NutriScan Targeted Health Assessment:
Another "Test" to Avoid

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

TThe Internet-based NutriScan® Targeted Health Assessment is another in the long list of questionnaire-based tests that are promised to provide science-based "personal nutrient recommendations." To take the test, it is necessary to have a password that can be obtained from an affiliated provider or by calling a toll-free number. The system was founded by Paul Sullivan, RPh, and developed with help from Mark Percival, DC, ND, Gregory Kelly, ND, and David Fletcher, DC, who also do business as Health Coach. According to its marketers:

The NutriScan® Targeted Health Assessment is interactive medical intelligence software that asks simple straightforward questions "about you" in the areas of lifestyle, personal medical history, family medical history, any prescriptions or O.T.C. drugs taken, allergies and much more. The result of this targeted health assessment is an extraordinary summary of your current health priorities and lifestyle choices, serving to inform you and your health professional of areas warranting more "targeted support". The most proven and practical approach, when supporting one's health, comes in the form of better nutrition.

More than 5,000 concise rules, based on "Peer Reviewed Science" lie behind this unique assessment. Each rule serves to "turn on" or "turn off" specific nutrients in precise doses, at the best time of day and in the ideal combinations of synergistic (supportive) nutrients. Those who have access to NutriScan® affiliated health professionals may also choose to have further customization taking into consideration additional objective "biomarker" test results. . . .

The program is targeted and "personalized" and we recognize that each person has real, different, unique nutritional needs...as unique as their own DNA and lifestyle.

The test has 35 questions for men or 37 questions for women. The topics include geography, lifestyle habits, dietary habits, circadian rhythms, current health conditions, genetic predispositions to disease, allergy contraindications, drug-nutrient interactions, drug-herb interactions, and (alleged) drug-related nutrient depletion. After completing the test, the taker is given a list of "core nutrient needs" and the monthly cost of supplements for meeting these alleged needs, and then is asked to supply credit card information and add comments that are forwarded to the referring practitioner or another health professional who reviews them along with the test answers to make final recommendations. Before the results display, this pop-up statement appears:

PLEASE READ THIS MESSAGE BEFORE PROCEEDING TO REVIEW YOUR RESULTS!
NutriScan's programmed intelligence, Nutri-logic, with its 2000+ evidence-based rules is now formulating your intermediate Nutrient Profile and identifying those areas of your metabolism that require specific support. NutriScan's Nutri-logic programming is designed to safeguard you against both under and over nutrition, ensuring that you get safe and effective levels of each nutrient essential to your health and performance. NutriScan's focus is to provide you the most proven yet cost effective support at doses that are [word not visible] over longer periods of use. Nutri-logic ensures that those nutrients which have the strongest evidence-based [word not visible] and lowest cost are included first and foremost. There are multiple instances where more than one nutrient combination could be included, given an individual's assessment results. In these cases, Nutri-logic will prioritize and include only the most cost effective of these. Individuals may well receive additional benefits from the inclusion of other complementary nutrients, but the NutriScan System defers this decision to your health professional and their review processes for cost containment reasons. For those who do not currently have a relationship with a NutriScan professional, simply call 888-888-8565 for a referral. If upon review of your Intermediate Nutrient Profile and the average cost per day, you would prefer to minimize your expense, you can simply provide your health professional with your more specific daily budget in the open text box which follows your results page review. this is also the place to add any comments you feel are relevant to their review process and final tailoring of your nutrient support program.

My Test Results

To obtain a password, I used Google to search for "NutriScan" and "password" and found what I needed. To explore the "logic" of the test, I took it about 50 times and observed:

The recommended product for a young male, age 12-21, who eats sensibly, exercises appropriately, feels fine, has no health problems, and takes no medication would cost $0.87 per day ($26.10 per month). The table below compares the formula to government recommendations (Daily Values) and the most widely used multivitamin/multimineral product (Centrum). Most of the amounts are equal or similar. The NutriScan product contains broccoli and fish oils despite fish and broccoli consumption "four or more times a week." Centrum also contains about ten ingredients that are not in the NutriScan product. The daily cost is about 10¢ for Centrum and about 6¢ for identical products sold in chain drugstores.

