• Colleen O'Flaherty-Hilder


In this blog I hope to unravel some of the myths that have developed over the last few years surrounding the supplementation of trace elements. For the last 30 years I have worked with Laboratoires Bioligo and their Research Centre, CRAO (Centre de Recherchés et d'Applications sur les Oligo-éléments) based in Switzerland, who are regarded as the pioneers of Oligotherapy (Trace Element Therapy) in Europe and I am also their Oligotherapy trainer in the UK. Fortunately, because of this connection I have had access to information produced in Europe on both the science and the proven benefits of trace element therapy. European medical practitioners commonly prescribe Oligotherapy or the use of trace elements in some form and have done so for over 100 years.

The advice to supplement with trace elements - zinc, manganese, copper, cobalt, selenium, iodine, vanadium, chromium and molybdenum - has been gaining momentum over the last two decades on both sides of the Atlantic and I don't think a week goes by without another claim being made about a particular trace mineral combating a health condition, which can often be misleading and confusing. Yet again, we are confronted with information about natural products that can be dangerous or ineffective which contributes to the on-going narrative: "There is no proof that natural remedies are safe or work".

In this blog I will cover the correct form in which trace elements should be taken, why we need them, how they work, how they become depleted in the body, and the best form for their absorption, as well as the important issues of safe levels and toxicity.

For those of you not familiar with the difference between macro and trace elements, macro elements are needed in the body in large quantities for construction, i.e. calcium, magnesium, silica, phosphorus; trace elements are required in much smaller amounts, in fact, they represent just 0.02% of the body and their action is catalytic, which means they facilitate an action within the cells of the body. They are the important catalysts to activate enzymes and without trace elements the cells cannot function correctly. Some macro minerals as well as being minerals of construction, also have a catalytic action - magnesium, calcium, sulphur and phosphorus.

Unfortunately most of the information that we in the UK are exposed to comes from the USA. The feedback I am getting from US therapists is that the general recommendation is to supplement with large quantities when there appears to be a deficiency in trace elements, which of course can cause a great deal of imbalance and unpleasant side effects. This is not the intelligent way to replace a deficiency; it is more like using a hammer when you should be using a feather. So I suggest that instead of looking west, across the Atlantic for our information, we should be looking east to Europe and Switzerland, where trace elements and minerals have been used in medicine for over 100 years and have been the subject of many scientific studies for the last 50 years.

In the UK we seem to have little pockets of scientific or medical information periodically suggesting, for example, that zinc is good for the immune system or magnesium is good for the heart and I have to wonder why, once again, science doesn't look outside of this island to investigate how other countries successfully use trace elements. Yes, zinc is very important for the immune system but not when it is taken on its own. Equally magnesium is good for the heart and circulation, and brilliant for high blood pressure but not when it is taken on its own. By using just individual trace elements there is a chance that they might work, but when they are combined with their supporting trace elements, in the correct amounts and in the correct synergy, then the result is guaranteed. The application of trace elements is a precise science, and should be respected as such.

EXAMPLE - Trace elements' catalytic action when applied in synergy

When I began working with Oligotherapy 30 years ago, I was invited to be part of a project to create a protocol to treat ME and Chronic Fatigue, working with doctors who had discovered that ME sufferers were depleted in magnesium. To address this deficiency the patients had been given large doses of magnesium administered in an infusion. This worked temporarily to raise their levels of magnesium in the blood but the levels could not be maintained, equally the patients were fatigued after the infusion. So when I was brought on to the team I introduced Oligotherapy and applied manganese-cobalt and magnesium, and in this instance the magnesium was in the catalytic form, but the Manganese-Cobalt were the important elements needing to be active in the cells to attract the magnesium. Within one month the patients' magnesium levels were raised to normal and those levels were maintained using this protocol.

Another example is with the absorption of iron. Iron cannot be absorbed into the cells without copper, which is the principal agent in the assimilation of iron, as well as cobalt, manganese, iodine, and molybdenum. This complex is extremely effective and fast acting, and is a favourite of pregnant women particularly as there are no uncomfortable side effects of constipation normally associated with iron supplements.


