What if someone told you that with just a few drops of blood from a finger prick they could detect a range of illnesses, from diabetes to cancer? Would you be inclined to opt for this diagnostic tool rather than having to submit to having a phlebotomist extract blood from your arm? And if it cost less and the results were almost immediate, would you say, ‘hey, I’m in!’?
Elizabeth Holmes, founder of blood-testing startup Theranos made such a claim, and today faces nine counts of wire fraud and two cases of conspiracy to commit wire fraud — she faces 20 years in prison if convicted. Theranos’ $9 billion valuation was based on the claims that its technology could accurately run hundreds of tests on a few drops of blood. And it was a fraud. But why did so many believe her?
As CNBC reports, behavioral expert Dan Ariely suggests that human brains are good at remembering general statements or ideas, but they are not so good at remembering where the information came from, or sometimes even whether it is true. And that Elizabeth Holmes was very good at telling people what they want to hear.
So if you hear that here in Cuenca there are “alternative practitioners” who can, almost painlessly, with just a few drops of blood from a finger prick, perform a test called “dark field blood analysis” (or live blood cell analysis, or darkfield microscopy or nutritional blood analysis) with the claim that this test allows the diagnosis of vitamin and mineral “deficiencies,” “blood toxicity,” “imbalances,” or other myriad conditions, and which can be corrected with supplements and dietary changes, it’s important to know that one of the most respected physicians around, Dr. Andrew Weil, describes the test as “bogus” and “a scam.”
Dr. Weil is well known for popularizing the concept of integrative medicine, which melds traditional medicine with “alternative” healing techniques. So believe him when he says, let the buyer beware.
Dr. Weil explains, “This procedure is used by practitioners who claim that a darkfield analysis of a blood sample reveals much about a person’s health. Usually, the magnified blood cells are projected onto a large screen, so that patients can watch as practitioners point out “abnormalities.” Most of the abnormalities are artifacts of the technique of darkfield microscopy, but Live Blood Analysis (LBA) proponents claim they represent early indications of cancer and other serious diseases. They argue that LBA can identify cancer and immune system diseases years earlier than other tests, diagnose vitamin deficiencies, kidney and bladder problems, determine if your blood lacks oxygen; tell you whether you’re running low on trace minerals, drink too much alcohol, and or even if you are not getting enough exercise.
None of this is actually possible by LBA. Over the years, various state authorities have clamped down on practitioners who promoted LBA. In 1996 Pennsylvania barred three chiropractors from using LBA for diagnosing nutritional deficiencies unless they maintained a lab that met state and federal standards for complex testing. In Rhode Island a member of the state medical board warned the public to be suspicious of any practitioner who offers testing after the state health department ordered a chiropractor to stop performing LBA.”
Mark Crislip is a physician and practicing infectious disease specialist, and writes in Science-Based Medicine, “Live blood analysis is one of these alternative methodologies that has a hint of legitimacy that is extrapolated far out of proportion to its validity.”
In detail, Crislip evaluates the common diagnoses that “practitioners” make when “evaluating” a patient’s blood — and has found that each operates similarly.
Some frequent diagnoses include “acid in the blood” from being a “poor protein digester” — the practitioner will see “rouleaux formation” in the blood cells. Are your red blood cells “sticking together” due to your high-fat diet and “blood fat chemistry imbalance?” Are your macrocytes, microcytes, or echinocytes out of balance? Perhaps the practitioner says you have “yeast overgrowth” and you need a detox? Or they prescribe a B-12 deficiency? Or you need enzymes? Maybe they see parasites?
Don’t believe it. Patients with parasites visible in the bloodstream would need immediate medical care, and not herbal or nutritional supplements or a diet change.
The practitioner might view the test on a monitor with you sitting alongside, and point out your “deficiencies”, along with their prescription for supplements they deem absolutely critical to improving your condition. It could be a powerful experience to see one’s own blood cells on the video screen. And when the recommendations for treatment are available right there, can you resist?
“Take these and then let’s retest your blood. Oh, look! It’s working!”
Dr. Weil writes, “… and a British physician noted in an on-line article that patients lured by LBA 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.’”
According to the National Council Against Health Fraud, the term “quack” describes a “healer” who boasts about his or her power or products. Quackery describes a health scam that promotes bogus products and services that do not have proven quality or effects. Read more from my previous column on quackery here.
A quack will offer “special” or “secret formulas” or devices. He or she uses case histories and testimonials from “satisfied patients” to prove efficacy, not controlled trials. He’ll create a David and Goliath scenario, defining the “medical establishment” as being in existence purely for profit, claiming that “allopathic” medicine and “Big Pharma” have conspired to persecute him as someone brave enough to reject “modern medicine,” and insist that only by being “natural” can the body truly “heal itself.”
A critical problem with quackery is how likely it is to delay treatment. I reached out to Cuenca resident Dr. Teresa L. Lightfoot, DVM, who said, “What’s concerning is how many things would be missed if a person came in with symptoms and took their medical information from a dark field ‘diagnosis’ rather than routine complete blood count and clinical analyses. Multiple myeloma was number one, kidney failure, liver failure, pancreatitis, platelet deficiencies and clotting disorders, anemia.”
As Dr. Crislip writes, “Unlike some alternative medicine, live blood analysis is not based on centuries of eastern medicine that likely have their basis in truth. It is a totally bogus methodology, serving only to separate people from their money.”
And Dr. Weil says, “Darkfield microscopy combined with live blood analysis may sound like cutting edge science, but it is old-fashioned hokum. Don’t buy into it.”
And by the way, is this blood analysis and diagnosis undertaken at a licensed lab? At an urgent care facility? At a hospital? There is no regulation, training requirement, or recognized qualification to perform this test for clinical diagnoses … oh, unless you are being tested for syphilis, where darkfield microscopes are used to look for Treponema pallidum spirochetes — click here to learn more.
CNBC.com. The psychology of deception: How Elizabeth Holmes fooled everyone about Theranos for so long.
Dr. Andrew Weil. A dark view of your blood?
Journal of Clinica Microbiology. Detection of Treponema pallidum in lesion exudate with a pathogen-specific monoclonal antibody.
Science-Based Medicine. Live blood analysis: The modern auguries.
Food, Nutrition, and Your Health columnist Susan Burke March moved to Cuenca after 35 years as a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the United States. She currently serves as the Country Representative from Ecuador for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan helps people attain better weight and health, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions that can be improved with smart lifestyle modifications.
Susan is offering “Free” 20-minute consultations for just a $15 donation to one of the important foundations here in Cuenca. It’s a perfect time to address issues such as cooking at home, strategies for weight loss, or boosting your immunity by improving your diet.
Contact her at SusantheDietitian@gmail.com