You, too, can measure your nutrient levels using an iPhone and a giant stylus on your acupuncture points

In the early days of this blog, I came up with a concept. That concept was based on the idea that on Friday I would try hard not to be so serious. On Fridays, I would seek out the finest woo in the world and aim a bit of my not-so-Respectful Insolence. Thus was born Your Friday Dose of Woo. It was a serious that I maintained close to religiously for nearly two years, before I started to feel the strain of having to com eup with something funny or quirky on every Friday. So gradually I let the series go, until it became an occasional feature. These days, it’s so occasional now that the last time I did a YFDoW installment was nearly two years ago. One advantage of the intermittent nature of this sort of blogging is that I can now do a post about some particularly silly bit of woo pretty much any time I feel like it. It’s Tuesday? So what? I found some woo.

Specifically, I found Vitastiq, which bills itself as the “world’s first personal device for checking your mineral and vitamin levels.” Truly, Vitastiq is worthy of resurrecting YFDoW on a Tuesday, as you will see. Not only does it combine modern tech with ancient woo. It even has an iPhone and Android app to go along with it to generate the “mineral” and “nutrient levels” based on...pure, unadulterated fetid dingos’ kidneys. Check out the promotional video below, and then we’ll unpack the claims and apply a bit of the ol’ Insolence to them:

The first thing I wondered about Vitastiq was why it looks like a giant pencil. I couldn’t help but compare it to the Apple Pencil, which is so much thinner and sleeker. On the other hand, the Apple Pencil has only one purpose: As a fancy Bluetooth stylus that allows one to write and draw on an iPad Pro screen. If you believe its makers, the Vitastiq is a miraculous device that can measure the levels of so many minerals and nutrients, a total of 30! Of course, there is one thing about it that seems—shall we say?—rather weak, mainly the second thing I thought about it: The company making Vitastiq is going to be very, very unhappy, given the announcement last week of the iPhone 7, given that the iPhone is losing the 3.5 mm audio jack in favor of using a Lightning connector. After all, Vitastiq works through the 3.5 mm audio jack. (What? No Bluetooth?) That, of course, makes me wonder: How does the giant stick/probe send its “data” through that old analog jack?

Let’s take a look at the claims made for Vitastiq. Just for yucks I downloaded the Vitastiq app from the Apple App Store. Unfortunately it wanted me to sign on with Facebook or Google, and I had no desire to do that, nor did I have any desire to give the company any information about me to set up my own account. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as I don’t actually have a Vitastiq.

In any case, the manufacturers of Vitastiq claim to have used knowledge of acupuncture in order to create their device, which is placed on certain parts of the skin to measure levels of various vitamins and nutrients thusly:

A thousand years of acupuncture knowledge indicates that acupuncture points differ from the surrounding skin. EAV (electro-acupuncture) methodology is based on traditional Chinese acupuncture and its energy patterns. The knowledge of these points serves as a basis for the EAV measuring method.

First of all, even though a thousand years of acupuncture knowledge might say that acupuncture points differ from the surrounding skin, that doesn’t mean that acupuncture points actually do differ from the surrounding skin. As I’ve pointed out before, there is no anatomical structure that corresponds to acupuncture meridians or acupuncture points. The utter lack of evidence for the existence of anything resembling a recognizable anatomic structure or structural difference in the skin of acupuncture points isn’t for lack of trying to find it by acupuncturists and blievers in “integrative medicine.” No such evidence has ever been found, and it sure isn’t for lack of trying by advocates of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). That’s why it’s not surprising that it doesn’t matter where you place the acupuncture needles. Heck, it doesn’t even matter if you place the acupuncture needles. One of my favorite studies is a study of acupuncture for low back pain that used toothpicks twirled against the skin as sham/placebo controls. “True” acupuncture did not beat toothpicks.

None of this, of course, stops the company making Vitastiq from proclaiming:

EAV methodology was tested and proven by a team of medical doctors headed by Dr. Reinhard Voll. Dr. Voll and his team established that acupuncture points differ from the surrounding skin and that there is an increased electrical conductance (decreased electrical resistance) at these points. The EAV method measures the electrical conductance of acupuncture points and determines your vitamin and mineral levels.