We have been designed for the digestive system to extract minerals and trace elements from our diet. They are then released into the bloodstream and find their way to the specific cells that require them. In theory that is perfect, if we lived in a world where the food was good quality, and we had no stress or pollutants. But, if we are subjected to disease, pollution, stress, taking medication, or have insufficient nutrition, chances are that we are going to be deficient in trace elements. Equally, our food is not as nutrient-rich as it once was, and sometimes our diet is not sufficiently balanced to provide the necessary trace elements. Invariably we have to replace the trace elements we have lost but it has to be done intelligently - with knowledge and experience.

The Bioligo trace elements are absorbed under the tongue (sublingual) so that they bypass the digestive system and are therefore immediately absorbed into the bloodstream with direct access to the cells; this insures fast and direct assimilation. But their sublingual absorption is just half of the story; they also have to be in the correct form to enter the cells quickly. That form is ionised (pre-digested), free of all bonds where each atom of a trace element is separated. Ionisation is a precise science that requires stringent manufacturing protocols. It is not simply a case of putting random amounts of trace elements in water; the amounts have to be precise otherwise they will stay in their atomic group or compounds, clump together and will not be ionised. Trace elements are ions that naturally bind together and water reduces the forces of attraction between the ions allowing them to disperse and become independent. A simple example of this is dissolving salt (Na) in water, if you put too much salt in the water it will not dissolve because there are insufficient water molecules (H2O). The ratio of water to salt has to be precise to ensure the salt can completely dissolve in the water.


As I explained above, trace elements are extracted from food during the digestive process and are transported through the bloodstream to the cells. But when we are out of balance, suffering from a health condition, and require trace elements to be delivered to the cells as quickly as possible, the digestive system does not work as well as it should and cannot deliver the trace elements in the correct form fast enough. If you take trace elements or minerals in the form of food supplements that have to be absorbed by the digestive system, there is no guarantee that they are going to survive the journey through the digestive tract. Food provides trace elements in the correct balance for their optimum cellular absorption, in the form that is biologically matched to the body. This is why it is so important when taking any food supplements, that they are in a form as close as possible to the way they would be extracted if they were processed through a healthy digestive tract.

I often see articles written about one trace element or mineral being the answer to certain disorders or symptoms like zinc and magnesium mentioned above, but the body does not work in such a simple way. Taking one supplement in a random amount, often in combination with a shopping list of supplements, as is often suggested, is not very intelligent. The body is a complex system with millions of processes happening at the same time, and to function well those processes must all work in synergy. But one very important fact to remember is that the action of trace elements is catalytic, which means they facilitate an action within the cells. Without them the cells do not function properly so it doesn't matter if you are taking the world's best supplements and natural remedies, if you do not have the correct trace elements in their catalytic active form inside the cells then your supplements and remedies will not be absorbed and they will be flushed out of the body. Or worse still, they will take up residence in different tissues of the body, which eventually causes imbalances and blockages to the function of that tissue.


Bioligo developed Oligotherapy with two unique factors. The first is that they took the ionisation process and added a patented and registered process to increase the energy value of each atom (dynamisation).

This has two benefits: Firstly, the trace elements' bioavailability is greatly increased which allows the use of much smaller doses with increased efficacy; and secondly much smaller doses can be applied so that there is never any chance of imbalance or toxicity which is crucial. Like everything that exists in nature, although trace elements are essential for life, they can also be toxic in the wrong amounts.

Trace elements are reactive and as such will compete with each other to gain access to the cells, for example, zinc will compete with copper, and magnesium competes with calcium. A couple of examples of what can happen when the ratio of trace elements or minerals are out of balance:

  • Calcium/magnesium: if the ratio of calcium is too high it can result in a lack of magnesium or vitamin D and lead to osteoporosis, rickets, and dental cavities.

  • Zinc/Copper: a high ratio of zinc can result in a lack of stored copper which can lead to anaemia, hypothyroidism and risk of cardiovascular disease.

The second unique factor is that the trace elements are applied with the understanding of the background condition of an individual, sometimes referred to as the constitution or terrain. I referred to this in my blog ‘Debunking The Myths Surrounding Natural Medicine - Prevention Is Always Better Than Cure’ and summarise below.


