Former Laetrile Peddler Disciplined Again

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
February 23, 2005

James R. Privitera, Jr., M.D., who served a brief prison sentence 25 years ago for conspiring to prescribe and distribute laetrile, has been reprimanded in connection with the death of a patient. Privitera, who practices in Covina, California, states that he specializes in “allergy, nutrition, chelation, clot detection, darkfield microscopy, toxicity testing, mineral testing, and immunity testing [1]. His Web site also describes him as an “internationally acclaimed researcher, author, and leading authority on natural, nontoxic alternative therapies” and “a pioneer in darkfield microscopy.” [1]

Laetrile is a quack cancer remedy [2] In 1975, Privitera was convicted of conspiring to prescribe and distribute it and was sentenced to six months in prison. In 1980, after the appeals process ended, he served 55 days in jail but was released after being pardoned by California Governor Jerry Brown. Then, because Privitera been prescribing unapproved substances for the treatment of cancer, the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance suspended his medical license for four months, placed him on ten years’ probation, and prohibited him from making any representation that he was able to cure cancer through nutrition. During this period, he developed a bogus diagnostic test called live blood analysis and marketed equipment for doing it [3].

Live blood analysis is carried out by placing a drop of blood from the patient’s fingertip on a microscope slide under a glass cover slip to keep it from drying out. The slide is then viewed at high magnification with a dark-field microscope that forwards the image to a television monitor. Both practitioner and patient can then see the blood cells, which appear as dark bodies outlined in white. The practitioner may take polaroid photographs of the television picture or may videotape the procedure for himself and/or the patient. The results are then used as a basis for prescribing supplements [4]. The procedure is also called live cell analysis, live blood cell analysis, dark-field video analysis, nutritional blood analysis, and several other names. Privitera now calls it “darkfield microscopy.”

Dark-field microscopy is a valid scientific tool in which special lighting is used to examine specimens of cells and tissues. The objects being viewed stand out against a dark background—the opposite of what occurs during regular microscopy. This allows the observer to see things that might not be visible with standard lighting. Connecting a television monitor to a microscope for diagnostic purposes is also a legitimate practice. However, live cell analysis is not. Most of its users are chiropractors, naturopaths, or bogus “nutrition consultants.”

In 1996, Privitera and and a former radio talk show host produced a book called Silent Clots [5], in which they claimed that coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, allergies, headaches, and other health problems are associated with platelet aggregation that can be detected with live blood cell analysis and remedied with diet and supplements that dissolve the clots. (Platelets are small particles in the blood that contribute to blood clotting.) Privitera’s Web site now states that he has found that “the majority of all headache sufferers have platelet aggregation” and that “they respond very well to the natural therapies.” [6] I do not believe there is any scientific support or logical reason to believe that Privitera’s clotting theories are valid.

In 1999, Privitera was consulted by a 71-year-old woman who developed a headache while in Privitera’s waiting room. According to documents from the Medical Board of California, Privitera (a) prescribed 20,000 units of heparin (an anticoagulant) to be placed under the woman’s tongue, (b) examined a blood sample with a dark-field microscope, (c) concluded that the blood specimen showed too much tendency to clot, and (d) prescribed another 20,000 units of heparin to be injected under the patient’s skin. Soon afterward, the woman became lightheaded, vomited, passed out, and was rushed to a hospital. where it was noted that she was comatose and bleeding from several places. She died a few hours later, apparently as a result of a massive bleeding inside her head [7]. Privitera’s management of this patient was highly improper because:

  • Heparin is not a rational treatment for a headache.
  • In standard medical practice, heparin should not be prescribed without testing the patient’s clotting status [8], which Privitera did not do.
  • Dark-field examination of a blood specimen is not a valid test of clotting status.
  • The amount of heparin he prescribed was excessive [7,8].

In 2003, The Medical Board charged that Privitera had (a) failed to properly evaluate the woman’s headache, (b) had no documented rationale for administering heparin, and (c) had administered an overdose [7]. In 2004, the case was settled with a stipulation under which Privitera agreed to be reprimanded, pay $5,000 in costs, and take courses in prescribing and medical recordkeeping [9].

  1. NutriScreen home page, accessed February 22, 2005.
  2. Wilson B. The rise and fall of laetrile. Nutrition Forum 5:33-40, 1988.
  3. Lowell JA. Live cell analysis: High-tech hokum. Nutrition Forum 3:81, 1986.
  4. Barrett S. Live-cell analysis: Another gimmick to sell you something. Quackwatch, updated Feb 21, 2005.
  5. Privitera J, Stang A. Silent Clots: Life’s Biggest Killers. Lockstep Medicine’s Conspiracy to Suppress the Test That Should Be Done in Emergency Rooms Throughout The World. Covina, Calif.: The Catacombs Press, 1996.
  6. Silent clots: Life’s biggest killer: How to detect, prevent and treat. NutriScreen Web site, accessed Feb 22, 2005.
  7. Accusation. In the matter of the accusation against James R. Privitera, Jr., M.D. Before the Division of Medical Quality, Medical Board of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, State of California, Case No. 11-2001-119360, March 31, 2003.
  8. Heparin indications, dosage, storage, stability. RxList Monograph, Dec 8, 2004.
  9. Stipulated settlement and disciplinary order. In the matter of the accusation against James R. Privitera, Jr., M.D. Before the Division of Medical Quality, Medical Board of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, State of California, Case No. 11-2001-119360, signed May 7, 2004, adopted by Board Oct 7, 2004.

This page was posted on February 23, 2005.