About a year ago I decided to independently take on a group of alternative medicine practitioners who were marketing themselves as “Registered Holistic Allergists” and using the designation “R.h.A” in addition to other, equally dubious credentials such as “Registered Holistic Nutritionist” and “Naturopathic Doctor”. Today, there are no longer any “Registered Holistic Allergists”, though as we’ll see, they’re attempting to rebrand themselves while doing much the same thing as before.
I played a small part in this change. This 2 part post outlines all the information I found out about the practitioners and their techniques, the action I took, the response of the regulatory authorities I engaged, and the reaction of the practitioners once confronted. I believe that these posts will currently be the most thorough exposal of the profession and the practice currently available on the internet.
It was near the end of August of last year when I saw a deal of the day advertisement promoting an alternative treatment for allergies and food intolerances called “BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination” (BIE). It was the first time I had ever heard of the R.h.A designation or the BIE technique. The ad contained a brief description of the process:
Giovanna Capozza uses a new, scientific approach to allergy relief called BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination (BIE). The treatment requires no needles or drugs, and helps your body recognize allergic substances, allowing for recovery of associated allergy symptoms. Your appointment includes allergy testing and the BIE procedure, which involves transmitting a low electronic frequency into various acupressure points on your body. The procedure takes around 30 minutes and can clear up to 5 allergens at once.
Assessing the Claims
So a homeopath with the title of “Registered Holistic Allergist” claims that the BIE device is capable of transmitting electronic frequencies into acupressure points on the body, which helps the body to recognize allergenic substances, resulting in the clearing (a.k.a. curing) of the allergy. The process is new and scientific.
I had been around the skeptical community long enough at this point to immediately recognize that this as complete nonsense. When a homeopath claims that a treatment they provide is “scientific”, bet that the opposite is far closer to the truth. Specifically, acupressure points have never been shown to actually exist. Allergies and intolerances are not the result of the body failing to ‘recognize’ a substance. Moreover, I had serious doubts that the device in question did much of anything other than buzz, whirr and give off the “science is happening” vibe. But it wasn’t just the falsity of the claims that motivated me to action – it was the serious potential for harm. Would these folks attempt to treat a serious anaphylactic allergy? I simply couldn’t let that go.
Initiating the Complaint Process
The complaint process began with bringing my concerns to the advertiser first. In this case, comments and questions could be publicly left below the ad, and both the website and practitioner responded to my concerns. In their defense they claimed that the procedure doesn’t cure allergies at all, but merely treats them by permanently eliminating symptoms (which apparently is totally different). This didn’t fly with me since there were testimonials in the ad that used language that specifically implied a cure.
After having been diagnosed with a severe nut allergy; I had three BIE sessions, I no longer react to nuts at all.
I was a life long sufferer of cat and dog allergies. They got so bad that I had to stop my regular volunteer work at the OSPCA. After rescuing two dogs I had a terrible allergic reaction to them for two months, all the while trying other different types of treatments. My naturopath told me about Giovanna. It was my last hope before I would have to give up the dogs for good. After one treatment my allergies were gone!
I persisted and eventually the testimonials were removed. I might have actually been satisfied at this point except that the practitioner made a rather curious claim:
Hi Dianne… there are some wonderful results from this technique and I’d love to present to you the many other testimonials that attest to that but I’m afraid nothing will convince you. The proof is in the pudding and I’d be happy to help you out if you have any sensitivities that you are suffering from. If you closely read the details on my site, it is a very safe method and NO ONE with dangerous or life threatening allergies is EVER encouraged to ingest anything. I work closing with medical allergist, and Health Canada has already acknowledged this technique by working with our founders to make the information presented as safe as possible for the public. I’m sorry you’ve been so upset by this ad but my passion for helping others is still firm and I wish you good health. Again, I extend the invitation if you require any help with allergies or sensitivities… my sceptical patients have been my largest promoters. Be well! [sic]
Health Canada has acknowledged the technique. What does that mean? Sounds like something I can follow up on…
The fact that the testimonials were removed was a pleasant surprise that I didn’t expect. The ad and its claims were still concerning enough that I filed a complaint with the Canadian Ad Standards Council.
