Smoke and Mirrors: An Inside Look at a Live Blood Cell Analysis Clinic
We are living in a world of uncertainty. Public figures and personal friends are continuously sharing information that may or may not be true via multiple social media platforms. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction through the many gigabytes of information that bombard us on our screens every day.
The same is true in health care. Between family doctors, nurse practitioners, naturopaths and other alternative medicine practitioners, who do we believe when it comes to doing what is best for us? How do we know what is sound medical advice and what is based on half-truths? What is the “fake news” of health care, and what is genuinely beneficial to our well-being?
Recently I stumbled upon a business that provides “live blood cell analysis.” As a registered Medical Laboratory Technologist, who regularly analyzes blood through a microscope, I was naturally curious about how this specific technique worked. I immediately called and made an appointment to see it firsthand.
When I arrived I was immediately struck by the comfortable atmosphere. Far removed from the clinical feel of a hospital room or doctor’s office, I felt like I was in a friend’s living room. There was a comfortable couch in the waiting area, and essential oils gave the room a welcoming feel. When I was led into the exam room, however, my feeling of comfort disappeared as I quickly realized that live blood cell analysis is definitely not a valid scientific method of diagnosis.
The kind of microscope used by live blood cell analysts is known as a dark field microscope. In a typical clinical lab this would only be used to look for a small organism called a spirochete, which causes syphilis. In a clinical setting, blood is most commonly examined using light microscopy, using visible light and optical lenses to make very small objects apparent to the human eye. Our slides csmls.org 11 go through a process where they are dried, fixed, and stained in contrasting colours so that different cells can be identified and analyzed for abnormalities invisible to the naked eye.
In the examination room, the woman drew some blood from my finger using a lancet and placed my finger directly on a slide, gently eased a coverslip onto the drop of my blood and placed it on her microscope. Using a camera attached to a computer monitor, she successfully pointed out my red blood cells and white blood cells. Her first alarming comment to me was that some of my red blood cells were reflecting light, which meant that I had a deficiency of vitamin B12. Unbeknownst to her, I had a blood test performed at an accredited lab the week before as per my family doctor’s orders, and my vitamin B12 was well within the normal range. Furthermore, a lack of vitamin B12 makes your red blood cells larger than normal-sized red blood cells, but has no bearing on how much light they can reflect.
She then proceeded to point to miniscule cells on the screen and informed me that they were the bacteria in my blood. I was told not to worry because I had “just the right amount.” The cells she was pointing at were actually my platelets, which are not bacteria at all but rather they help with the process of blood clotting whenever my body needs to stop bleeding. Furthermore, blood is a sterile site which means there should never be bacteria present. Individuals with bacteria in their blood can become septic and need to be treated by a physician immediately.
I was also told that I had spicules in my blood that were caused by liver stress. Spicules are particles that are present in bone marrow and never in peripheral blood like the kind that came out of my finger. She also pointed to some larger shiny particles that she identified as cholesterol crystals (they were actually large platelets), but immediately advised me that cholesterol medications can cause heart attacks and never to take them. I hope the same thing has never been said to a person who genuinely needs cholesterol medications. The final comment she made was that my cells were sticking together in a pattern that she called aggregation. She attributed this to high saturated fat content in my diet, infections, poor digestion or several other vague causes. The truth is my blood had started to clot on the slide, which is a natural process that happens regardless of how fatty my diet may be.
I was offered a prescription that recommended I take several over-the-counter medications, paid the fee she charged to give me these blood results and was sent on my way with a recommendation to return in four months to see how my blood had improved.
It was a very interesting experience to say the least, where medical terminology is thrown around out of context, and well-studied disease processes are being mentioned without actual evidence. MLTs spend between two and four years learning how to perform a wide array of tests to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients, and we are governed by national and provincial societies that have a set of standards in place. The woman who owns this business took a one-week course in live blood cell analysis and does not answer to a regulatory body.
Whenever you are getting any kind of medical testing done, I urge you to verify the credentials of the health care practitioner. If you are ever in doubt about a procedure, diagnosis or prescription, please check with your family doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider who you trust. It is okay not to accept everything at face value, especially when it pertains to your own well-being.
This article was originally published in the Canadian Journal of Medical Laboratory Science, Vol. 80, No. 4.