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Dynamic Chiropractic – January 29, 2005, Vol. 23, Issue 03

Food for Thought 2005 - Keeping an Open Mind Works Both Ways (Muscle Testing for Nutritional Diagnosis)

By G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN

"You need to keep an open mind," said my intern.

"An open mind?" I answered. "My mind is open! You need to keep an open mind!"

I was beginning to get on a roll.

I told my intern, "Those guys have had 40 years - that's four decades - to prove what they say. Not only have they failed, but no serious university-based PhD in nutritional biochemistry or a related area (that is, their degree was not the mail-order variety and the school who employs them has more than 50 students) considers muscle testing to diagnose a nutritional deficiency, excess, or anything else more than pure folly."

I then told him, "Two national radio hosts (adults-only morning talk and sports talk) who ridicule chiropractic on an annual basis love this so-called technique. When the 'C' word comes up, and I'm talking about chiropractic, they will always give some sort of an example that goes like this: 'They have you hold a bottle of pills that they sell while they pull your other arm or leg. Then, they [the chiropractor] tell you how badly you need to buy these pills.'"

I mentioned to say, "I remember being humiliated by a national news magazine show. They had a hidden camera tape an 'examination' of an award-winning nationally known chiropractor performing the technique on a mother to diagnose her baby's problem. It was a field day for all who feel our profession is worthless."

I concluded by telling him, "There is so little to this (muscle testing with nutritional supplements), I felt it would be a waste of valuable space to even mention it in the clinical nutrition chapter I wrote" (for the just-released third edition of The Principles and Practices of Chiropractic, edited by Scott Haldeman, DC, MD, PhD). When I received my advance copy and flipped through the book, I was surprised to find this topic was, in fact, addressed by another author. Robert W. Ward, DC, associate professor of diagnosis at Southern California University of Health Sciences and a faculty of Los Angeles College of Chiropractic, wrote a chapter entitled "The Indication and Use of Laboratory Tests." The following is Dr. Ward's analysis of this technique.

Manual "Nutritional" Challenge

Various forms of manual muscle resistance testing have been proposed for a wide range of diagnostic purposes. There are systems of interpretation that express belief in an association of various patterns of "weakness" of particular muscle groups with dysfunction of particular organs. It has also been proposed that changes in the "strength" of an indicator muscle in response to stimulation with a food substance (either through oral stimulation or contact with the exterior of the patient's body) can provide reliable indications of the patient's need to either supplement or avoid that substance.

There is no explanation for this diagnostic method that is consistent with sound physiological or neurological science. Additionally, there is no credible evidence of reliability or validity in the peer-reviewed literature available as of this writing. A review of the body of peer-reviewed literature supportive of this methodology concluded that all such works were sufficiently flawed as to preclude drawing any valid conclusions from reported data. A review of data from a reliability study of this method reveals a very strong correlation between test outcome and examiner expectation. While this method clearly has no utility as a diagnostic tool for nutritional status or organic diagnosis, it may still be clinically useful as a strong potentiator of the placebo effect. Practitioners who rely on this method of patient assessment risk harming patients by delaying needed treatment through misdiagnosis.1

This method has harmed our profession and will continue to do so as long as some chiropractors continue to embrace it and our associations avoid publishing strong position statements against it. Practitioners who rely on this method provide our detractors something so ludicrous one can only make the sound of a bird with webbed feet. Once again, I challenge those who utilize this approach to show that nonbiased researchers can prove its legitimacy in peer-reviewed publications or cease using it.

I wish you a happy and healthy 2005!


  1. Ward, RW. The indication and use of laboratory tests. In: Principles and Practice of Chiropractic, 3rd edition. S. Haldeman, Ed. McGraw-Hill, NY, NY, 2005.

G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN
Brea, California

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