Puritan's Pride's "Vitamin Advisor"
Wants to Sell You Something

Harriet A. Hall, M.D.
Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Puritan's Pride, which is one of the world's leading mail-order marketers of dietary supplements, would like you to believe that its "Vitamin Advisor" provides a "personalized supplement plan" with "expert recommendations chosen just for you." The "experts" are not identified, but the program is licensed from Healthnotes, a company that markets "decision tools" that promote product sales. Healthnotes was founded more than 15 years ago by chiropractor named Skye Lininger. It states that its online Vitamin Advisor "has proven itself to be a sales machine" with "add-to-cart rates 2x over the industry average." [1] The "personalized" recommendations are generated by an interactive questionnaire. On the Puritan's Pride Web site, everyone is asked:

Women are also asked:

Men are also asked:

Something for Everyone

During the past two weeks, we took the test repeatedly and discovered that no matter how you answer the questions, you will be advised to buy at least one product. EVERYONE is advised to buy a multivitamin. Teenagers are advised to take Mega Vita Min Multivitamins for Teenagers, and everyone 19-49 and 50+ is advised to take a multivitamin that supposedly is formulated for their age and gender. All of these products include some ingredients that are unnecessary and others that exceed standard recommended amounts. Most people should not take multivitamins [2,3].

The algorithm for the other recommendations is easy to figure out.

In short, nearly all of the recommended products are a complete waste of money. In a few instances, one or two ingredients might be useful but the product provides too much of them or contains other substances that are not.

Some ingredients are found in more than one product. For this reason, when several products are recommended, the total amount of these ingredients may be way too high. When Dr. Hall answered all questions honestly, she was advised to take six products. The recommendations were not based on any credible scientific evidence. But even worse, their combination would provide a daily total of 8000 IU vitamin D and 2044 mg of calcium in addition to the amount from food. The tolerable upper intake levels of these nutrients are 4000 IU of vitamin D and 2000 mg of calcium. For women over 60, the recommended dietary allowance (from food plus supplements) is 800 IU of vitamin D and 1200 mg of calcium. The usefulness of calcium and vitamin D supplementation remains uncertain, and calcium supplementation has been associated with increased cardiovascular risks. When Dr. Barrett answered the questions honestly, he was also advised to take six product, none of which he needed. His products included a total of 4000 IU of vitamin D. They also included 2000 mg of fish oil (an excessive amount) even though he indicated that he eats cold-water fish at least once a week.


Both Puritan's Pride and Healthnotes provide disclaimers. The footer of every page on the Puritan's Pride Web has three of them:

Puritan's Pride provides these articles for information only. They are not approved or recommended by us, do not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and are not meant to replace professional medical advice or apply to any product.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Puritan's Pride site. . . .

Healthnotes says:

The information presented in the Vitamin Advisor is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Nutritional recommendations are based on established guidelines for people of average health and on associations between vitamins, minerals, and herbs with health conditions from published scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage. These associations may not be true for all individuals and are not based on specific product brands or formulations. Nutritional and herbal products may vary widely in ingredient purity, concentration, and combinations, which may affect people differently. Consult your doctor, pharmacist, or other professional for any health problem and before adding supplements to your self-care practices or discontinuing any prescribed medications. It is important not to make any changes in your self-care, including taking supplements, before or after a surgery without your doctor's express recommendation. . . . The Vitamin Guide recommendations are in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling and neither the publisher nor the authors have liability or responsibility to any person or entity receiving or using this information.

A more truthful disclaimer would read like this:

We'd like to sell you products, so here is a questionnaire that will recommend something no matter how you answer it. Our information is not necessarily derived from sources that are trustworthy or even relevant to humans. When ingredients are included in more than one product, the combined amounts can exceed safe levels, but our recommendations won't take this into account. We would like you to believe that our products are useful. However, our words are not intended to suggest that they can help treat, cure, or prevent any disease. They are merely "informational." We say that you should not consume any product we recommend without discussing it with your doctor. However, we really don't mean this, because most doctors will advise you not to take the products. We just say it as part of our effort to avoid legal responsibility for any harm caused by our advice or products.

The Bottom Line

For all of the above reasons and more, we do not believe that Puritan Pride's questionnaire provides trustworthy advice. Its questions and answers related to dietary adequacy are simplistic. Its disease-related questions lead to products that are useless, poorly formulated, or both. In proper professional hands, a well-designed questionnaire that includes a detailed dietary history can identify areas of overall diet that could use improvement. However, no questionnaire can be customized to make appropriate supplement recommendations, either for dietary improvement or for treatment. If someone's diet is inadequate, the best way to fix it is to eat more sensibly. If a 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 with the tools provided on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Choose MyPlate Web site or seek professional advice from a registered dietitian (R.D.) or physician.


  1. How Vitamin Advisor works. Healthnotes Web site, accessed Feb 3, 2016.
  2. Hall HA. Should I take a multivitamin? Science-Based Medicine Blog, July 15, 2008.
  3. Barrett S. Dietary supplements: Appropriate use. Quackwatch, Nov 12, 2010.
  4. Crislip M. Cranberry juice. Science-Based Medicine Blog, Jan 14, 2011.
  5. Hall H. Prenatal multivitamins and iron: Not evidence-based. Science-Based Medicine Blog, Feb 2, 2016.
  6. Taklind J and others. Serenoa repens for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Cochrane Database for Systematic Reviews, Dec 12, 2012.

This article was revised on February 9, 2016.

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