body's energy system has a specific frequency, or rate of energy vibration.

By applying the right frequency under the direction of the subconscious, the imbalances are removed, thereby correcting structural misalignments immediately and removing the impediments from the body's self-healing, so the body can overcome 'medical conditions'.

Dyslexia, for example, can be corrected in less than 4 minutes! estimates that there are more than 50 types of AK-related systems and links to several more.

The Bottom Line

The concepts of applied kinesiology do not conform to scientific facts about the causes or treatment of disease. Controlled studies have found no difference between the results with test substances and with placebos. Differences from one test to another may be due to suggestibility, distraction, variations in the amount of force or leverage involved, and/or muscle fatigue. If you encounter a practitioner who relies on AK muscle-testing for diagnosis, head for the nearest exit.


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