LifeScript Customized Vitamins Are a Ripoff


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
May 13, 2006

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:

  • E. Wayne Askew, PhD, Professor of Human Nutrition and the director of the Division of Foods and Nutrition, College of Health, University of Utah.
  • Paul S. Auerbach, MD, MS, Clinical Professor of Surgery in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University.
  • Michael G. Carlston, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine, UCSF School of Medicine and author, editor, and/or adviser to several “alternative medicine” publications.
  • Bruce W. Edgar, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist who founded and became medical director of the Maximum Health and Longevity Center. (Searching with Google, I could find no information about the facility.)
  • Edward C. Geehr, MD, a former Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine and Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, who is also the company’s chief executive officer.
  • Lisa Mosing, MS, RD, FADA, who, in 2002, was identified as Lifescript’s Director of Nutrition.
  • Charles K. Thomas, PhD, president, Charles K. Thomas Company, which provides providing consulting and information services to the food, pharmaceutical, and dietary supplement industries.

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.

  • Rate your level of aerobic exercise. [This might be useful as a screening question for health promotion, but it provides no information relevant to nutrition.]
  • Grade your weight training or resistance exercise. [This might be useful as a screening question for health promotion, but it provides no information relevant to nutrition.]
  • Tobacco use: (including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco)? [This would be useful as a screening question for health promotion. The only nutritional relevance would be that the recommended intake of vitamin C is slightly higher for smokers than for nonsmokers.]
  • Alcoholic beverage consumption: Do you drink alcoholic beverages? [This is too vague to produce useful information.]
  • Vegetable consumption: Do you eat three or more portions (4 oz.) per day? [This is too vague to produce useful information. Moreover, since the nutrient content of fruits is similar to that of vegetables, vegetable consumption should not be evaluated without considering fruit consumption.]
  • Fruit or whole grain consumption: Do you eat two or more portions (4 oz.) per day? [Failing to eat at least two portions of fruit or whole-grain foods would indicate that a person’s diet is unbalanced. However, the question is too vague to provide useful information. A real dietary questionnaire would ask for much more detail.]
  • High cholesterol and fatty foods: Do you regularly eat red meat, fried foods or dairy products? [Dietary fat content is one indication of whether a diet is healthful. However, this question is too vaguely worded to to make such a determination. For example, it asks how often but not how much. And because dairy product can range from nonfat to high-fat, the answer is meaningless.]
  • Are you a vegetarian? [There are many types of vegetarian diets. Some are nutritionally adequate, whereas others are not. Thus a simple yes-no answer is not a legitimate basis for evaluating dietary adequacy.]
  • For men: Do you have any prostate, testicular, or urinary tract problems? [This has no relevance to nutrition.]
    For women: Are you on estrogen replacement therapy or taking oral contraception? [This has no relevance to nutrition.]
  • For women: Are you pregnant or lactating? [Pregnancy and lactation might be a reason to take supplements of a few inexpensive nutrients. However, LifeScript recommendations go far beyond what is necessary.]
  • Do you suffer from depression? [This has no relevance to nutrition.]
  • Do you suffer from sleep disturbances, insomnia, chronic fatigue or stress? [This has no relevance to nutrition.]
  • Do you have elevated blood pressure or hypertension? [Diet has is relevant to some cases of high blood pressure, but knowing that a person has high blood pressure does not provide a legitimate basis for recommending supplementation.]
  • Do you have elevated blood cholesterol? [Many factors should be considered in designing a cardioprotective program for people with high blood cholesterol levels. Merely knowing that one cholesterol value is elevated does not provide any basis for supplement recommendations.]
  • Do you have recurrent indigestion or digestive tract problems? [There are many such problems, the treatment of which should depend on the cause. No valid supplement recommendation can be based on having a condition that fits this description. In addition, most such conditions are not a reason to take supplements.]
  • Do you have frequent infections, sore throats, colds, earaches or immune system problems? [Unless a person is severely malnourished, none of these conditions is nutrition-related.]
  • Do you suffer from hay fever, allergy, perennial (year-round) rhinitis (running nose), or food allergy? [None of these conditions requires an increase of nutrient intake.]
  • Do you have diabetes or been advised of having borderline diabetes? [The answer to this question does not provide a basis for recommending supplementation.]
  • For men: Do you have any of the following kidney or genitourinary conditions? Prostate enlargement; frequent nighttime urination; urinary tract infections; or other prostate disorders. [None of these conditions is a reason to take supplements.]
    For women: do you have any of the following gynecological conditions? Menopause; peri-menopause; breast tenderness; PMS; or hysterectomy. [None of these conditions is a reason to take supplements.]
  • Do you have or have you had any of the following heart or cardiovascular conditions? Heart attack (myocardial infarction); chest pain (angina pectoris); congestive heart failure (CHF); cardiovascular disease (CVD); or stroke (CVA). [None of these conditions is a reason for dietary supplementation.]
  • Do you have any of the following musculoskeletal conditions? Frequent joint pain; pulled muscles; muscle or back pain; shoulder, knee, hip, ankle, foot, or spine surgery; tendonitis; osteoarthritis; or degenerative disc disease. [None of these conditions is a reason to take supplements.]
  • Do you have or have you had any of the following cancer conditions? Lung; colon; brain; melanoma; breast; uterine; ovarian; leukemia; hodgkin’s lymphoma. [None of these conditions is a reason to take supplements.]
  • Have any of your family members (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, or uncles) had any of the following medical problems or diseases? Heart attack (myocardial infarction); chest pain (angina pectoris); congestive heart failure (CHF); cardiovascular disease (CVD); stroke (CVA) or Cancer (any type)? [The fact that a family member has had any of these conditions is not a reason to take supplements.]

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:

  • Daily Solution Pro, said to be a “unique blend of vitamins, minerals and herbs formulated to provide a baseline of nutritional support” and provide “the essential ingredients for wellness.”
  • Calcium Complete, which contains 400 mg of calcium.
  • Cholestro Pro, said to provide heart and cardiovascular support
  • Digestive Relief, said to provide gastro intestinal support
  • Prostate health, said to provide male health support; or Woman’s Ultra, said to provide female health support
  • Opt Immune, said to provide immune system support
  • Stress Guard, said to provide mental clarity and brain support
  • NeuroPro, said to provide optimal mental clarity
  • Joint Guard, said to provide bone and joint support
  • Vision Pro, said to provide vision support
  • Body Resculpt and LipidPro Fiber Support, said to provide weight management support
  • Enduro Pro, said to provide athletic enhancement

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.