OK. Let’s think about this for a moment. Its makers claim that the Vitastiq can measure the levels of 30 different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals just by placing its giant pencil onto acupuncture points and using a smartphone app to calculate it. Really. You have to watch these brief promotional videos to see the full extent of this woo. First, here’s the one telling you how to prepare to measure all the goodies Vitastiq measures:

I was amused at how the video instructs users to take off their watches and all their jewelry first and then to wash their hands. Then check out the device! It all looks so science-y. Now here’s how to measure:

I will give Vitastiq credit. It has a much more computer/smartphone pleasant interface than any previous woo device I’ve examined before. If you want to see the typical sort of computer interface I have to deal with when I check out devices like Vitastiq, I remind you of the...EPFX/QXCI Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface. Compare that to this:

To be honest, this device looks to me to be just as much pure pseudoscience as EPFX/QXCI Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface, just a bit more convincing. Certainly, it’s not based on any more solid science.

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Dr. Voll before. Or at least I don’t remember having ever heard of him before. So, as is my wont, I did a bit of Googling. It didn’t take me long to discover a website that described Voll thusly:

In the early 1950s, Reinhold Voll, a German medical doctor, developed an electronic testing device for finding acupuncture points electrically. He was successful in finding acupuncture points and demonstrating that these points, known to Chinese acupuncturists for millennia, had a different resistance to a tiny electrical current passed through the body, than did the adjacent tissues. Many other researchers have also verified that electrical conductance at the acupuncture points is significantly greater than the surrounding tissue.

Of course, this story is highly dubious on many levels. For one thing, in the 1940s and 1950s, almost no one in the West knew much about acupuncture. For another thing, it was right around this time period that Chairman Mao was inventing TCM from the many strands of traditional Chinese medicines, and using it to give the illusion of bringing medical care to his people when he didn’t have enough real doctors to go around, and selling its “integration” with scientific medicine and adoption by credulous Westerners looking for something exotic. So it strikes me as highly unlikely that Voll came up with his device as describe above and elsewhere, although it is possible. It’s just hard to tell because the main evidence I’ve been able to find consists of accounts by Voll or his acolytes.

In any case, it needs to be remembered that there is no science to measuring nutrient levels with a fat electronic pencil like Vitastiq, at least none from Voll, who named his technique “meridian stress assessment” (MSA), although Vitastiq calls it electroacupuncture according to Voll (EAV). The same technique is sometimes also called electrodermal screening (EDS). Other names include bioelectric functions diagnosis (BFD), bio-energy regulatory technique (BER), biocybernetic medicine (BM), computerized electrodermal screening (CEDS), computerized electrodermal stress analysis (CDCSA), electrodermal testng (EDT), limbic stress assessment (LSA), meridian energy analysis (MEA), or point testing. EAV devices are marketed by several companies, with Vitastiq being the one that caught my attention, most likely because it has an iPhone app, and I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy. My tech proclivities aside, take a look at how Bioontology Arizona describes Voll’s methods, specifically MSA:

MSA Testing is an “Energetic” Testing procedure. So what is Energetic and what kind of “Energy” is this?

Everyone is familiar with the fact that we have many different organs and glands in the body. We are also familiar with the highly organized and complex Nervous System and the Circulatory System. Initially, we consider that all these organs, glands, and systems are physical and chemical in nature. We can touch, see and measure these aspects. We know that science has proven these attributes, and we take science’s accounts of such nature to be true. But there is also an unseen component of all these organs, glands, and systems called the Energetic System.

This Energetic System is not physical or chemical in its nature.

Instead, it is pure energy. For centuries, Chinese doctors have been practicing the art of “Acupuncture”. Acupuncture is based on a system of “Meridians”. The Meridians are explained as a network of “Energy” channels that are used for communication and for moving energy throughout the body. An acupuncturist uses needles that are placed at specific “Points” to stimulate the flow of energy to specific organs and glands.

There are twenty-one (21), basic MSA Meridians (Chinese doctors typically use 12 Meridians), each corresponding to the major organs and glands of the body. Along each of these Meridians, there are found to be many Acupuncture “Points”. Each acupuncture point on a Meridian will correspond to either a specific gland, or to the various functional regions found within an organ. All totalled, there are hundreds of different points located along the basic twenty-one Meridians. This Energetic System is an intricate map that is consistently identical in every man and woman.

