Live Blood Cell Analysis:
Another Gimmick to Sell You Something

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Live blood cell analysis is carried out by placing a drop of blood from the patient's fingertip on a microscope slide under a glass cover slip to keep it from drying out. The slide is then viewed at high magnification with a dark-field microscope that forwards the image to a television monitor. Both practitioner and patient can then see the blood cells, which appear as dark bodies outlined in white. The practitioner may take polaroid photographs of the television picture or may videotape the procedure for himself and/or the patient. The results are then used as a basis for prescribing supplements. The procedure is also called live cell analysis, dark-field video analysis, nutritional blood analysis, vital hematology, biocytonics, and several other names.

Dark-field microscopy is a valid scientific tool in which special lighting is used to examine specimens of cells and tissues. The objects being viewed stand out against a dark background—the opposite of what occurs during regular microscopy. This allows the observer to see things that might not be visible with standard lighting. Connecting a television monitor to a microscope for diagnostic purposes is also a legitimate practice. However, live cell analysis is not. Most of its users are chiropractors, naturopaths, or bogus "nutrition consultants."

Dubious Claims

According to a flyer from a Los Angeles chiropractor:

Live Blood Analysis is a simple procedure for obtaining a quick and accurate assessment of your blood. With only a sample, taken virtually without pain from your finger, [the test] is able to provide a composite of over 25 aspects from your live blood. Darkfield microscopy now allows us to observe multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies, toxicity, tendencies toward allergic reaction, excess fat circulation, liver weakness and arteriosclerosis.

During 1998, the web site of the Integrated Medical Center, Annandale, Virginia, stated:

Blood is magnified by 30,000 times, giving us the ability to document your condition, monitor your progression while on treatment. The blood is the pathway to the flesh and tells all. Using this technology allows us to monitor your condition and adjust as needed. Your blood is the best place to find quick result and determine if you therapy is effective. Quick response spells maximum results.

"Nutripath" Stephen Heuer, of Sunnyvale, California, claims that great benefits can result from monitoring a special protein:

Live Blood Analysis in a Dark Field primarily monitors the life cycle of a protein called the "Symprotit" or "Prion". The Symprotit creates health under the right pH conditions or disease under the wrong pH conditions. Within us are the seeds for life or death depending on the environment we create for the Symprotit. Diet, radiation, emotions, and toxins are the four factors which influence this internal environment for life or for death. Much like the butterfly starts out as an egg, becomes a caterpillar, and finally becomes a butterfly, so too can this microscopic blood protein called the Symprotit/Prion evolve into a bacteria in the blood and then a fungus in the tissues. Monitoring the life cycle of this protein can give you the correct understanding of biology to help you heal Cancer, Arthritis, Candida, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Prostate issues, Multiple Sclerosis, Bacterial, Viral and Yeast Infections, Depression, Sleep Disorders, Headaches, Constipation, Excess Body Fat, Potency or Fertility Problems, Memory Problems, PMS, Menopause, and more. Health is attainable when the environment for it is created.

Innerlight International has sponsored a course by Robert O. Young that it said would teach how live blood cell analysis can reveal "the level of activity or inactivity of the immune system," various types of "organ stress," and many types of "metabolic dysfunction."

These claims are sheer bunkum. Although a few characteristics of blood (such as the relative size of the red cells) are observable, live cell analysts invariably misinterpret other things, such as the extent of red blood cell clumping, changes in the shape of the cells, and other artifacts that occur as the blood sample dries. Moreover, most practitioners who perform the test are not qualified to manage the problems they purport to diagnose.

During the mid-1980s, one company marketing live-cell equipment projected that a practitioner who persuades one patient per day to embrace a supplement program based on the test would net over $60,000 per year for testing and supplement sales. Another company estimated that with five new patients a day (22 days a month) paying $30 for the test and $50 for supplements, practitioners would gross over $100,000 per year just on initial visits.

The most active individual promoters of live-cell analysis have been James R. Privitera, M.D., of Covina, California, and Joel Robbins, D.C., of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Privitera claims that "clot malfunction" is an underlying cause of many diseases, can be diagnosed with live cell analysis, and can be treated with large doses of dietary supplements. His book, Silent Clots, describes his "general daily guidelines [for supplements] that have worked well for many patients as an anti-clotting program." The book also describes regimens for arthritis, asthma, baldness, bladder infections, cancer, colds, colitis, cramps, diabetes, diarrhea, diverticulosis, eczema, and edema, and includes case histories of patients he treated for many other conditions [1]. I do not believe there is any scientific evidence for these claims or that these regimens are effective as Privitera claims. His's web site offers more than 150 supplement products for sale.