The Ad Standards Council
I had no doubt that the ad, even after the removal of the testimonials was in violation of the Council’s standards. The problem is that the claims made are not within the ASC’s mandate. From the Council:
The complaint you submitted to ASC does not fall within ASC’s mandate. Health Canada is responsible for complaints about advertisements that make therapeutic claims for medical devices. Given the nature of your complaint, we suggest that you contact Health Canada. (emphasis mine)
I wasn’t surprised by this response, but I did request some further clarification. In short, the legislation that regulates the advertisement of medical devices trumps the Code that the ASC administers. Since the treatment claims are related to a medical device (the machine used to apply electronic frequencies to acupressure points) only non-therapeutic claims (such those in testimonials) related to these devices will be considered. Since the advertiser voluntarily removed the testimonials from the ad, the ASC would take no action.
The practitioner claimed that Health Canada has had some type of involvement with the founders of the technique, strongly implying that both the device and the technique had gone through some vetting by our health regulator. It was time to check this claim, but first I needed to find out more about the “Registered Holistic Allergist” credential.
How to Become a “Registered Holistic Allergist” – Clear 6 Days and Bring a Cheque
This is where things get interesting. While I was trying to navigate the complaint process and get my head around what BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination was all about, I began to see “Registered Holistic Allergists” everywhere making ridiculous claims. For example, did you know that electromagnetic frequencies cause allergies? Well, they don’t – but R.h.A’s don’t bat an eye when they say it. Remember how Ms. Capozza claimed that BIE could treat, but not cure allergies? The holistic allergist in this case said BIE couldn’t cure or treat allergies. What on earth does it do then? Fill bank accounts…
The actual BIE procedure is rather unremarkable, but the description of the procedure gives hints as to why it might appear plausible to both patient and practitioner:
A lightweight hand held device is used to transmit a low electronic frequency (5 microamp) directly onto various acupuncture points (without the use of needles) on the body to stimulate and clear any blockages in energy. During this procedure the client is exposed to the allergenic substance in glass vials. While the blockages are clearing, the body’s cells are literally being reprogrammed to recognize the allergen’s frequency. When this non-invasive and painless procedure is complete, the body will no longer see the allergen or intolerance as a threat when exposed to it, therefore no longer producing any adverse reactions.
Acupuncture is a popular alternative health treatment that’s generally believed to work (though it doesn’t). By linking BIE to it, the procedure piggy backs on acupuncture’s aura of plausibility and legitimacy. Talk of energy, blockages, reprogramming and frequencies sound just scientific enough to not tip everyone off that the treatment is actually far closer to magic than science. Finally, the presence and use of a medical device reinforces the technical appearance of what is going on in the room. All together, it just looks so much like something must be happening. Considering that there is also a testing procedure, where practitioners claim they can identify allergies and intolerances you didn’t know you had, and it’s clear that the placebo response is absolutely in play.
While the practitioners insist that no one with a life threatening allergy is ever encouraged to ingest the allergen, they seem to have few problems with attempting to treat these potentially deadly allergies with BIE. I see little reason to treat these allergies unless you expect an improvement of some kind, and I think it’s reasonable to expect a patient would think so too. They do take some care here to protect themselves with copious disclaimers, however taken together with the claims this amounts to little more than saying: “We don’t claim to do x – let me show you how I can do x”. Despite disclaimers, the very act of treating an anaphylactic allergy encourages a patient to believe they’ve improved and sets the stage for self experimentation. The potential for harm is obvious, and there is no assurance that a practitioner will act responsibly.
This is the case because getting the title “Registered Holistic Allergist” is as easy as sitting through a 6 day course. Yup, everything they need to know to test for, and treat all kinds of allergies and intolerances (both real and imagined) is acquired by sitting through the following 6 day curriculum:
Day 1: Practical acupuncture (theory). Holistic allergy/Bio-energy theory.
Day 2: Biofeedback Analysis (theory). Allergy/intolerance testing (practical).
Day 3: Allergy/intolerance pathology – orthodox/allopathic approach (theory).
Day 4: Allergy – a modern approach (theory). Resetting Tap Clearing approach (practical).
Day 5: BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination – BIE (theory/practical).
Day 6: BIE practical applications (theory/practical). BIE troubleshooting (theory). Registered Holistic Allergist terms and conditions. Business protocol.