Oligotherapy began in 1919 when a French doctor, Dr Sutter, established a medication based on solutions of ionised trace elements in low doses. He worked with manganese and copper solutions on patients with arthritis and TB. This pioneer was sixty years ahead of the science that subsequently confirmed the validity of his discovery.

In 1946 another French doctor, Dr Menetrier, progressed the work of Dr Sutter and recognised that not everyone suffering with the same condition responded to the same trace element prescriptions. He went on to identify four background conditions that were associated with different trace elements i.e. certain background conditions require specific trace elements to strengthen their background condition no matter what their symptoms are. This ensures that the background condition is strengthened and balanced which is a very useful tool in any protocol for preventative medicine.

The background condition of a person is determined by their personality, medical history, genetics and lifestyle. This aspect elevates the application of trace elements to a therapy rather than supplementation. From those early days Bioligo and the CRAO developed and perfected the research of the early pioneers and identified a further fifth background condition. After Dr Picard, a French doctor, undertook successful clinical trials using trace elements for arthritis between 1958-78, in 1980 he asked Bioligo to create a simplified system of combining all the trace elements that he was using. This precise, scientific process gave birth to the 20 complexes available today which are designed to address symptoms as well as incorporating the necessary trace elements to strengthen the individual's background condition.

RESEARCH - Oligotherapy has been the subject of a number of successful clinical studies:


  • Arthritis

  • The prevention of recurrent Ear Nose and Throat infections in children

  • The use of trace element complexes in Gynaecology

  • Hormone related anxiety and depression

  • Menopause, delayed menopause

  • Puberty

  • Premenstrual syndrome

  • Anaemia

  • Neuropsychological problems.


  • Rabbit Breeding - Lowered mortality rate, lowered pre term births, increased weight in full term births.

  • German Shepherd Breeding - Improving the health of the dam (mother) through pregnancy and lactation and the health of the pups.


  • Wheat yield - To determine the effects on the wheat yield.

  • Foliage treatment on diseased Vine - Effects on the grape harvest and its sugar content.

  • Beet Harvest - The effect on the harvest and sugar content.

I couldn't leave this blog without mentioning Covid-19. Balancing and strengthening the immune system is one of the areas in which Oligotherapy excels. Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of balancing and strengthening the immune system rather than 'stimulating', a word often used to describe the action of supplements. This disease prompts the immune system to be over reactive and destroys the tissue of the lungs.

The trace element complex to support, balance and strengthen the immune system is manganese, zinc, *copper, gold. silver and magnesium. This powerful complex (Complex No 14) was administered in the clinical study for ENT mentioned above, and has proven year on year to strengthen the immune system, treat symptoms as well as the after effects of viruses and bacteria. It can be used as a preventative protocol by taking a small dose daily or, if you do succumb to pathogens, you can take higher doses depending, of course, on your background condition. Equally after fighting any pathogen the body is depleted and Oligotherapy can be administered to strengthen the background condition. Many people who contracted Covid-19 and survived are complaining of debilitating after effects like muscle weakness, painful joints, and chronic fatigue, which is a sign that their bodies have been depleted as a result of fighting the virus and they need to strengthen their background condition. The recovery from serious or chronic conditions can be easily addressed using the 4Ps of prevention, which includes Oligotherapy. I will be covering the topic of Chronic Fatigue, Post Viral Syndrome and ME in a later Vlog as they are complex conditions and deserve more attention.

So, if you are thinking that you are deficient in trace elements, or you read that zinc is good for colds and flus, think about trace elements in a more intelligent way. Remember it is not good enough just to take supplements like sweeties, particularly trace elements and minerals. They are reactive, for a very good reason, and therefore can easily put the body out of balance.

* Dr Menetrier pioneered the use of combining copper with extremely small amounts of gold and silver. He found that this combination increased the power of copper by ten which meant that copper could be administered in smaller doses, avoiding the necessity of high doses of copper which causes imbalance and toxicity. Gold and silver are non essential medicinal elements and should never be ingested on their own.

More information on Oligotherapy is available on my website

If you would like to know your background condition or your trace element status, please complete the form on the website