In 1975, Privitera was convicted of conspiring to prescribe and distribute laetrile and was sentenced to six months in prison. (Laetrile is a quack cancer remedy.) In 1980, after the appeals process ended, he served 55 days in jail but was released after being pardoned by California Governor Jerry Brown. (The pardon occurred in response to a letter-writing campaign generated by the National Health Federation, a group that espouses what it calls "health freedom.") Then, because Privitera had been prescribing unapproved substances (including laetrile, calcium pangamate, and DMSO) for the treatment of cancer, the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance suspended his medical license for four months and placed him on ten years' probation under board supervision. During the probationary period, Privitera was "prohibited from making any representation that he is able to cure cancer through nutrition." He was also forbidden to tell patients they had cancer unless the diagnosis was confirmed in writing by an appropriate board-certified specialist. During the probationary period, Privitera commercialized live-cell analysis and founded two companies that marketed devices for doing it. Silent Clots mentions that in 1993, a federal judge signed an order authorizing Internal Revenue Service agents to enter his clinic premises to effect a levy and that a seizure was made. However, the book provides no further details about his tax-related difficulty.

In 1999, Privitera was implicated in the death of a 71-year-old woman who had consulted him for arm pain. While in Privitera's waiting room, she complained of a headache while in Privitera's waiting room. Documents in the case state that Privitera (a) prescribed 20,000 units of heparin (an anticoagulant) to be placed under the woman's tongue, (b) examined a blood sample with a dark-field microscope, (c) concluded that the blood specimen showed too much tendency to clot, and (d) prescribed another 20,000 units of heparin to be given under the patient's skin. Soon afterward, the patient became lightheaded, vomited, and passed out. She was rushed to a hospital. where it was noted that she was comatose and was bleeding from several places. She died a few hours later, apparently as a result of a massive hemorrhage inside her head. In 2003, the Medical Board of California charged that Privitera had (a) failed to properly evaluate the woman's headache, (b) had no documented rationale for administering heparin, and (c) had administered an overdose [2]. The case was settled with a stipulation under which Privitera agreed to be reprimanded, pay $5,000 for costs, and take courses in prescribing and medical recordkeeping [3].

Robbins graduated in 1978 from Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Missouri, but he also claims to have a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) degree from the Anglo-American Institute of Drugless Therapy and a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from the British West Indies College of Medicine. The Anglo-American Institute of Naturopathy was a British diploma mill that issued credentials to people who completed mail-order lessons, submitted a thesis, and paid a modest fee. The "British West Indies College of Medicine" was not an actual school but was a scheme created by con man Gregory E. Caplinger to defraud chiropractors of "tuition" money [4]. In 1996, Caplinger was arrested in Florida on ten counts of racketeering and grand theft, but the charges were withdrawn after he made partial refunds.

Dubious Conduct

During the mid-1980s, National Council Against Health Fraud vice president James Lowell, Ph.D., watched three practitioners demonstrate live cell analysis at health expositions. Lowell noted:

Live cell analysis has also been promoted by Infinity2, of Scottsdale, Arizona, a multilevel company whose distributors demonstrated their wares at chiropractic conventions. Infinity2 called the test "live cell microscopy" or "Nutritional Blood Analysis" and recruited licensed health professionals to use the procedure to sell its products. In 1995, I was tested at a national chiropractic convention where two teams of Infinity2 distributors had exhibits. One exhibitor said I had "mild B12 deficiency" and "maldigestion" that could weaken my immune system and cause fatigue. The other said my blood cells showed evidence of "liver toxicity," "bacterial infection," and "free radical damage." In both cases the recommended "treatment" was enzyme pills, which the company was marketing with false claims that "enzyme deficiency" is widespread among Americans. To reinforce their that the pills could help me, both practitioners gave me enzyme pills, repeated the procedure several minutes later, and said that the problems were no longer visible. Unknown to them, however, I had faked taking the pills, so the "improvements" they saw had nothing to do with them. The most likely explanation is that the specimens were examined differently. Blood dries more quickly near the edges of the slide than near the center. Thus "improvement" will occur if the first specimen is examined near an edge and the second specimen is examined near its center. Company literature listed Joel Robbins as a member of its Professional Advisory Council.