 Ingredient

Daily Value (DV)

NutriScan

Centrum

 Biotin

300 mcg

25 mcg

30 mcg
 Chromium

120 mcg

100 mcg

65 mg
 Copper

2 mg

1.75 mg

2 mg
 Folate

400 mcg

400 mcg

400 mcg
 Iodine

150 mcg

150 mcg

150 mcg
 Magnesium

100 mg

 100 mg

 100 mg
 Manganese

2 mg

2 mg

3.5 mg
 Molybdenum

75 mcg

75 mcg

160 mcg
 Niacin

20 mg

18 mg

20 mg
 Pantothenic acid

10 mg 

6.25 mg 

10 mg
 Potassium

3500 mg

50 mg

80 mg
 Riboflavin (B2)

1.7 mg

1.5 mg

1.7 mg
 Selenium

70 mcg

145 mcg

20 mcg
 Thiamine

1.5 mg 

 0.5 mg

1.5 mg
 Vitamin A

5000 IU

5000 IU

5000 IU
 Vitamin B6

2 mg

1.7 mg

2 mg
 Vitamin B12

6 mcg

2 mcg

2 mcg
 Vitamin C

60 mg

120 mg

60 mg
 Vitamin D

400 IU

540 IU

400 IU
 Zinc

15 mg

12 mg

15 mg
 Broccoli

--

95 mg

--
 DHA (from marine oil)

--
80 mg

--
 EPA (from marine oil)  

 90 mg
 
 Miso  

 30 mg
 

NutriScan's promoters claim that everyone needs supplements. According to a company "Health Bulletin":

The existing agricultural and food industry paradigms make optimal nutrition a virtual impossibility. This is a result of soil conditions, nutrient losses secondary to the time lapse between harvesting fruits and vegetables and when they arrive in local markets, food preparation practices, and more. The result of all of these factors is that even the healthiest foods often do not contain the level of nutrition they would under more favorable growing conditions and food industry practices.

We must also consider the fact that our physiology, in today's world, faces challenges that were non-existent even 50 years ago. We are exposed to pollution, electromagnetic fields, airplane travel, and high stress jobs. With few exceptions, we consistently get insufficient sleep and natural light. Many of us also take prescription and over-the-counter medications; the vast majority of which either directly deplete vitamins and minerals, or require additional nutritional support to safeguard our body against their possible adverse effects. All of these aspects of our current world and associated lifestyles place additional burdens on our physiology. These burdens necessitate additional support, in terms of nutrition, in order to prevent our health from collapsing under the weight of this load.

So, the belief that: "we can get all the nutrients we need from a good diet", is just thata belief. Allowing for the possible exception to every rule, this belief has no more basis in the reality of our body's real nutrient needs and today's dietary habits than does the Easter bunny [1].

These claims are not correct. Sensible eating provides the nutrients most people need [2]. The idea that electromagnetic fields and other "stresses" create nutritional risk is pure nonsense [3]. And very few drugs increase the need for supplements.

Who Offers the Test?

NutriScan is available through about 200 providers, most of whom are chiropractors or naturopaths. Its marketers claims that their system "permits health professionals to significantly improve the nutritional status and health of every patient they attend and . . . . beyond the confines of their clinical space." NutriScan's Rewards Program, which it says is "the healthcare industries most innovative and ethical incentive program," offers "case management" commissions that depend on the dollar amount of each order (and reorder). Additional commissions are available for introducing and "coaching" other health professionals who market the test [4].

The most notable provider is Donald E. Huml, DC, who practices in Brooklyn, New York. Huml's Web site promises "Sophisticated Nutritional Analysis to customize a plan specifically tailored to your body," as well as "personalized care for all your health needs." Huml is a former president of the American Chiropractic Association's Council on Nutrition,which is chiropractic's "certification board" for "chiropractic nutritionists." During a 1991 interview, when asked how he felt about chiropractors who sell supplements out of their office, he replied: "That's up to the discretion of the practitioner. I don't have an ethical problem with that. Again anything in the hands of the wrong person can be misused. We sell some supplements out of our office. It makes it convenient for the patient. We try to compete with whatever is fair and equitable prices." When asked what the ACA Council on Nutrition considered illegitimate practices, he replied: "The official stance is this: That a person needs a proper and complete nutritional workup. Upon the findings of that nutritional analysis, supplementation can be utilized that has been shown to be effective for their particular situation." [5]

The Bottom Line

Questionnaires do not provide a legitimate basis for recommending that people take dietary supplements. Properly constructed tests can determine whether or not a person's diet contains adequate amounts of nutrients. However, if a shortfall is found, the next step should usually be to improve one's diet. NutriScan's questionnaire is too superficial to do a proper dietary evaluation, and many of the recommendations built into the software program are not based on good science. Even if they were, the recommended product would be poor value because some of the ingredients are useless and the rest can be obtained much less expensively elsewhere.

References

  1. NutriScan Health Bulletin Issue #1: Optimal dose. Undated, distributed in 2004.
  2. Barrett S, Herbert V. Twenty-five ways to spot quacks and vitamin pushers. Quackwatch, June 11, 2000.
  3. Barrett S. Dietary supplements: Appropriate use. Quackwatch, May 20, 2002.
  4. NutriScan: "Nutrition as individual as you." Brochure, Signature Health Partners, Jan 2004.
  5. Milner I. Views of Donald Huml, D.C., President, ACA Council on Nutrition. Inteview, Jan 1992.

This article was posted on February 21, 2004.