For years, Alison Picher's entire diet was reduced to only two things that did not make her sick: chicken and rice.
Picher, of Boulder, a natural redhead, says she has always suffered with a hypersensitive stomach and skin. She'd peel a banana for her child and break out in a rash. Other foods made her stomach hurt — even her eyes.
Yet blood tests from traditional American doctors didn't show any allergies.
"Nothing came up positive, yet I couldn't eat anything," Picher says.
The 52-year-old Boulderite says she experienced other debilitating sensitivities when the weather changed or when she traveled overseas, which was often.
After trying the traditional routes, she says she tried an alternative treatment called NAET, short forNambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique. She claims it healed her allergies and other pains, including diagnosed fibromyalgia and a 30-year sharp lower back pain, which she believes were connected with allergies.
However, the treatment has not been subject to rigorous studies.
Only two practitioners, Shelley Ditter in Longmont and Marilyn Chernoff in Boulder, are listed on the official NAET website. But as nontraditional as the treatment is, it's far from rare. Boulder County has a long list people who advertise NAET treatments, most affiliated with chiropractic and acupuncture offices. In fact, NAET also uses common acupuncture terms, such as "energy balancing" and meridians.
Put simply, NAET exposes people to a substance they're sensitive to (by asking them to hold it), while the practitioner presses specific acupressure points along the spine. The belief is this will "reprogram" a person's response to the allergen by resetting the immune system while it's exposed to the allergen, so the body no longer sees the substance as a threat.
NAET treatments also often use homeopathy and chiropractic stimulation on the central nervous system.
Whether this actually works is still lacking solid research — although there is a NAET Research Foundation working on that.
Many local NAET practitioners started as clients first. Chernoff, of Boulder, who serves on the NAET board, says she used to be severely allergic to juniper.
"My nose ran, eyes burned and I was fatigued and miserable. It felt like the common cold. Your joints hurt," she says.
Since she treated it, she says, "It totally changed spring for me. I can enjoy life again."
NAET advocates believe allergies are caused by an "energy blockage," and they don't just limit allergens to proteins. Both beliefs are counter to the western, science-based understanding. NAET treatments also use vitamins, minerals, metals and more.
NAET uses "muscle response testing" to identify blockages, whereby the client holds various substances in one hand, with the other hand stretched out in front. The belief is, when the person is holding something that interferes with the body's energy, i.e. an allergen, that arm will grow weak to applied pressure. This technique is also not science-based.
"It's based on biofeedback," says Felicia Santelli, who offers NAET treatments in Niwot. "The body 'talks' to us."
As she sees it, every living organism is surrounded by an electromagnetic field, and certain substances repel that field, causing a negative reaction. She says NAET changes the reactions at the deepest level, so it doesn't just mask the allergy, but it eliminates it.
"NAET is a whole new way of looking at and treating allergies," she says.