Radio 4 You & Yours investigate unregulated ‘live’ blood tests

Thursday’s BBC Radio 4 You & Yours featured a report on live blood analysis.

I won’t go into too much background detail about the technique, the practitioners featured, the Groupon deals I’ve reported to the Advertising Standards Authority or the angry and disappointed customers who found my blog (and subsequently spoke to the media). I have already written about those things extensively (see ‘Further reading’, below).

Let me just share some highlights…

Anyone can be a Harley Street practitioner

Reporter Mike Powell points out that although Harley Street has been famous for decades as the home of top doctors and surgeons, anyone can be a Harley Street practitioner. You can simply rent a room for around £35 for half a day. And that is exactly what the live blood analysts Errol Denton and ‘Dr’ Stephen Ferguson do.

‘He told me that I had mould in my blood’

‘Joy’ (a Groupon customer who had commented on my blog) describes her experience with Errol Denton:

I was absolutely panic-stricken… he told me that I  had mould in my blood, that I had markers for diabetes… but the worst of it all was him saying that he’d only seen blood like mine in cancer patients…

At the time, Joy was in fact awaiting biopsy results. She was understandably shocked by what Denton had said. In  her interview with Mike Powell, she explained that she thought it was ‘a done deal’, though in fact she later found out that her symptoms had been caused by irritable bowel syndrome.

The ASA say they take an active interest in the sector

I reported Errol Denton’s Groupon ad to the Advertising Standards Authority in April 2011. My complaint was upheld in full.

This was one of many complaints I have made against ads for live blood analysis, several of which were about Denton’s advertising.

Despite the ASA dropping my complaint against Errol’s Live Blood Test site, four complaints against his advertising have been upheld (including the Groupon ad as well as complaints against his See My Cells site and a leaflet). His company (Fitalifestyle Ltd) appears in the ASA’s list of non-compliant online advertisers.

Radio 4 contacted the ASA, who gave the following statement:

The ASA has taken action against a number of ads for blood testing services for failing to prove claims that imply the service has the potential to prevent illness or disease. In addition, ads that were likely to discourage the public from seeking suitably qualified treatment for serious medical conditions have also fallen foul of the Codes. We continue to take an active interest in this sector.

It isn’t clear how active their interest actually is, given that non-compliant sites advertising Live Blood Analysis are so abundant. These include Errol Denton’s Live Blood Test and Stephen Ferguson’s Natural Health Clinic sites, both of which I reported almost a year ago.

Conventional blood testing

Dr Archie Prentice, haematologist and President of the Royal College of Pathologists gave an interview where he described modern blood testing techniques and explained that you can tell a whole range of things from detailed, careful blood analysis. He made it very clear that this doesn’t mean simply looking at the blood using a microscope. It is not done quickly and is not always done with just one test, but usually involves technical analysis in sophisticated and expensive multi-channel analysers.

He said

I would be unwilling to make a diagnosis purely on the basis of microscopy

Despite this, practitioners claim that live blood analysis is superior to conventional testing because while a haematologist would be looking at dead blood cells, they claim a live blood analyst who looks at the cells straight away is able to see a whole lot more.

Dr Prentice explained that

Blood samples taken to a haematology laboratory are preserved with chemicals which keep the cells in as live a state as possible before they are put through the analysers. It’s true that many of the tests that we do are done on cells that are fixed and therefore dead but they have to be in a stable, fixed state in order for us to examine them properly to make a detailed and multi-step analysis of what’s exactly wrong with the blood cell. It’s not done on the basis of one observation.

He went on to explain that although there are occasions when it is helpful to see a blood cell immediately…

I’m not aware of any comparative studies that compare live blood analysis with the kind of analysis that blood samples get in a conventional pathology laboratory so to say that one technique is better than another is a bold claim.

Errol Denton asked the BBC to fund research into Live Blood Analysis

Of course, as reporter Mike Powell explained, it is also a bold claim to make out that someone has indications of cancer after taking a first look at their blood.

Denton did not get back to the BBC on that point and refused to be interviewed unless the BBC would fund work that he said would prove the effectiveness of his techniques. He did, however, defend his work, explaining that he has helped people to lose weight and has many satisfied clients.

This is what Errol had to say about the ASA:

Many say the main job of the ASA is not to protect consumers, it is to debunk alternative health amongst other things. They do so by using the terms ‘scientific’ or ‘medical’ in their language. Nutritional blood microscopy is neither scientific or medical, it is common sense health that always works if people are prepared to take responsibility for their own health,  therefore adjudications on scientific or medical grounds are irrelevant and nonsensical.

Yes, you read that right. Denton admits that what he does is neither scientific nor medical, but fails to explain how or why he felt qualified to lead a client to believe she had cancer.

I find his audacity truly gobsmacking.

‘Dr’ Stephen Ferguson

Fellow practitioner, ‘Dr’ Ferguson (who did actually agree to be interviewed) is no less audacious. He boasts over 200 letters after his name and so many job titles that You & Yours didn’t have time to include them all in their programme. He is a truly incredible man.

Ferguson claimed

The live blood analysis would not be done at all to diagnose in any way. It would just give a brief understanding of what is happening at cellular level.

He likened himself to a computer engineer showing people exactly what is going wrong and what’s not balanced in their body and explained that then they would look at the solution and he would give ongoing support.

If showing someone exactly what is going wrong does not constitute a diagnosis, I’m not sure what does.