I asked both exhibitors whether the test procedure is covered under insurance policies. One—a naturopath—said he routinely billed the test as a regular office visit and also used eight CPT codes, including B12 testing for deficiency. he also said that Infinity2 ran training sessions on how to do the testing and billing. The other exhibitor did not confirm that the course included "creative billing" ideas, but he said that he knew that some doctors were billing the test as regular visits. Some live-cell practitioners are using the procedure code number for "dark-field microscopy" when they submit insurance claims forms. Doing any of these things would be insurance fraud.

Regulatory Actions

In 1996, the Pennsylvania Department of Laboratories informed three Pennsylvania chiropractors that Infinity2's "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 [6]. The company's attorney replied:

As background, you should know that part of our business activity is supplying a microscope system that is equipped for the demonstration of blood samples on a video monitor. We teach and recommend the use of this system as a health education demonstration. In our training and system we do not teach, promote or address in any manner using the system for "analysis" or any other medical purpose.

Our system is based on obtaining a written nutritional and lifestyle analysis from patients of doctors using the microscopy system. Once this questionnaire and evaluation of lifestyle and nutrition is examined by the doctor, the doctor then makes specific recommendations to the patient, based solely and exclusively on the nutritional analysis and personal interview with the patient.

After any recommendation has been made for altering the patient's lifestyle or nutritional habits, the doctor may place a single drop of blood on a sample slide for viewing through the dark field microscope which is then displayed on a video monitor.

This demonstration is a powerful motivating tool to encourage a doctor's patient to accept the doctor's previously made recommendations and alter his or her lifestyle to a healthier form of living.

The doctor performing the demonstration never makes any analysis, determination or recommendation based on the video demonstration. There is no commentary given regarding the state of the patient's blood or anything seen in the bloodstream itself other than to educate the patient by pointing out features of the blood such as red cells, white cells, and plasma. The patient is able to view a sample of his/her own blood, which results in the motivation that can lead to beneficial lifestyle changes for the individual patient [7].

A Laboratory Department official then informed the attorney that certification would be required if the practitioner:

Federal certification of medical laboratories is governed by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) which Congress enacted in 1998 to establish quality standards for all laboratory testing to ensure the accuracy, reliability, and timeliness of patient test results regardless of where the test was performed. In 1996 and 1997, the Health Care Financing Administration (now the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) Office of General Counsel determined that live blood analysis was a "high-complexity" text and was subject to stringent CLIA requirements. Failure to comply with any of these requirements will result in enforcement actions and/or sanctions being taken.

In 2001, the HHS Office of the Inspector General issued a report on regulation of "unestablished laboratory tests" that focused on live blood cell analysis. The report stated:

In 2004, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a special alert which stated that any facility performing live blood cell analysis must have CLIA certification for high-complexity testing [8]. Very few practitioners who do live blood cell analysis would have reason to seek laboratory certification; and if they did, I doubt that they would get permission. However, the states have jurisdiction over whether noncompliant laboratories are permitted to remain in business.

In 2005, the Rhode Island Department of Health ordered Joyce M. Martin, D.C., to stop performing live blood analysis [11]. An attorney for the state Board of Examiners in Chiropractic Medicine described the test as as "useless" and a "money-making scheme " A state medical board official said that the test has no discernible value and the public should be very suspicious of any practitioner who offers it [12]. Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, summed up the situation in an article in the British Guardian:

Seeing one's own blood cells on a video screen is, admittedly, a powerful experience. It gives patients the impression of hi-tech, cutting edge science combined with holistic care. And impressed patients are ready to part with a lot of money. American websites explain how a practitioner can make $100,000 (£57,000) annually by purchasing the equipment necessary for performing LBA. The bulk of this money is made not through charging for the test itself but by selling expensive nutritional supplements to the patient with the promise that these will correct whatever abnormality has been diagnosed.

In other words, patients are potentially cheated three times over. First, you are diagnosed with a "condition" you don't have; then a lengthy and expensive treatment ensues; and finally the bogus test is repeated and you are declared "improved" or "back to normal." [13]

In 2008, Robert W. Bradford, C.R.B., Inc. (d/b/a American Biologics), C.R.B.'s chief operating officer Brigitte G. Bird, and John R. Toth, M.D. were charged with conspiring to violate federal food and drug laws and defraud individuals seeking medical care. The indictment states that Bradford, C.R.B., and Bird marketed bogus Lyme disease products and the Bradford Variable Projection Microscope, which was falsely claimed to diagnose the disease [14,15]. Toth is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter related to the death of a woman whom he falsely diagnosed with Lyme disease and treated with a dangerous intravenous product sold by American Biologics. In 2009, Carl E,. Haese, an unlicensed practitioner in New Mexico who used the BVRM to misdiagnose Lyme disease, was arrested for fraud [16].