This Energetic System is not physical nor chemical, it is pure energy.

Voll and his followers need to take a basic physics course. Actually, his followers do. Voll can’t, because he’s been dead a long time. Energy, of course, is physical. It is a property of objects that can be transferred to other objects and do work. I know, I know, physics geeks, I’m being simplistic, but there’s no need to go into the weeds of more detail. The point is that energy is a physical property and a chemical property. After all, chemical reactions often either require energy (endothermic) or release energy (exothermic). As for the meridians, if Voll really was doing acupuncture, then why did he come up with 21 meridians, when TCM only postulates 12? Inquiring minds want to know!

I’ll finish with the best bit of woo about Voll’s quackery:

An MSA device is a type of Electrical Conductivity Meter. Some of the newer generation devices are connected to computers with specialized software, but essentially, any MSA device is a Conductivity Meter. We use electrical current to measure the Meridians. We have to keep in mind that this is an indirect measurement of the Energetic System. We also must keep in mind that Energetic Testing, MSA, is not the same thing as standard physiological, pathological and biochemical medical health measurements. When a practitioner tests the Liver Meridian with an MSA device he is not testing the actual Liver, he is testing the Energetic component of the Liver. Yet the technology works, in fact it works very well, and it opens the doorway to the vast possibilities of communicating with the Energetic System. Using an MSA device to measure electricity is the first step. The next question is; How do we go from electrical conductance measurement to a useful assessment of the Energetic System?

We know some useful points and from these we can make some viable conclusions:

  • Electricity will flow through a Meridian.
  • The nature of how electricity flows through a specific Meridian is directly related to how Energy flows through the specific Meridian.
  • The flow of Energy is related to the Energetic health of a Meridian. And therefore we know that the flow of electricity is also related, just as the Energy is, to the health of the Meridian. The “Universal Baseline” makes MSA a viable testing method.

Whoa. I am suitably impressed with the overall mystical woo-iness of this woo! Without a doubt my favorite part is the bit about how when a practitioner test the liver meridian with an MSA device he isn’t really testing the actual liver. It’s not testing actual liver physiology or anatomy, like those horrible Western reductionistic tests like ultrasound, liver function tests, or HIDA scans. (No kidding.) He’s testing the “energetic component” of the liver. But he’s not even really doing that, if you believe the passage above. In actuality he is indirectly testing the “energetic component” of the liver. So I guess that, in the case of the Vitastiq, what’s being measured isn’t the actual levels of the various nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Rather it must be the “energetic component” of those nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, which in woo-world is so much better than using actual chemistry to measure actual levels of these nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, the way hospital labs do.

Yep, I was right:

A thousand years of acupuncture knowledge indicates that acupuncture points differ from the surrounding skin. EAV (electro-acupuncture) methodology is based on traditional Chinese acupuncture and its energy patterns. The knowledge of these points serves as a basis for the EAV measuring method.

Yep, what we have here is basically the next generation of the EPFX/QXCI Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface, which was so ten years ago. I wonder if Bill Nelson had anything to do with the Vitastiq. Probably not. Amazingly, the advertising material for the Vitastiq doesn’t invoke quantum physics.

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So, after "thousands of years", these guys have invented an ohmmeter.
Available at any Radio Shack for a hell of a lot less money. I'll go with the latter, as it's useful in electrical and electronic testing.

Yep, what we have here is basically the next generation of the EPFX/QXCI Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface

I had forgotten about the software that comes with that device. The interface is amazing. It looked like it was designed by someone who thought that the Hot Dog Stand colour theme in Windows 3.1 was the pinnacle of design.

@Travis, are you disparaging the Hot Dog Stand theme from Windows 3.1? I think it was indeed the pinnacle of design.
Note, I failed to mention good or bad, so please put that trout away. ;)

Over the decades, Microsoft sure came out with some real turkeys, haven't they?
Until today, I had managed to forget that theme. Now, I'll likely have it in my nightmares. ;)

By Wzrd1 (not verified) on 12 Sep 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Travis (not verified)

Skeptics with a K just covered this charming piece of quack gagetry in their latest episode. They also discuss some marketing material they found which makes it quite clear just that the makers are more concerned with the money they can get from convincing people they are sick and need (expensive) suppliments to cure what ails them.

http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2016/09/skeptics-with-a-k-episode-…

A reminder that you can still get the iRife detox app from the Apple Store. Only $4.99!

