Migraineur’s Guide to CAM: diagnostic tools

CAM practitioners use a variety of testing methods to assess overall wellness and diagnose patient problems. Reputable practitioners use many of the same tests that conventional doctors rely on, such as x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, blood and urine testing. Some also use saliva testing, hair analysis, pH testing, and much more. Some of these tests provide consistent results while others are questionable or unsupported by scientific testing.  It is important that you understand the relative reliability of different diagnostic tools as an inaccurate diagnosis can result in delayed treatment, worsening of health problems, and in some cases, death.

Unsubstantiated results

These testing methods have produced inconsistent or unreliable results when subjected to double-blind controls. An accurate diagnostic tool should have the same results for the same condition, over and over, regardless of practitioner. For example, iron levels are consistently measured using blood testing. It doesn’t matter who reads the sample. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with CAM diagnostic tools. You have a right to know how safe and reliable a test is before agreeing to participate and pay for it.

Applied kinesiology is frequently misused by untrained practitioners who only understand part of the process. A qualified practitioner will have certification from the International Consortium of Applied Kinesiologists (ICAK). It involves an assessment of muscle strength, trigger point sensitivity, changes in postural blood pressure, and muscle response (strong or weak) when exposed to certain foods, supplements, or substances. Even at its best, Applied Kinesiology is still subjective. No two practitioners will get the same results. Some critics have accused practitioners of making educated guesses rather than using an accurate diagnostic procedure. Be wary of any practitioner who uses only Applied Kinesiology to make treatment recommendations.

Iridology is a diagnostic tool used by many naturopaths and herbalists to identify weaknesses in the body which can be addressed before physical symptoms appear. The practice is based on principles similar to reflexology, chiropractic, and acupuncture – that certain parts of the body reflect the whole body. The practitioner closely examines the patient’s iris, comparing it to a “map” that identifies which body systems are reflected by specific areas of the iris. Many practitioners will use a specialized camera to photograph the iris. This allows them to take their time evaluating the results without requiring the patient to remain still throughout the analysis. If irregularities are found, providers will make nutritional and lifestyle change recommendations. Like Applied Kinesiology, this practice is subjective. When tested using   double-blind controls, practitioners have been unable to accurately diagnose health problems any more accurately than random guessing. Some patients have experienced worsening of their health problems due to trusting such a diagnosis which ultimately proved to be incorrect.

Questionable results

Saliva testing is available without a doctor’s order. Almost anyone can order a test over the internet, return the samples and then receive a diagnosis with supplement recommendations. The recommended treatments are often sold by the same company that sells the test.  This makes it too easy to bypass a more accurate blood test and physician’s exam which can delay treatment and ultimately cause harm.

There are a few exceptions though. In most cases, a blood test ordered by your doctor will yield more accurate results. The exception is cortisol measurement. Saliva testing of cortisol has proven to be more accurate. Additionally, it can be administered several times during a single day to determine if cortisol levels are within normal range as they rise and fall throughout the day. An accurate measurement of cortisol can determine adrenal health and identify under- or over-active adrenal glands.

Saliva testing for testosterone and DHEA are also accurate, yet not usually covered by insurance.

Overall, home saliva testing should be avoided unless recommended by a trusted, qualified healthcare provider.

Reliable results

Hair analysis yields consistently accurate results when testing for long-term exposure to drugs, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals. It will not produce accurate results for short-term exposure that occurs within days of testing. It is often done, even in conventional medicine, when toxic exposure is suspected.

PH testing measures the acidity or alkalinity of a given substance. Proponents of this type of testing claim that disease can be eradicated by maintaining the correct pH level within the body. While the claims may or may not be dubious, you can trust the accuracy of the results. If a practitioner suggests pH testing, ask a lot of questions. Find out the rationale for testing, possible findings, and potential treatments before investing your time and money.


Every practitioner is different. Some therapies produce results even when the diagnostic testing methods are flawed. The important thing to remember is that you are in charge. You get to decide what you want to do for your own health. That principle applies regardless of the healing methods you choose.


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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