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Researcher Says Hair Analysis Reports Are ‘Frightening’

August 22, 1985

CHICAGO (AP) _ People who consult hair analysis labs to find out their state of health may be frightened into believing they are seriously ill, says a doctor who found a lab that told a healthy teen-ager she might have hardening of the arteries.

Dr. Stephen Barrett, an Allentown, Pa., psychiatrist, said in Friday’s Journal of the American Medical Association that he sent hair samples from two healthy teen-age women to 13 labs around the country.

The lab reports he received indicated the women may suffer from a variety of illnesses, from irritability to hardening of the arteries.

One lab listed 27 abnormal conditions for one woman, but in a second report listed only 15, including three not on the first list, Barrett said.

The women had no such problems, he said.

The reports, which cost from $17 to $40, are sometimes used by health food stores, beauty shops, chiropractors, nutrition consultants and other practitioners to recommend vitamin and nutritional supplements, Barrett said.

Six labs suggested the women take supplements, but types and amounts varied from report to report and from lab to lab, he said.

Barrett sent his report to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to bar the labs from providing information to anyone but licensed practitioners, such as doctors and dentists.

Ted Lueken, president of Doctor’s Data in Chicago, one of the nation’s first hair analysis labs, countered that the technique can be valuable when used along with other tests and a doctor’s knowledge of his patient.

Accuracy and quality control are common problems in all lab procedures, including blood tests, and ″that’s why they need to be interpreted by physicians,″ said Lueken.

Most of the labs in the study ″made claims that were quite immodest,″ Barrett said, with some suggesting hair analysis was a guide to balancing body chemistry, reversing the aging process or correcting mineral imbalances ″that supposedly cause degenerative disease and death.″.

Barrett said the reports he received from the labs suggested that the women seek further tests or treatment for for a wide range of conditions, including goiter, neuromuscular and emotional problems, depression of the central nervous system, impaired metabolism, hypoglycemia, headaches, irritability, cravings for sugar and alcohol, hardening of the arteries and kidney disease.

As a diagnostic tool, hair analysis has ″no clinical value whatsoever,″ Barrett concluded.

Mario Baldessari, an FTC spokesman, declined to say whether the agency would act on Barrett’s request.

Last year, the FTC sought and won an injunction from a federal court in Virginia barring a hair analysis lab from making false claims to the public, Baldessari said. In that case, the FTC contended that hair analysis is inaccurate, worthless to consumers and possibly harmful because it might prevent patients from seeking proper medical attention.

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