Update 20 March 2014: Today the subject of this post was fined £9,000 for nine counts of the Cancer Act of 1939 at Westminster Magistrates Court and handed a total bill (including costs) of over £19,000. He did not attend this final court hearing and did not represent himself.
EDIT: 13 October 2010 - the Advertising Standards Authority have now adjudicated on the leaflet and the complaint was upheld - details of two other upheld adjudications are below.
The shortened link for this page is http://is.gd/bdoh0
Earlier today I picked up a flyer for a 'nutritional microscopy' service which claims that a drop of blood, viewed under a microscope, can be used to identify the following
* relative level of acidity in the body fluids and the effects they have especially for weight loss!
* blood sugar imbalance
* vitamin deficiency, allergies, cholesterol
* uric acid and mycotoxins
* gastro-intestinal tract dysfunction
* detection of parasites, yeast, fungus and mould
* imbalance associated with degenerative conditions ect (sic)
Flyer page 1 | Flyer page 2
Not surprisingly Quackwatch doesn't have much time for the claims made by this sort of thing:
Live Blood Cell Analysis: Another Gimmick to Sell You Something
This looks like something for the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate as the claims seem... a little unlikely. Before I write a letter of complaint to the ASA I wanted to find out a bit more about some of the claims and also to find out what light microscopy can and can't do in terms of diagnosing things to do with blood. I shall add to this post as I come across things of interest, while trying to trim the text a bit.
Detection of parasites...
Tempting as it is to denounce the entire flyer as unmitigated nonsense it probably pays to be a bit careful as light microscopy of blood can apparently be used in the diagnosis of some infections (malaria, with a bit of staining of the smear) or conditions (sickle cell anaemia). PLos One has a paper on turning a mobile phone into a microscope for global health applications which includes some example pictures:
Mobile Phone Based Clinical Microscopy for Global Health Applications
The paper suggests that diagnosing malaria from blood microscopy is fairly uncontroversial, but this does not seem to be the case for Lyme disease - from borrelia spirochaetes. I hadn't realised that Lyme disease has its own subset of woo tests, one of which is inappropriate use of microscopy.
Unorthodox and unvalidated laboratory tests in the diagnosis of Lyme borreliosis and in relation to medically unexplained symptoms
Microscopy of whole blood (p5 of 9)
"It has been claimed that chronic Lyme borreliosis can be diagnosed on the basis of
seeing spirochaetes in the blood of patients by high power (on-screen magnification
reported to be X 10,000) ‘live’ microscopy of blood. A drop of blood is placed on a
microscopy slide, covered with a cover slip, and then left to stand for a period of at
least 6 hours and up to 24 hours in a moist chamber. The film is then examined by
dark field and phase contrast microscopy. It is claimed that spirochaete forms can be
seen emerging from red and white cells in these blood films. They have been
described as being ‘intracellular L-forms’ that can be seen emerging from blood cells.
Patients and medical practitioners have been told that this test for Lyme borreliosis is
positive in chronic fatigue syndrome patients, showing that CFS is caused by chronic
B. burgdorferi infection."
"However, these tests are not being performed by medical practitioners or
clinical/biomedical trained or qualified in laboratory medicine specialties such as
microbiology, parasitology or haematology that would include specific training in
light microscopy. They are not performed in laboratories accredited for clinical
The article continues with
1. Microscopy of whole blood (p7 of 9)
"The objects purported to be borreliae in the whole blood films are not considered to
be borreliae but to represent artefacts of the method used. If they were spirochaetes
the number demonstrated by light microscopy in such a small sample would indicate a
substantial spirochaetaemia which could readily be confirmed or refuted by electron
microscopy, immunofluorescence or PCR. Some of the structures appear to be
contaminating debris, as would be expected in samples collected by inexperienced
individuals (patients, carers etc) in non-sterile conditions. Other strands appear to be
fibrin produced by the clotting mechanism that would occur in whole blood held for
several hours in this way, collagen fibrils or cell membrane fragments shed from
degenerating red and white blood cells."
"Furthermore, the biological basis for the test is fundamentally wrong. B. burgdorferi
sensu lato is an extracellular bacterium in the bloodstream. It is not an intracellular
bacterium that could be seen ‘emerging from infected blood cells’. Moreover, any
spirochaetes in a thick blood smear, covered by a cover slip, would not remain viable
for long. Blood is not an ‘ideal medium’ for borreliae, the organisms are fragile in
vitro, requiring special media and careful temperature regulation. Spirochaetemia
occurs in the early stages of infection and is intermittent and short lived, with a low
number of organisms."
"Diagnostic tests that require microscopy or culture of samples from patients should be
supervised and the results interpreted by consultant medical microbiologists or
clinical scientists of equivalent standing. Tests should also be done in an accredited
laboratory with quality assurance standards."
The HPA (Health Protection Agency, UK) specifically mentions that microscopy isn't recommended in the diagnosis of Lyme disease.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Lyme borreliosis Clinical signs of Lyme borreliosis (LB)
Unorthodox Clinical and Laboratory Practices Related to Lyme borreliosis (overview)
I'm not convinced that it's possible to tell anything about 'blood sugar imbalances' from looking at blood cells. There are easier enzymatic methods used to test blood glucose concentrations from a small drop of blood, and laboratory (eg chromatographic) methods for assessing how much haemoglobin in the blood has had glucose added to it ('glycated' - the test for this is called the HbA1c test). I have to assume that some sort of chemical testing is being implied by this claim.
Discussion on Twitter with @medtek suggested that other information can be gleaned from blood smears, including a limited assessment of vitamin deficiency in the case of B vitamins leading to different types of anaemia - but even this would be confirmed by a test for serum levels of the vitamin/metabolites.
Flyers are generally a little more circumspect regarding health claims but the website to which this flyer leads has information implying that iridology can help too (nonsense) and there's even an opportunity to have an online iridology consultation
This mp3 is quite illuminating (a phone in to an LBC radio show)
More to follow... at some point...
EDIT: 13 October 2010 - the complaint was upheld
----------- EDIT 5 April 2010 ------------
Lab Tests Online is a very useful resource for finding out about different blood tests - this is a page on the UK version (there's are little flag icons on every page providing information for other countries too) about taking a pinprick of blood, smearing it on a slide and peering at it microscopically: Blood Film: At a Glance
http://www.labtestsonline.org.uk/understanding/analytes/blood_film/glance.html - this is the overview page, note the other tabs on the page for more detailed information on what this type of test can be used for.
Fellow blogger Josephine Jones has also been writing on Live Blood Analysis, for example see these two posts:
- Introducing the curious world of the Alkaline Diet and Live Blood Analysis (22 March 2011)
- My third ASA adjudication: Groupon’s Live Blood Test claims exaggerated, misleading and unsubstantiated (7 September 2011)
- Live Blood Test (13 October 2010) - a leaflet advertising Live Blood Test in Harley Street
- Fitalifestyle Ltd trading as seemycells.co.uk (1 June 2011) - an onlnie advert for liquid chlorophyll sold on seemycells.co.uk (same owner registration details as livebloodtest.com)
- MyCityDeal Ltd trading as GrouponUK (7 September 2011) - a promotion for Live Blood Test which provoked some angry comments on other blogs (including Josephine's) and forums