"PRESETS INCLUDE:

* Main Detox - General Rife Frequency Detox set.
* Chemtrail Detox - What are they doing up there? This is a detox from reactions to chemtrails.
* Liver - Our liver is our body's filter. When it is clogged we feel lousy and a toxic liver can cause allergies and a whole list of other problems for us.
* Candida - It's a natural thing in our bodies that can get out of control, because of GMOs and preservatives. Candida detox can be very useful with weight loss and depression."

Customers love it.

"This app is a quantum leap into energetic balancing. I have experienced severe ice burn in a recent blizzard, which caused my eyes to swell to the size of golf balls. I tried the basic detox for 30 minutes, listening through earbuds. On that short time, the swelling, pain, and itch were reduced significantly."

itunes.apple.com/us/app/irife-detox/id563078652?mt=8

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

It's amazing to me that people can get away with this.

By palindrom (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

A thousand years of acupuncture knowledge indicates that acupuncture points differ from the surrounding skin.

Which acupuncture points, since there are, what, dozens of different sets depending on the particular school. And why did they choose the particular set that they use for their quackery, sorry, serious and legitimate product?

So, after “thousands of years”, these guys have invented an ohmmeter.

To detect an acupuncture meridian, if there were such a thing, one would need to be able to measure the electrical conductivity tensor. That's six (possibly complex) numbers, not just one. In particular, one would need to be able to detect a difference in conductivity along the meridian versus perpendicular to the meridian in the plane of the skin. Now there is good reason to think the conductivity perpendicular to the skin is different from that along the skin, but unless the cell membranes on the skin have a preferred orientation (which I doubt), there is no reason to expect the two in-plane directions to differ.

OK, there was a fair amount of physics speak in that paragraph, so I'll give you a TL;DR: The resistance would have to depend on the direction the probes are separated, not just the distance.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

If Voll was correct, it should be possible to build a device using a piece of flexible circuit board with a grid of many electrical contacts on it to measure conductivity near-simultaneously from many points on the skin. Then, you could image the acupuncture meridians. Why do you suppose nobody is doing this?

For that matter, why are chiropractors using descendents of the Neurocalometer to find "hot box" subluxations when thermal imaging cameras exist?

By Mark Thorson (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

Voll and his followers need to take a basic physics course. Actually, his followers do. Voll can’t, because he’s been dead a long time.

Oh, I expect his energy is still hanging around. Just not in the form he might have expected.

Amazingly, the advertising material for the Vitastiq doesn’t invoke quantum physics.

Did you read the small print? The really, really small print?

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

After all, Vitastiq works through the 3.5 mm audio jack. (What? No Bluetooth?) That, of course, makes me wonder: How does the giant stick/probe send its “data” through that old analog jack?

The jack (on the iPhone anyway, I assume Android is the same) also has audio in. It's how the Apple iPhone ear buds with in-line mic can be use to talk on the phone. As far as sending data over an analog line, you use a modulator and demodulator, or MODEM. It's how we sent data back in the dark ages.

My experience goes back a bit further. Back in the day, I maintained systems that sent teletype data over voice lines. Modulators and demodulators were separate boxes, would only operate up to about 600 bps, and had to be adjusted every month.

Back in the day, I maintained systems that sent teletype data over voice lines.

A mere 30 so years ago, when I was a college freshman, we were using DECwriter II's with acoustic couplers. I wish I still had the two DECs that I rescued – I've probably mentioned this, but I wanted to use them as the base of a dining-room table (with slots cut into the surface for the paper feed, of course).

That, of course, makes me wonder: How does the giant stick/probe send its “data” through that old analog jack?

The jack [...] also has audio in. [...] As far as sending data over an analog line, you use a modulator and demodulator, or MODEM.

Depending on the data in question, you could easily use software demodulation, just checking for the zero crossing points. The 'Square' device that allows you to read credit cards on a cell phone plugs into the audio jack, and it's pretty much just a cassette tape head to read the magnetic data, which then feeds the waveform output of that directly into the microphone connection; all the conversion of that magnetic waveform to actual data is done in software.

