So What’s Under The ZYTO Hood?
First of all, the technology ZYTO states they are using as the foundation for their sensing system is the same technology behind one of the several facets of the well-known polygraph test, called “electrodermal response”, a.k.a. “skin conductance response”, or a.k.a. Galvanic Skin Response (GSA), (the latter of which is an outdated terminology that ZYTO curiously uses). The “electrodermal response” (or EDA) is the phenomenon that the skin momentarily becomes a better conductor of electricity when the subject becomes aroused (either positively or negatively) by some external stimuli. The palms of the hands are commonly used because of the high density of eccrine sweat glands located there that are known to be responsive to emotions and other psychological stimuli. There are many papers written on this subject and its use as a ‘lie detection’ device. The bottom line is that using EDA alone has ONLY been proven useful at recognizing arousal in the subject, which could be for any reason positive or negative, 3 to 5-seconds after stimuli. This is why polygraphs include a number of measurements in addition to the EDA to detect a false statement and only if the subject is knowingly lying AND is aroused by the fact that they are lying.
I have been the subject of two polygraphs during my time working on government programs requiring “Special Access”. The first time I was kind of nervous, not knowing what to expect but I was in and out in less than 3-hours and went on to the next phase (i.e. ‘passed’). The next time, 5-years later and having held a Top Secret clearance for all that time, I was called back 3-times because my baseline readings were coming up inconclusive. After enduring three 4-hour sessions of questioning it was determined (by an extremely qualified, ex-CIA ‘screener’ by the way) that I needed to drink more coffee before the test because my “unnatural state of calm” was screwing up the readings. It is well-known among many who participate in polygraph testing that undergoing one is more like an interrogation than a “lie detection” test. The tester looks for arousal associated with particular questions and then refines questioning based on what topics get a rise out of you. Technology meant to sense biological phenomenon is not a trivial matter and even the most useful systems require experts with years of training to accurately interpret the data. Polygraph technology has been under development since the late 1800’s, with bazillions of dollars invested, but for my experience with it to have been value-added it clearly came down to the intuition of the seasoned professional using it. (*Mindy: He is explaining this in such gory detail to demonstrate how very sensitive these million dollar machines are.)
Does The Science Support Their Claims?
The main claim by ZYTO is that this device will determine your nutritional needs from the drop in your skin resistance as a result of sending a digitized signal, a signal that is an accurate representation of a specific substance, to the same skin location being measured within 1-second. If your body wants that substance, it will respond positively, if it is opposed to the substance, it will respond negatively. By definition of the science of “Galvanic Skin Response” alone, this claim cannot be true. We just learned that the limitation for using the physiological arousal mechanism in polygraphs, (a technology under development for more than 100-years or so), is that the skin resistance drops whether it is a positive arousal or negative arousal… or if you are on certain medications… or if you are having a hot flash… it cannot tell the difference. AND, unfortunately for ZYTO, the physiological skin conductance response of most people isn’t fast enough to respond within the time frame of their measurement system.
So why do so many people spend money on these machines and why do people claim such “crazy accurate” responses from their “scan”? I’ll get there but let’s not jump off the edge of this hot tub of bubbling misdirection and swirling inconsistencies just yet… Because it just isn’t polite to purposefully mislead innocent consumers and take their money, let’s discuss the other pseudoscience… marshmallow floating to the surface: the idea that a substance’s unique energy can be fully characterized digitally and this digital signal impinging on one’s skin will elicit a measurable response from the body. I have spent most of my engineering career developing sensor system technologies. The development process of even a new, never-been-done-before device always starts with a proven theory. If you look for it, one can usually find a published, clear sequence of coherent thought leading to a piece of tech. I cannot find anything that would lead to being able to create a digital signal from the unique energy signature of a particular substance. Besides, 1) the body doesn’t speak digital, all of nature speaks analog and 2) if you believe in the predominant legend that mundane substances (such as dietary supplements – not radioactive material) spontaneously emit measurable energies at unique frequencies, those frequencies are much too high to be detected by this machine, which operates at DC (0 to 5Hz). (*Mindy: In English this means ‘It is impossible for this machine to work as advertised’).