Anyone who is not a licensed health professional who uses livecell analysis for making diagnoses or recommending products would be guilty of practicing medicine without a license, which is a violation of state law. If you encounter anyone who does this, please complain to your state department of laboratories and state attorney general and email me a copy of your notice.

References

  1. Privitera J, Stang A. Silent Clots: Life's Biggest Killers. Lockstep Medicine's Conspiracy to Suppress the Test That Should Be Done in Emergency Rooms Throughout The World. Covina, Calif.: The Catacombs Press, 1996.
  2. Accusation. In the matter of the accusation against James R. Privitera, Jr., M.D. Before the Division of Medical Quality, Medical Board of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, State of California, Case No. 11-2001-119360, March 31, 2003.
  3. Stipulated settlement and disciplinary order. In the matter of the accusation against James R. Privitera, Jr., M.D. Before the Division of Medical Quality, Medical Board of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, State of California, Case No. 11-2001-119360, signed May 7, 2004, adopted by Board Oct 7, 2004.
  4. Kelly S. DCs lured to foreign medical school. Dubious goings-on down Santo Domingo Way. Dynamic Chiropractic Archives, Jan 1, 1993.
  5. Lowell JA. Live cell analysis: High-tech hokum. Nutrition Forum 3:81-85, 1986.
  6. 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.
  7. Woodruff SM. Letter to Joseph W. Gasiewski, Director, Division of Laboratory Improvement, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Jan 17, 1996.
  8. Gasiewski JW. Letter to Samuel M. Woodruff, General Counsel, Infinity2, Feb 16, 1996.
  9. CLIA regulation of unestablished laboratory tests. HHS Office of the Inspector General, July 2001.
  10. Barrett S. CLIA hits questionable tests, Quackwatch, March 9, 2004.
  11. Gifford DF. Immediate compliance order. In the matter of Joyce Martin, DC. Issued June 20, 2005.
  12. Freyer FJ. Chiropractor ordered to halt blood tests. Providence Journal, June 21, 2005.
  13. Ernst E. 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, July 12, 2005.
  14. Barrett S. Some notes on the Bradford Variable Projection Microscope. Device Watch, June 30, 2009.
  15. Barrett S, Robert Bradford indicted (2008). Casewatch, June 30, 2009.
  16. Barrett S. Lyme disease quack arrested. Casewatch, June 30, 2009.

Additional Proponent Sites

Reader Response

From someone who conducted a local investigation:

I recently attended a "live blood cell analysis" session and have spoken to many others whose experiences were virtually identical to mine. I am convinced that this "procedure," while visually impressive, is nothing more than pure charlatanism being perpetrated by unskilled practitioners. During my 15-minute, $20 session (fees run much higher for longer, more "in depth" sessions), I was told such nonsense as the following:

  • I have "parasites" in my blood, for which I need to take "digestive enzymes."
  • I need to eat more green vegetables, because they contain chlorophyll, and chlorophyll "converts to hemoglobin in the body."
  • I need to "return to my ancestral diet" (mastadon meat?).
  • I exhibit "red blood cell stacking," which is a sign of either excess stress or improper fat assimilation.

I have spoken to many others who consulted this same practitioner. Every one of these people was diagnosed with some combination of these same problems, plus "high levels of bacteria" in the blood, indicated by the number of "target cells." All were also advised to take some combination of the following to ameliorate their alleged problem(s):

  • Blue-green algae harvested from Klamath Lake in California (said to be superior to other blue-green algae because of its "high content of volcanic ash")
  • Digestive enzymes (these supposedly correct "red blood cell stacking" and kill parasites)
  • Live acidophilus culture
  • A multi-vitamin
  • Colonic irrigation.

For most of these people, the average cost of these items (excluding the irrigation) would be $30 to $60 per month. And, of course, everyone rushes back for their $20 follow-up appointment. Miraculously, those who follow the practitioner's advice invariably show improvement on their follow-up visits. It is easy to figure out how this is done once you know that blood dries more quickly at the edge of the slide than in the middle. On my first (and only) appointment, my practitioner explicitly told me, "Sometimes you have to look over at the edge of the slide." I found this incomprehensible at the time. Now I believe it reflects deliberate deception. I am sure that on my follow-up appointment, there would be no mention of looking at the edge of the slide, and my "stacking" would be cured. If tempted to consult one of these "live-cell analysts," hold tightly to to your hard-earned money.

This article was revised on December 29, 2006.