LifeScript Customized Vitamins Are a Ripoff

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

LifeScript, of Mission Viejo, California, which began operating in 1999, claims to be "the most refined personal vitamin and supplement on the market today." [1] It also claims that its program "will give you the nutritional boost to help you achieve optimal health." [1] Its primary products are "customized packs of nutritional supplements specifically designed for your body, life and health." [2] To provide this, LifeScript offers a free "customized nutritional report" based on answers to an online "Personal Health Profile" questionnaire. In 2002, the company's Web site stated:

LifeScript knows exactly what nutritional supplements you need because you tell us. By quickly completing our online gender specific health profile questionnaire, we gather specific information about your physical, nutritional and emotional condition. Things like lifestyle cues, job-related conditions, family medical history and medical characteristics. Built on solid medical expertise, our system carefully analyzes this data and generates a unique health profile detailing your nutritional needs in just seconds. And with millions of possible supplement formulas, LifeScript provides you the exact combination for your body, life and health. . . .

Thanks to the power of the Internet, we offer you the advice of medical doctors to help you choose your Nutritional Supplements. At LifeScript there is virtually no limit to our formulations. We apply your unique Health Profile Questionnaire to create a custom "prescription" for you. And we can fill your prescription and ship it directly to your door. Taking your supplements—the right supplements—has never been so easy [3].

In 2002 and 2006, I took the test repeatedly to see how the answers influenced what was recommended. A well-designed questionnaire could help a physician or nutritionist identify dietary areas that should be examined further. However, no such questionnaire should ever be used as the sole basis for recommending products. Like several others discussed on Quackwatch, LifeScript's questionnaire is poorly designed and provides no basis for the company's recommendations. But the credentials of its advisors may fool consumers into believing that the test process and supplement formulations have a scientific basis.

LifeScript's Advisors

In 2002, the LifeScript Web site stated that the company's Scientific and Medical Advisory Board "oversees the research and development of the company's nutritional supplements, analyzes published research, and makes recommendations regarding LifeScript's nutrition, diet, supplement, and wellness health services." [4] The current (2006) members are:

All but Dr. Edgar have been associated with the company since at least 2002. In 2002 and 2003, the list also included R. Stephen Jennings, MD, MS, FAAFP, the former medical director of BodyWise International, a multilevel company that in 1995 was charged by the FTC with making deceptive claims for weight-control and cholesterol-lowering products. The case was settled with a consent agreement prohibiting future deceptions. The FTC's evidence included several brochures with endorsements from Dr. Jennings.

In 2002, I noticed that the LifeScript Web site displayed the HONcode logo, a quality symbol which requires that "claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product, or service . . . be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence." The logo was removed after I complained to HON officials.

The Questionnaire

LifeScript's "Personalized Vitamin Profile" questionnaire asks about diet, exercise, health habits, and the presence of various health problems. However, most of the questions are either irrelevant or too imprecise to evaluate dietary adequacy. In 2002, the test contained 23 questions for men and 24 questions for women. To highlight the flaws, I have followed each question with a comment.

In 2006, I found that the format had been simplified and some topics had been eliminated, but the overall thrust was similar.

Tests Results and Recommendations

LifeScript claims that its questionnaire "will allow our scientific medical and advisory board to create a unique Supplement Prescription specifically for you." However, The LifeScript Web site states:

The Scientific and Medical Advisory Board provides input, when requested, on aspects of the medical and nutritional properties of components utilized in the development of the company's nutritional supplements, evaluates published research, and makes recommendations regarding LifeScript's nutrition, diet, supplement, and wellness health services. The advice of the board members is a key component of LifeScript's ability to provide its customers with personalized products and services. The final products that LifeScript markets represents a team approach to product development; however, LifeScript itself and not the advisory board, bears final responsibility for the design of their questionnaire and formulation of their marketed products [5].

