Looking at a device like the Vitastiq conjures up images of the famous scene in Back to the Future where an incredulous Marty McFly asks Doc Brown about how a DeLorean could be turned into a time machine. In the movie, such a thing seemed completely implausible to him — and that’s how the Vitastiq initially comes across too.
Originally a crowdfunded product, Vitastiq’s developers in Croatia claim the device can measure 26 essential vitamin and mineral levels by taking readings from key acupuncture points on one’s body. The data is passed wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet, showing a visual scale of where levels are at — but is this breakthrough technology or just junk science? Digital Trends got to try one for a few months to gauge whether there’s more than just a vitamin deficiency going on here.
The medical methodology for the Vitastiq is based on electro-acupuncture (EAV) that goes back to research done by Reinhard Voll in West Germany in the 1950s. Medical products that perform similar functions already exist in pharmacies, according to the company, so its primary claim is in using the same process, yet gleaning the results with a more non-invasive and painless process that has a mobile device component.
While measuring vitamin and mineral levels, the Vitastiq is not classified as a medical device.
The prevailing theory behind this suggests acupuncture points have an electrical current of increased conductance and decreased resistance. With calibration, those acupuncture points are referenced to gauge electrical resistance — thus leading to what is supposed to be an accurate reading. The original version of the Vitastiq used an audio cable to connect directly to the phone, but the current model is Bluetooth-enabled with a rechargeable battery and titanium body.
Registering the device through an included QR code appears to be mandatory because the information it collects is naturally personal. Vitastiq says it stores the data in its cloud servers, encrypting it and ensuring it only matches with that registration, abiding by regulations in the European Union. In the U.S., the company has an FCC certificate classifying it as a smart lifestyle device and tracker.
Unfortunately, Vitastiq doesn’t provide any hard and fast rules on how often to use the device, so that part is left fairly ambiguous based on the user’s need. “Several times a week” is what the FAQ on the Vitastiq website suggests would be adequate, though.
The iOS and Android (version 4.0 and up) app has a section for profiles, meaning multiple users can track their own levels by switching to their own profile. That way, a child could be tracked just as easily as an elderly grandparent. The calibration and tracking process doesn’t change, regardless of age or health.
I would stress that, while measuring vitamin and mineral levels, the Vitastiq is not classified as a medical device because it can’t cure or treat a deficiency, nor directly impact a medical condition that stems from a deficiency. In that respect, it’s really no different than a blood pressure monitor that connects to a smartphone and app.
After a handful of attempts, the process became like clockwork.
The calibration along the outer thumb takes about 12 seconds. With a light push upon contact, the ball point of the Vitastiq recesses and a blue LED lights up on the stem, while calibration is confirmed on the app.
From there, the app gives visual indicators for each acupuncture contact point. By default, the app is on the essentials template, where 10 vitamins and minerals are measured, all upon contact points on the thumb and fingers. Advanced doubles that to 20 and includes readings from toes. Total Care goes up to 30 different readings from all over your body.
Pressure doesn’t seem to matter as much. It’s accuracy that counts, and as long as the ball point is recessed and the blue light comes on, the device is (apparently) reading something. Placement is important, which is why Vitastiq has tutorials to help users get started. It took me a few tries to make sure I got it right, particularly because of how I had to angle the stick. I knew I was getting it right once the meter moved on the app as I maintained the same amount of pressure, indicating it was doing its job.
There was an initial inclination to press harder when the reading was at a low level, but I learned not to do that and just adjust the angle instead. After a handful of attempts, the process became like clockwork. Still, Vitastiq would better serve users by noting how much angling the stick can affect readings. The app has videos outlining how to find the right point, which is within a 3-5mm parameter, so there is some leeway in precision.
After a full reading is done, a summary shows the results, and may include a graph showing your progress over time. An information icon is always on the right, with a description of what the vitamin or mineral is, noting deficiency and toxicity symptoms, along with a recommended intake.
How does a device like the Vitastiq compare to the accuracy of a blood test? The company commissioned and released a research study in 2015 that aimed to determine the viability of EAV as an alternative, concluding that “there is a high concordance between the assessment of vitamin status using laboratory tests and Vitastiq.”
A newer, more comprehensive study is set to be completed by the end of 2017. Either way, it’s hard to be sure without getting some corroboration from a doctor through bloodwork.
Some of the results I received surprised me, especially since I do take a multivitamin almost daily. It showed a deficiency in Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C, which I found odd, particularly in the latter case because I drink freshly-squeezed orange juice and eat fruit daily. Readings for that were inconsistent, so I couldn’t be entirely sure I was on track or deficient.
At the same time, if there was a solid measure of accuracy, consistently low readings would be a cause for concern. For most, getting a physical done through a family doctor might happen once a year, where vitamin levels are clear for a professional opinion. Whether the Vitastiq can provide that same level of certainty for every reading is hard to say. Blood doesn’t lie, whereas technology is known to falter.
Blood doesn’t lie, whereas technology is known to falter.
It’s the variations over the course of days and weeks that suggest Vitastiq’s creators might be on to something. If everything was the same every time, it wouldn’t seem right. Fluctuations in vitamin and mineral levels are normal, after all. If I didn’t get a lot of sun, my Vitamin D level would be lower. If I didn’t take my omega-3 pills regularly, those levels might be affected too.
It could be sheer coincidence, or it may be the device telling me something. Having never read this kind of information through a gadget before, I’m willing to take its readings seriously enough to ensure I’m more vigilant. Same with my parents, whose results weren’t all good, either.
While the Vitastiq does use an EAV method that isn’t entirely foreign to medical practice, it requires a great deal of trust in assessing its performance. That goes for any gadget tracking a health metric, except the difference between a typical fitness band and this device is that there’s nothing to really compare it to. Not to mention that tracking steps and estimating calorie burn is not quite as intense as measuring essential vitamins and minerals required to live a healthy life.
The burden is largely on Vitastiq’s developers to prove this existing methodology can work just as well in its non-invasive form. It’s conceptually sound, with an ease of use that anyone can appreciate, so if it is as accurate as the company claims, it can be an indispensable device for those concerned about health and wellness.
I came away from it thinking it does more good than harm. Even if slightly off, a low reading could be enough of an incentive to a balanced diet or vitamin supplement.
- Lightweight and portable
- Multi-user support
- Easy setup and calibration
- User-friendly app
- 100% accuracy unclear
- Fluctuations based on placement
- Doesn’t work with HomeKit or other health aggregators