Ferguson also makes the rather improbable assertion that certain things will happen in your life that will build uric acid crystals in your blood and cause yeast overgrowth.

Although this is utterly ridiculous, Ferguson claims he can see these features in the blood. He claims he can see signs of free radical damage to cells. He says this weakens the cells which means that they aren’t able to contain their nutrients properly. He says iron can ‘drizzle off’, which can lead to anaemia.

I can only guess at what ‘drizzle off’ actually means but apparently ‘Dr’ Ferguson can see this actually happening before his very eyes.

Thankfully Ferguson doesn’t go so far as to claim that a live blood test is superior to a conventional blood test but says that both are necessary. He admits that you do need conventional medicine but points out that

a lot of people are feeling let down by it because of the chemical side effects of the things that happen.

Mike Powell explained to Ferguson that, on the subject of live blood tests, the Department of Health say

Any test should have an evidence base on its effectiveness. We are not aware of the evidence base for this test. We would expect any testing from diagnostic providers should demonstrate quality assurance and adhere to accepted guidelines such as those laid out by the Royal College of Pathologists.

Ferguson replied that what he does is ‘not diagnostics in that sense’ and said that the NHS advise people to watch their diet and lifestyle. He failed to explain what that has to do with him diagnosing observing uric acid crystals, yeast overgrowth and signs of anaemia but was quick to point out that live blood analysis is not all he does.

Ferguson was then asked whether his misleading use of the term ‘Dr’ and mention of the Harley Street clinic and his home visits could lead people to believe he is a qualified GP or consultant. His response was really quite astounding:

I would hate to ever have someone think that I was a medical doctor because I personally believe that they know nothing about health. They will hold you in disease for years and years and years and years and you will be taking tablets that will have side effects. I’m not saying in all cases – as I said at the beginning you do need suppression in some cases but people are really, really ill.

Although (as stated in the report), Stephen Ferguson has since updated his website, I believe it is still far from compliant with the CAP Code, including guidelines on use of the term ‘Dr’.

A different world

In conclusion, Mike Powell asks do the paying clients realise that claims about live blood tests  aren’t backed up by a wealth of sound scientific data? He explains that the test’s proponents operate in a world where there are not the clinical trials and robust scientific evidence demanded by the medical profession.

That is not acceptable and should not be allowed to continue.

Further reading

A new era of scientific discovery? Edzard Ernst, The Guardian, 12/07/05

Live Blood Analysis: The Modern Auguries Mark Crislip, Science-Based Medicine, 13/02/09

Introducing the curious world of the Alkaline Diet and Live Blood Analysis Josephine Jones, 22/03/11

I wish I could be like Dr Steve Josephine Jones, 19/05/11

ASA not able to pursue all my Live Blood Analysis complaints… Hopefully compliance action across the sector to follow. Josephine Jones, 10/08/11

My third ASA adjudication: Groupon’s Live Blood Test claims exaggerated, misleading and unsubstantiated Josephine Jones, 07/09/11

Another bloody disgrace from Groupon! Josephine Jones, 12/10/11

THE OFFICIAL QUACK OF THE WEEK AWARD, Quack of the Week, 14th Oct 2011  “DR” STEPHEN FERGUSON ASA Rocks, 14/10/11

Fitalifestyle continue to make dubious health claims – even after four ASA adjudications Josephine Jones, 03/11/11

Fitalifestyle added to ASA Hall of Shame Josephine Jones, 16/11/11

10 responses to “Radio 4 You & Yours investigate unregulated ‘live’ blood tests

  1. I HAVE personally expierenced this fallacy and total scam at f-irst hand.My blood was taken and put to microscopic test delivered to a COMPUTOR screen, that showed I had several different problems. The analysis was done immediately by some software. The so called problems I had properly anylised the following day, and all the ‘live’ tests were utter bunkum. The people doing this really are toatal !!!!!!s

  2. Ah yes… I first heard of this ludicrous pseudoscientific alt practice a couple of years ago. I engaged someone via e-mail who was running expensive seminars for chiropractors and naturopaths. His operation was charging thousands for the class plus selling all the equipment needed at greatly inflated prices. All you need is a microscope with a small TV camera mounted and connected to a monitor. To the credulous, this all looks very sophisticated. I have an extensive background in medical microscopy in both university and hospital laboratories along with graduate level coursework in haematology and parasitology. I posed many astute questions to him, all based on the scientific practice of medicine. I questioned every interpretation and especially that which the trained eye would call “artifact” as indicators of disease states. He was totally unflappable and spewed back an endless litany of tried and true alt apologetics phrases like “In my experience” (anecdotal evidence), “Science doesn’t know everything” and, of course, “Have an open mind.” He was certainly one of those “True Believers”! I would have loved to attend one of his seminars to shoot down the premise of this scam.

    • Having looked into quite a few of these characters online (see Live Blood Analysis tag for other posts) I can well imagine the scenario you describe. I’ve never interacted with any of the practitioners directly so it was great to hear the Radio 4 programme. Many of the UK ones I’ve encountered say they were trained by ‘Dr’ Robert O Young – it wasn’t the great man himself was it?

      • Well, it was 4-5 years ago and I no longer have an archive of e-mails from that period. But – I don’t recall the person involved pretended to be any kind of “Dr.” or even actual health care provider of any ilk.

  3. Pingback: London Evening Standard promote live blood quackery | Josephine Jones

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