By Jenora Feuer (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

^ Oh, and I should have bought more Teletype T-shirts from Don House back when I had the chance.

A mere 30 so years ago, when I was a college freshman, we were using DECwriter II’s with acoustic couplers.

We didn't have acoustic couplers for data - all circuits were expected to be up all the time. We did have a couple TTY circuits that we could broadcast over HF radio for backup, but those were hardwired also.

We did have an acoustically coupled FAX machine, but they weren't called FAX then. It was a company called DEX, and they were 1 page at a time, wrapped around a rotating drum, and the distant end operator had to put in a fresh sheet of paper for each page. The paper was black background with a white coating, and the receive side would scratch off the white as needed. It would stink. Not at all like late 20th century fire and forget devices.

Depending on the data in question, you could easily use software demodulation, just checking for the zero crossing points.

I'm sure that's what they're doing. Everything is done in software these days. My point is that A to D conversion is old technology.

I suspect that our host just had a brain fart when he wrote "How does the giant stick/probe send its “data” through that old analog jack?", and if he had thought about it a bit, he would have realized it. But moving data isn't his job, and I made a fairly good living at for about 40 years.

There is a lot wrong with the Vitastiq (including the creative spelling), but that one feature isn't it.

Thank you for a much needed laugh.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

If it vibrated, too, you could use it as a . . . uh, nevermind.

We did have an acoustically coupled FAX machine, but they weren’t called FAX then.

Hey, I've got one of these. I suspect that they were all built with the wefax decoder, as mine just started ponying them up one day, even though it was supposed to be an add-on.

Thanks, Jenora. I was thinking about the Square device, too.

There are strictly digital headphones, and we'll see more of them now with the iPhone 7, but the headphone jack is an analog device.

I'm not sure if the app can take advantage of the builit-in DAC used to create the digital cell signal or has to do the encoding itself.

By squirrelelite (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 #permalink

Wait til the Scientologists find out the thing is a thinly disguised E-meter.
I suspect part of the reason it is so big is so that the way the body is held in the hand won't conspicuously influence the readings - lots of contact area relative to the tip.

It is probably little more than a resistance to frequency or pulse width converter. I designed one years ago so that a resistive position sensor could emulate the signal from an ultrasonic transducer and thus be read like one of numerous ultrasonic channels in a pipeline weld inspection system. I did it all in (quite simple) hardware, primarily to annoy the client's engineering manager who could write firmware but wasn't much good at analog hardware.

If it vibrated, too, you could use it as a...

Electric ear cleaner.

How this works (or pretends to work, as the case may be):

It's a Wheatstone bridge, as found in any inexpensive volt/ohm meter (VOM), a tool that's on any electronic geek's workbench. It takes skin resistance readings and dresses them up with clever descriptions, correlated to quackupuncture points, to make it appear that it's doing something "smart."

The end of the probe device has two electrical contacts closely spaced, or it has one electrical contact and there's also something you have to wear around a wrist or finger.

The probe passes an electrical current between the contacts and measures the current flow, which translates to the resistance across the two points.

The user has to follow an instruction to place the probe at each specific point as directed by the app, or alternately, has to tell the app where the probe is being placed.

The app has a list of skin resistance values or electrical current values that it uses to compile "readings." It has a list of texts that go with the "readings," for example "your Energy at this location is below normal..."

Either in real time or after you're done, it provides "feedback" or a "report," listed by quackupuncture points and interpreted as body parts.

If you put the probe on the wrong points at the wrong times, presumably it will tell you all kinds of screwy things are going on with your liver, spleen, and so on. (I wonder what happens if you put the probe where it appears clearly designed to go?)

Yes, wait 'til Scientology finds out it's just another form of E-Meter, which is also a Wheatstone bridge with added foo-foo.

Sheesh, where is FDA when you need them?

How convenient it is that nutrients are mapped to specific acupressure points! The Voll name is common for all these quack electrodiagnostic devices.

My reaction to New Age loons talking about energy: How much energy is this in kilowatt-hours?

By Joseph Hertzlinger (not verified) on 17 Sep 2016 #permalink

I love technology that science can't figure out.