A Skeptical Look at the OligoScan

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The OligoScan™ is a hand-held spectrophotometry device that is claimed to offer "instant intra-tissue mineral and toxic metal testing." [1] OligoScan North America LLC, which markets the OligoScan through its Web site, describes its purpose this way:  

OligoScan technology allows you to make a quick and precise analysis of the trace elements and heavy metals in the tissues of your patients. The measurement is made directly in your office with a portable spectrophotometer device approved by OligoScan. The collected data from your patient is sent to the secure central OligoScan server within a few clicks. And within 20 seconds, you get the results back. This test is a revolutionary technique to check the mineral status of your patients in real time. For a health care provider, it allows you to know the most efficient supplementation that would maximize the nutritional benefits for your patients. In case of heavy metal toxicity, you can prescribe chelating techniques, supplements and/or lifestyle changes. Even more importantly, efficient mobilization is easily discernible with the OligoScan and our upcoming clinician videos will explain all the details [2].

Background History

The OligiScan's manufacturer appears to be Physioquanta, of Montpellier, France. OligoScan North America, which is described on its Web site as "exclusive USA partners of OligoScan Europe," registered and filed its articles of organization as a domestic limited-liability company in Nevada on June 5, 2013. The company's domain (oligoscan.net) was registered for one year on May 25, 2013 by Rashid A. Buttar, D.O., of Cornelius, North Carolina, who is identified in videos as the company's medical director. The Nevada registration document lists Seguros Management LTD of Nassau as its "manager." Seguro's Web site offers to provide nominal company directors, officers or company managers "to eliminate, from public records, the identities of the principals of the company and in doing so, provide the privacy you deserve." [3] The FDA's 510(k) database, which lists devices that have been cleared for marketing within the United States, yielded no entries when I searched on October 26th for "OligoScan." Buttar describes the device as "probably the most exciting thing I have seen in diagnostics in my professional career as a physician, and I've been a physician now for 22 years." [1]

Buttar, a major promoter of chelation therapy, is chairman of the American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology, a group that advocates chelation therapy for a wide range of nonstandard uses [4]. During a disciplinary hearing held in 2008, he indicated that nearly all the patients he sees are diagnosed with heavy metal toxicity and receive chelation therapy [5].

OligoScan North America offers the OligoScan device with one or two "bundle options." The basic package includes one device, account registration and activation, an online directory listing, referrals from inquiries to oligoscan.net, and 10 "free" testing scans. The "bundled" price is $3,990 with 30 prepaid tests or $4990 for $60 prepaid tests [6].

Clinical Use

The OligoScan device is passed over the patient's left hand and transmits to a computer that generates a report like that shown on the right. The top section compares the measured result to "NORMS" for 18 minerals and graphs the results in columns titled "LOW-, LOW, NRM-, OK, NRM+, HIGH, or VERY HIGH." The middle section compares the results for 14 "toxic metals": to a "NORM" of <0.010 and graphs the results as NORM, ACCEPTABLE, OR EXCESS.

In an instructional video, Buttar says that patients can be divided into four groups: (1) healthy (absence of disease) + low metals; (2) healthy (absence of disease) + high metals; (3) sick (presence of disease) + low metals; and (4) sick (presence of disease) + high metals. But he cautions that a low measurement doesn’t necessarily mean that the patient has low metals because the scan can have false-negative results and people who test low may simply not be excreting their metals. He goes on to say: "You really cannot have an individual who’s sick and has low metals. In my 17 years of practicing this type of medicine . . . I have never seen an individual who’s sick who does not have metals." [7] Buttar's bottom line appears to be that regardless of what the test shows, patients are likely to need detoxification.

 

Why I Am Skeptical

To validate the use of such a device, several types of studies would be essential. One would be to validate the accuracy with laboratory tests that examine whether the device can reliably measure the contents of purified blood/plasma extracts that are known to have various concentrations of heavy metals and other ions. If such measurements are accurate, extensive testing would be needed to (a) see whether measurements in the hand reflect values in rest of the body, (b) to determine what levels warrant concern, and (c) whether modifying these levels with chelation improves patient health. OligoScan's Web sites offer a list of 35 articles that supposedly support use of the device [8]. Some involve the mineral content of food. Some discuss the health risks of heavy metals. Some discuss spectroscopy. But none, as far as I can tell, evaluate what the OligiScan video claims or demonstrate that patients benefited from use of the device. Without published studies, including some from independent investigators, I see no reason to consider the test useful or even potentially useful.

References

  1. Promotional video. OligoScan North America, 2013.
  2. OligoScan North America home page, accessed Nov 3, 2013.
  3. Services. Seguros Management Web site.. Accessed Oct 25, 2013 (subsequently removed, but still archived).
  4. Barrett S. Be wary of "board certification" in clinical metal toxicology. Quackwatch, Aug 27, 2012.
  5. Transcript of hearing held before the North Carolina Medical Board, April 23-24, 2008. Dr. Buttar Truth Web site, accessed Feb 10, 2009.
  6. 2013 OligoScan price list and bundle package. OligoScan North America, accessed Nov 3, 2013.
  7. Training: Interpretation of Tests. Video No. 11. OligoScan North America, 2013.
  8. Articles scientifiques. OligoScan North America, accessed Nov 3, 2013.

This article was posted on November 17, 2013.

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