Other cringe-worthy points:
- Right on the FAQ page of their website, ZYTO states measurement results are not likely reproducible. I thought that was why humans created machines…? They actually cite “quantum indeterminacy” as the reason their measurements are not reproducible, which is utterly ridiculous. Btw, you can calculate quantum indeterminacy… (*Mindy: with math…)
- ZYTO Corp stock price is currently trading at $0.03 per share with an overall valuation of just over $1M (last public income statement was 2011, before delisting). For a technology company with employees, this is suggestive of low earnings and/or high debt (what are they paying their employees with?), no value in the technology (e.g. worthless patent portfolio) or …?
- From Glassdoor.com 2 out of 3 employee reviews state ‘no real science behind their products’, both are current employees and one a “Technical Team Lead”.
So What Are We To Believe?
I could go on but I am starting to feel sorry for everyone involved, which I believe is too kind for the leaders of this company and the engineers building these devices. The ‘bean-counters’ may not really know if the tech works or not and the marketers just can’t help themselves but the engineers must know. Maybe I am overly sensitive to what I see as a perversion of what used to be a discipline above reproach or maybe it is the visceral disgust and fear that truly helpful supplements and therapies will be discouraged by the attempts of professional con artists to make another buck off of the suffering. Regardless, ZYTO products need to be called out for what they are.
So why are reasonable people claiming “crazy accurate results” when it comes to essential oil recommendations made by the ZYTO system? One of many possible reasons for this, (and one that I am currently fascinated with), could be because essential oils are generally high in beneficial bioactive phytochemicals. Herbs, spices and other foods high in these naturally occurring chemical compounds have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. Since many complaints people have can be associated with chronic inflammation, any reduction can appear to have a broad effect.
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Addendum – 1/6/2016 – Regarding iTovi:
One of our readers let us know of another company promoting a device based on GSR and/or “Bioimpedance” technology. Check them out at https://itovi.com/… They list measurable parameters as “Skin temperature”, “Pressure”, “Moisture”, “Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)”, and “User BMI” with the slick looking device depicted below..
Based on the web site information, product description and pictures, this device appears to be very similar to the Zyto device in most relevant ways. However, the marketing aspects imply some differences so in the spirit of avoiding redundancy, I will try to briefly address some of the key claims not already addressed with the Zyto technology post.
First, it should be pointed out that there is much more published information on “bioimpedance” regarding it’s use in measuring BMI (body mass index) and moisture, i.e. hydration/dehydration. From the documentation available it appears there are different methods and underlying technology, low frequency, high frequency and x-rays. However, these methods all use sensors that are capable of reading between large expanses of the body such as between one hand to the other hand for an upper body measurement, one foot to the other foot for lower body and one hand to opposite foot for cross body measurements.
As you can see above, the iTovi product is reading a 2-inch expanse of skin. Obviously NOT x-rays, so it must be another surface impedance measurement. In 2003 researchers demonstrated the innacuracies of local bioimpedance measurements as a means of determining BMI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14559320/ “CONCLUSION:Use of regional impedance devices to assess body fatness is limited by a lack of precision and accuracy.”
So the claims regarding assessment of nutritional needs based on BMI measurements do not hold water… The other parameters, “Skin temperature”, “Pressure” and “Moisture” are highly variable depending on the individual and circumstances, including what specific part of the body was measured, the time of day the measurement was made and evironment the measurement was made in.
The iTovi product does not appear to be available yet, although it appears they would like you to purchase now… The iTovi web site does not include contact or physical location information but according to patent records and other online sources, the company appears to be located in Korea. The company owns two US patents concerned with image file transfer, (not sensing technology or algorithms).
Marketing appears to be directed at direct sales professionals in the supplement industry. Even their sales approach appears to have a network marketing aspect to it with the ability to recoup your $400 by getting 5 others to purchase their product. A testimonial from the iTovi website states: “At first I was overwhelmed with how much I had to learn about my products. iTOVi lifted that burden. I’m amazed by the great insights and the detailed product information I get from each iTOVi report.”– Hector S. So the message is ‘you don’t have to understand your product, our machine will tell people they need it anyway’?
I think I am done with this subject. It makes me feel… gross.
Links of Interest