The program is taught by the Institute for Natural Health Technologies (INHT), located in Toronto. It seems to exist mostly for the purpose of marketing the BIE technique and the holistic allergist credential they invented. Being a “Registered Holistic Allergist” means nothing more than being on a company held list of people who have paid for the right to sit in a room for 6 days and use a few fancy letters behind their name. It doesn’t mean that the practitioner “received an education” or “was awarded” the title, as many R.h.A’s irritatingly state in their bios. It doesn’t mean that there is a regulatory body enforcing a code of conduct or ethics. It doesn’t mean that an independent body has vetted the practice or tested individual practitioner competence in any way. It’s not even clear that any kind of knowledge testing is required at all. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that there is any reliable quality control whatsoever. If a practitioner wants to treat your child’s anaphylactic allergy to peanuts, the only thing between them and potential tragedy is a parent’s critical thinking skills.
I visited practitioner websites and noticed that many simply cut and pasted information straight from the INHT website, testimonials included. I also noticed that when a practitioner named the device they used, they always named the same one – the GSR-120.
The INHT names it in a very slick video that they produced featuring a testimonial from Elvis Stojko, who believed that BIE cured him of his rink ice allergy. It’s quite the cavalcade of unfounded claims and contradictory statements. It includes references to removing allergies permanently (a.k.a. cure) and eliminating all seasonal allergies completely (a.k.a. cure) and then stating that BIE was never intended to cure allergies. It was a happy accident! To me this is an attempt at protecting themselves from responsibility for their outrageously wrong information.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Oh my friends, it gets better. The founders of the Institute of Natural Health Technologies, Robert Tomlinson and Silvana Fazzolari, were featured in the video along with a Dr. John Stewart. These three together hold a patent (yes, apparently you can patent complete nonsense) as the inventors of the BIE procedure. The patent lists several suitable devices but states the GSR-120 as being manufactured by Biophysica Inc. Biophysica’s owner is none other than Dr. John Stewart. Dr. John Stewart is an interesting character with some really wacky ideas. For example he sells a monstrance you can plug in to power its internal frequency generator. You need to get one because “Subtle Energy is in constant motion, is attracted to itself and “contradicts” the law of entropy (disorder, randomness). It forms units that are the foci of creative activity, whether bions, clouds and galaxies, causing spontaneous generations of living organisms out of non-living matter.” Wow.
There it is. Three people with questionable scientific credibility come together and invent the BIE procedure that relies on the use of a device that is manufactured by one of the inventors. They patent it and found a company whose sole purpose is to market the procedure to current and aspiring alternative health practitioners. They invent the bogus “Registered Holistic Allergist” title and hand it out to anyone willing to pay to complete their six day course. They rely on a mixture of obsolete ideas, fear of our modern complex world (EMF’s – boo!), unverifiable testimonials, and a liberal use of the word “scientific”. The whole thing is a sorry mixture of misinformation, and deep delusion.
I felt like I had really cracked open the nut here, but I had to sit on this information (that is, not blog about it) until I clarified what Health Canada had to do with all this. Remember, R.h.A Giovanna Capozza claimed that the founders of BIE (Mr. Tomlinson and Ms. Fazzolari) were able to get some kind of “acknowledgement” from Health Canada. Acknowledgement can mean many things, not all of them necessarily positive. So I took my concerns to Health Canada with the intent to follow up on the status of the apparent medical device the R.h.A’s were using, the GSR-120. My complaint was accepted and was in the hands of an Inspector at Health Canada’s Compliance and Enforcement Inspectorate Program, Medical Devices CVI Unit for almost a year.
The details of the Health Canada compliance verification is the subject of the next part of this post. In it, I’ll also outline the response of the Institute of Natural Health Technologies and the practitioners they sell licenses to. Some of you might have clicked the links above and noticed instances where I linked to archived versions of the relevant websites. I had to do so, because as a result of the action that Health Canada took, nearly all websites related to BIE and holistic allergists have been changed in some rather curious ways. The most interesting change is that the “Registered Holistic Allergist” is no more. Now, if you want to receive “BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination” you have to find a “Registered BioEnergetics Practitioner” (R. B.I.E.) You pretty much just look where the R.h.A’s were just standing.
All will explained, all mysteries will be revealed, and all your curiosities satisfied, in part 2.
(Photo by flikr user Asim Bijarani)