Welcome to the first installment of Dr Rachie reports. This is the blog-based section of my bi-weekly medical based segment where I report on medical issues, alternative medicine or healthcare products that have caught my interest.

Live blood analysis (LBA) or live blood imaging is also known as dark-field video analysis, haemaview and nutritional blood analysis

The concept is simple, your finger is pricked, a drop of your blood placed on a slide and then viewed on a microscope and projected into a computer monitor. Practitioners claim to be able to make judgements from the shape of your blood cells and the contents of your blood about the state of your health. They claim to be able to see all manner of things from bacterial, fungal and viral infections, increased “acidity” in the blood, organ-system dysfunctions, gut permeability & digestive health, evidence of hormonal imbalances to atherosclerotic plaque! Which is all part of a scheme to sell you their “magic potion” commonly in the form of over-priced vitamin powders or supplements.

Even Wikipedia got it right this time with their description of LBA as; “…an unestablished diagnostic test (1) promoted by some alternative medicine practitioners, who assert that it can diagnose a range of diseases. There is no scientific evidence that live blood analysis can detect any disease state, and it has been described by an expert on complementary and alternative medicine as a fraudulent means of convincing a patient that they are ill and require treatment with dietary supplements” (2). And this was Edzard Ernst, the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, who holds the Laing Chair of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, a partnership with the the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth. Professor Ernst has published over 1000 peer reviewed papers and written over 40 books, his most recent, Trick or Treatment with UK based science writer, Simon Singh. He knows his stuff.

“…There is no scientific evidence that live blood analysis can detect any disease state…”

So how does it work, (or not work)? LBA practitioners refer to microscopy images of diseased blood made available by various labs, and diagnose your ailment by comparison. You can see some diagnostic pictures here.
They all claim to treat a wide variety, virtual mish-mash of diseases. Some of the more interesting things I came across include “free radical damage to the blood cell”, undigested proteins and fats (this is not an illness) evidence of smoking (damn, I had no idea I was smoking until you did my LBA), alcohol, stress (this research stresses me out) and atherosclerotic plaque; hang on a tic, atherosclerotic plaque? Why did no one bother to tell me this? I work in heart disease research and we’ve spent decades looking for blood borne biological markers that could indicate the presence of plaques. AND NOW THIS? Clearly I have wasted my time.

Now here’s the trick with alternative medicine peddlers. They will pepper their spiel with “scientific-sounding” words to make their claims appear more credible (more on this below) . Brian Dunning talks about this as a “red flag” in his fantastic presentation “Here Be Dragons – an introduction to critical thinking. Here is a classic example, drawn from a random LBA website.

“For our live blood cell analysis Dr. “Jo Bloggs” (name changed to protect the shonky) uses a sophisticated microscope called an RTM (Richardson Technology Microscope). This microscope is the same one being used in places like the The Scripps Center and The Pasteur Institute and is the only one available in the world to be used for live blood cell analysis”.

Now this is probably true. Richardson Technologies are legitimate microscope manufacturers and dark field microscopy is a valid scientific tool. That doesn’t mean they are being used for real science in this case, I have a miscroscope in my house to; it sits on my bookshelf and looks “sciencey”. Perhaps I need to put a a sign on my letterbox – microscope upstairs, scientific stuff wooo, only $100 buck to see it.

And here’s another classic red flag. Search any of these sights, (and LBA is not the only culprit) and you will be sure to find dozens if not more, of testimonials from satisfied customers. This is very common practice by woo practitioners, yet, testimonials DO NOT constitute evidence. The most obvious thing that comes to my mind is how do you know they are real? Couldn’t they have easily been written by the person her/himself? Or their neighbour, or randomly generated from testimonialsforquacks.com(3)?

Australia is not immune. Richard and I went under cover to the Mind Body Wallet (sic) Festival in Sydney Australia earlier this year, and spoke with an LBA proponent. Now I should point out here that I am a cell biologist, working in heart disease research with a PhD from the University of Sydney, so I’m pretty familiar with physiology and scientific terminology. (Search for R. A. Dunlop on Pubmed for assurance that my PhD is not from a diploma factory). Richard on the other hand is a science junkie and a member of the cheer squad, but essentially a layman with respect to the jargon and of course they use this to their advantage.

As her explanation progressed I noticed a pattern of peppering with misplaced scientific jargon almost as if she had put a whole lot of scientific words in a hat and pulled them out at random. At the point when she threw in “SOD” I had to stop her and ask for more information. SOD, or SuperOxide Dismutase is an enzyme I am very familiar with, (in fact I even wrote a section on it in my thesis), so you’re not getting past me dropping SOD into a conversation sister. SOD is an enzymatic anti-oxidant which detoxifies free radicals, specifically ones known as superoxide in the body to a less toxic product. Well actually to hydrogen peroxide the stuff you use to bleach your hair, so not completely harmless, but certainly lass damaging than the radical species. I remember her explanation well, she said, “Superdismutase o…..oh I can’t remember, it’s been a long day!”. Hmmm. Now why the hell she was dropping SOD into the sales pitch for her supplement of choice, known as Green Barley Powder escapes me, apart from it’s scientific sounding name.

“Superdismutase o…..oh I can’t remember, it’s been a long day!”.

She also tried to convince us that the shape of your blood cells on the slide could indicate if you had the correct ratio of magnesium to calcium in your body and that the cloudy feeling you sometimes get in the mornings is a result of an imbalance in this ratio, but of course the GBP fixes all that. I had previously attributed the cloudy feeling in my head to the copious amounts of champagne I had consumed the previous night, but I’m willing to run with that.

If you are still unsure as to the efficacy of LBA, check the fine print and sometimes the-not-so-fine-print on the websites of practitioners. Here’s one I came across during my research:

“Dr. Blogs does not diagnose, prescribe or cure. He simply observes the living tissue in your body, makes recommendations about lifestyle and gives the body what it needs to heal itself”.

And the following statement appeared in bold type on the homepage no less; “Nothing on this site should be construed as medical advice. Seek the services of your physician for medical advice”.

In addition, there are ongoing regulatory issues surrounding LBA with unaccredited labs in the States conducting the procedure. In 1996, the Pennsylvania Department of Laboratories informed three Pennsylvania chiropractors that “Nutritional Blood Analysis” could not be used for diagnostic purposes unless they maintain a laboratory that has both state and federal certification for complex testing (4).

Essentially LBA is a front for selling you some expensive cocktail of herbs or vitamins. Prices vary for a consultation, the most expensive I came across was USD $375 for the initial visit and $175 for a follow up. In Australia, the test costs about $150. But then the potions are much more, $105 per kilo for the GBP they tried to sell Richard and I. And of course you are not cured with one course, this is a repeat business venture plus you will need to return for a follow-up visit to demonstrate that you are “cured”.

I have also recently discovered the existence of Dry Cell Analysis and Hair Mineral Analysis too, but right now I need a stiff drink and a good lie down.


(1) CLIA regulation of unestablished laboratory tests.
(2) Ernst E (July 12, 2005). A new era of scientific discovery? Intrigued by the spectacular claims made for Live Blood Analysis? Don’t be. It doesn’t work. The Guardian
(3) Not a real website
(4) Wlazelek A. Chiropractors cease blood cell show and tell. State restricts the use of magnified images to sell vitamins, supplements. The Morning Call, April 12, 1996, page B6.

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