The final product includes each daily dose in a separate packet. The possible components include:

Regardless of their answers, everyone who takes the test gets a "baseline recommendation" to take Daily Solution Pro and Calcium Complete which the Web site states are "packed with the daily essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs to support your immune system as well as overall systemic health." This statement is misleading because there is no scientific evidence that supplements given to people with an adequate diet will improve their immune system or overall health. People whose diet does not contain enough calcium should improve their diet or take supplements, but LifeScript's evaluation is not adequate to determine the amount.

In 2002, I found that most people would be advised to take several of the company's products. When I answered truthfully about myself, five products were recommended that would cost about $60 per month to order. None of these formulas had a rational basis or made sense for me to take. Some even contained ingredients (germanium sesquioxide, kava, and tryptophan) that the FDA had classified as unsafe. (In 2006, germanium was still present.) In 2006, I learned that the greater the age given, the more products were recommended, and that, as my reported age passed 50, my "Health Alert Score" rose and I was said to be at high risk for various types of problems—for each of which, another product was recommended.

Marketing Channels

On January 7, 2002, LifeScript announced that it had entered into an agreement whereby its products would be offered through all of US Wellness Personal Health Centers. The planned outlets included Personal Health Centers in Maryland-based Giant Food supermarkets, each of which would be staffed by a "licensed wellness counselor who will be able to directly enroll individuals into a customized LifeScript program." [7] In 2006, however, searching with Google found no further traces of such programs.

LifeScript maintains an affiliate program through which Web sites operators can earn $40 for every new subscriber they send. In May 2006, I was shocked to find that WebMD, one of the Internet's most comprehensive consumer health sites, was promoting the LifeScript program to people who enroll in WebMD's fee-based "Weight Loss Clinic." After completing a WebMD's detailed dietary questionnaire, I landed on a page titled "Special Offers from Our Sponsors," which stated:

Receive a FREE TRIAL of vitamins personalized for you! LifeScript has developed a convenient way to help ensure you're getting the vitamins and minerals you need with a personal vitamin program customized for you. Start today and receive a FREE TRIAL of this 14-day program and a free newsletter from LifeScript. Just pay $6.95 for shipping and handling.

The answers I gave during WebMD's dietary evaluation should have indicated that my diet is nutritionally adequate. Nevertheless, my "unique personal formulation" containing "Calcium Complete," "Digestive Relief," Vision Pro," "Daily Solution Pro," "NeuroPro," and "Prostate Health"—a total of 18 pills per day—arrived a few days later with a notice that if I didn't cancel within 2 weeks, a month supply (costing $53.30) would be shipped. I was particularly puzzled by the inclusion of "Digestive Relief" because the questionnaire did not ask whether I had any digestive problems. I believe that LifeScript's recommendations are based more on age than on dietary composition.  

The Bottom Line

Well-designed questionnaires that include a detailed dietary history can identify areas of overall diet that could use improvement. LifeScript's questionnaire fails to do this. Even if it were better designed, it would not provide a legitimate basis for recommending supplements.

The best way to fix an inadequate diet is to eat more sensibly. If your diet is missing any nutrients, it may also lack components (such as fiber) that will not be supplied by pills. If you think your diet may be deficient, analyze it by recording what you eat for several days and comparing the number of portions of food in the various food groups with those recommended in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guidance System. For professional advice, ask a registered dietitian (R.D.) or physician to help you.

If you have a shortfall, try to correct it by adjusting your diet. If this is impossible, and you conclude that you need to supplement, you should not have to spend more than a few dollars per month [6]. LifeScript's program costs much more.

References

  1. "My Personal Vitamin Program" booklet. (Accompanies first product shipment.) May 2006.
  2. LifeScript home page, accessed May 19, 2002.
  3. LifeScript —Personalized nutritional supplements. LifeScript Web site, accessed May 19, 2002.
  4. About us. LifeScript Web site, accessed May 19, 2002.
  5. Our experts. LifeScript Web site, accessed May 11, 2006.
  6. Barrett S. Dietary supplements: Appropriate use. Quackwatch Web site. Updated May 20, 2002.
  7. LifeScript and US Wellness enter into agreement to promote customized nutritional supplements. News release, Jan 7, 2002.

This article was revised on May 13, 2006.