Electrodermal Screening & The Evidence
My approach to care has been specific to digging into the underlying cause of dysfunction, otherwise known as the functional medicine approach. I am intrigued by epigenetics. I give significant attention to an individual's personal journey, their traumas, their passions, their challenges, and certainly their lifestyle choices. I am mindful of environmental toxins. Nutrition is critical, but not more so than sleep, spending time in nature, laughter, and healthy relationships. Botanicals are my mainstay when the body needs a nudge towards optimal health, and when necessary, conventional medicine can be implemented into the treatment plan as we work to restore an optimal foundation.
Less often do I integrate Chinese medicine into my treatment plans. This is largely because of unfamiliarity, but also because it just doesn't speak me my heart as much as other modalities have; I try to honor what is true to me. Having a very curious nature though, being a wanderer, means I am always searching for greater understanding and new approaches, ideals, and perspectives. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Indian systems of medicine has always maintained the position that subtle energy flows freely along a meridian system, also known as #Qi or prana. These meridians form a complex, multilevel network connecting various regions of the body, including skin surfaces, with the internal organs. These systems are well known in the yoga world as well, and certainly I have a great deal of respect for this ancient belief system.
Especially new to me is #electrodermal screening, a diagnostic tool used to aide in identifying treatment regimens, specifically nutriceuticals, which might best meet an individual's current needs. This approach measures the skin's electrical resistance, and is said to detect energy imbalances along the #meridians or lines of energy that flow within the body. According to proponents of electrodermal screening, this tool can be utilized to help detect and treat illnesses such as allergies, organ weakness, food intolerances, nutritional deficiencies, and identify needs for various supplements or even which ones may not be favored by the body.
EDS was developed on the theory that the body's electrical nature can be measured and used to understand the health of internal organs through measuring the electrical signals on the skin. This modality combines the philosophical roots of classical Chinese acupuncture along with the principle of galvanometric skin differentials. German physician, Reinhard Voll, developed this technology as a way to bring the practice of acupuncture into the future in a more objective way.
Electrodermal screening has also been called bioelectric functions diagnosis (BFD), bio resonance therapy (BRT), bioenergy regulatory technique (BER), biocybernetic medicine (BM), computerized electrodermal screening (CEDS), electrodiagnosis, and point testing. Electroacupuncture (EAV) is yet another name used by those utilizing this approach, often chiropractors or alternative health practitioners. It can also be used by those who work in retail selling nutritional supplements or essential oils to guide customer purchasing.
How is EDS performed?
Electrodermal Screening is utilized through having an individual hold a probe in one of their hands, while a second probe touches another part of the body. A tiny electrical current, which is not felt, is sent through the circuit and a reading is made on a galvanometer between zero and one-hundred. These reading are taken at different places on the skin, corresponding with acupuncture points, to determine if there is an imbalance in a person's energy which may signal illness. Allergic substances can also be placed in a holder on the circuit, and allegedly a higher reading on the galvanometer suggests a greater sensitivity to the substance.
There are various machines that offer this reading, such as the AcuGraph, BioTron, Biomeridian, BioScan, Diacom, Meridian Energy Analysis Device (MEAD), Oberon, Orion System, SpectraVision, and ZYTO. The latter EDS machine utilizes a hand cradle instead of multiple probes. More modern versions are connected to a computer that uses a special program to read results. Generally this takes less than 3 minutes and can be performed in an office or even in private homes. Practitioners utilizing this equipment advise not to wear any skin lotions which may impede upon the reading, and to drink plenty of water before the test to ensure adequate hydration.
More often than not, consumers will run into those utilizing EDS who also have a product to sell you. Does this make in unethical? Not entirely. I do believe there are much easier ways to make money than having a nutraceutical or essential oil retail business, and in my experience, those who offer these services typically are passionate about what they represent. Integrating EDS into that effort seems a genuine intention to improve the purchasing experience, not to mention offering an individualized approach to health care. The controversy comes in the where the line is maintained, in that #EDS should not be simply about supplement sales, but rather a tool that can enhance the practitioner's clinical judgement and not be a replacement of such.
What does the Literature Say?
The South African Medical Journal did publish an article in 2004 which I really did find rather intriguing. Researchers utilized a double-blind comparative study to estimate the diagnostic accuracy and even test the scope of the equipment on various organs. Results indicated it was better for evaluating healthy organs than specifically identifying the extent or cause of pathology.
As I've read a few journal articles, it does seem fairly clear that there are zones on that skin that can project areas of health for specific organs, and that pathology in that specific organ does change the electrical currents induced on the skin. The degree of this difference also does seem proportional to the extent of the pathological process within the organ. What is less understood is its diagnostic potential or its specificity.
Researchers of the South African Medical Journal study did conclude that OED may be used to detect diseased organs and estimate the extent of pathological process activity. They did not conclude that specific disease states could be identified or even treatment plans implemented based off this data.
A study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies (2017) specifically sought to identify if EDS could discriminate individuals with asthma from those with normal health in groups with similar age and sex. The results were quite clear that AP conductance values for the two groups are very different, and that they conform to the general principle that healthy individuals exhibit better controlled, higher values of acupoints conductances/energies. The Asthma group was lower in all their meridians, although only lung, bladder, and gallbladder pairs of meridians and stomach right reached significance.
EDS has also been studied as a potential tool for detecting mental health issues, such as depression. A good sized systematic review published in 2018, including 77 studies, found that EDS may help to differentiate the phases of mood disorders and determine whether depressed patients are at increased risk of suicide. A study in BMC Psychiatry also found electrodermal activity may be affected by antidepressant treatment.
While there are a few promising studies, there are many more which seem to debunk its utilization as a prudent clinical tool. The British Medical Journal published a study, now twenty years ago, which claim the outcomes of EDS are really insignificant and vary too widely to draw any appropriate conclusions. The journal, Missouri Medicine, published a similar study in 2017. In fact, the latter study shared, "assessments and recommendations were preposterous and potentially dangerous," even advocating for banning of the sale and clinical use of EDS devices.
What Might the User Keep in Mind?
Some individuals may not be optimal candidates for EDS or at least need special consideration. A prospective study showed that individuals diagnosed with ureteral calculus tend to have lower electrical conductance values over all acupoints compared with healthy individuals. Electrodermal activity from the bladder, gallbladder, and small intestine meridians are also consistently lower in those with rheumatoid arthritis - all are yang meridians corresponding to "hollow" organs. Those with HIV also have lower conductances at all Jing Well points than those who are healthy. Another study of individuals with type two diabetes identified a pattern of conductances with KI (kidney) meridian being the lowest and SP (spleen) second lowest.
Health in general is equated with optimized regulation so those with poorer regulation in some form will always be found in a pathology group, and therefore identified by EDS, but to specify the exact underlying cause has not been possible to date. These imbalances may also be a measurement of stress.
There are no widely recognized standards for training or certification for those utilizing EDS. In the United States, this equipment sales as a biofeedback tool. Providers can not offer health claims or diagnose disease based on scan results. At best, electrodermal screening can complement clinical decisions of a trained practitioner, as the literature really hasn't offered us data to support their use at all. The real challenge seems to be implementing a tool such as this in a way that is both ethical and prudent.
Ethics come into play when a clinical practice is utilizing such modalities solely to boost supplement sales; however, as a clinician myself who has in the past also owned a boutique, it was exceedingly helpful for my clients to purchase my recommended supplements the day of their visit and know that I had thoroughly evaluated the product's quality and company's standards. While there are practitioners who oppose this business model, claiming a violation of ethics, I really did feel it served my clients well. Certainly, one has to be cognizant of the potential for treatment plans to be guided largely by the profitability of those recommendations. However, this is not a threat unique to supplement sales as hospitals work on this model every single day, including offering pharmacies and ancillary services in their own corporations to support their clinical practice.
Prudency is potentially the greater challenge, in that, these tools are really best utilized by the clinician directly or cautiously with a medical assistant within the clinic setting and only with assurance the clinician is reviewing such recommendations prior to distributing those to the client. Clinical judgement is paramount, and only a clinician can diagnose and prescribe, even nutriceuticals.
Acupuncture itself must be performed by a licensed practitioner. There can sometimes be a perception that because supplements are over-the-counter, that they are safe to recommend without licensure, but they do in fact, fall into a category of prescribing in many cases, within many states, particularly when one is diagnosing an underlying concern and associating that with said recommendation. There are a number of contraindications with medicinal herbs and just as important, homeopathic remedies and herbs aren't always the best approach. One can overcorrect and really muddy the waters, making it exceedingly challenging for the clinician to identify the root issue. As well, the body can really only absorb so much. Too many supplements will simply cause your body to dump them.
If your practitioner isn't addressing the underlying cause of dis-ease and continues to throw supplements at an issue, is this really any different than a physician prescribing pharmaceuticals for each and every symptom without really working to identify and correct one's health? My preference is to dig for the underlying problem, and nurture the body back to health. This plan should be clear to you whether or not the approach is traditional, Chinese or conventional. If you're investing in supplements, what is the plan? When is your clinician evaluating the outcome of this approach? When do they expect to see improvement? Ironically, it is our goal to work ourselves out of a job. If you don't feel this is the intent, EDS may not be utilized appropriately.