PERFECT health is hard to keep in aworld of microbes, industrial wastes andbelching exhausts, but there is plenty ofhelp available if you want it. For instance, akindly U.S. Department of Agriculture, perhapswith one eye on the farm vote and theother on the nation’s waistline, publishedearlier this year an updated food pyramid(www.mypyramid.gov) telling us how toselect a properly balanced diet from easilyavailable materials (but pointedly ignoringthe dietary supplement industry). The pyramidspecifies quantities in terms of recommendeddaily servings (RDS).Those who haven’t the time or thepatience to follow a diet will eat on the runand pop dietary supplement pills to makeup for their neglect of wholesome fruitsand veggies. Though essentially unregulatedso long as they make no therapeuticclaims, the supplement suppliers generallyprint on the label the percentage of a recommendeddaily allowance (RDA) perpill, using data provided by the U.S.National Institutes of Health.Both RDS and RDA are based on a vastamount of dietary research on a large numberof people. You certainly won’t come togrief following them, but there is a smallproblem: their recommendations necessarilyapply to a notional average person,even when broken down into categories ofsex, weight, etc. Consequently, they nomore apply to a particular individual thando the national average height, weight orlife expectancy. What we really want isadvice tailored to our own specific requirements,indicating what’s wrong, if anything,and how best to fix it, all at anaffordable price.THIS is a tall order, but to our rescuecomes the Pharmanex company of Provo,Utah (www.pharmanex.com), which hasdeveloped a device called the BioPhotonicScanner. This is said to be a portableRaman spectroscope that, by shining alow-power blue laser beam onto the palmof your hand, can provide an indication ofthe state of your body’s antioxidant defenses.Pharmanex’s argument runs roughly asfollows:–The waste products of cell metabolisminclude free radicals: dismemberedoxygen compounds that, in a desperateattempt to recover a lost electron, willattack healthy tissues and initiate a cascadeof more free radicals. The resultingdamage is what prevents us from enjoyingperfect health.–The body has its own defenses:antioxidants that dispose of free radicals.But these are not always synthesized insufficient amounts, and must be supplementedwhen necessary. Among manyother free-radical suppressors, thecarotenoids are potent antioxidants.–The level of carotenoids in the skin ofyour palm corresponds well with the levelin your blood stream, thus offering theopportunity for a noninvasive measurementof blood carotenoids. And sincemany different kinds of antioxidants worktogether to support each other, detectingcarotenoid deficiency alone implies a deficiencyin antioxidants in general.–The BioPhotonic Scanner measuresthe level of carotenoids in the skin of yourpalm to provide a reading called the skincarotenoid score (SCS), reflecting thestrength of the body’s antioxidant defenses.Then, given your skin type, sex andother data, the computer in the scannerwill tell whether your SCS is above orbelow the average for a large number ofhealthy people in the same category. Iflower, Pharmanex will be glad to sell youa blend of selected antioxidants calledLifePak, which is guaranteed to increaseyour SCS.THIS is a fragile line of reasoning,leading to the conclusion that it offers noadvantage over the Department of Agriculture’sRDS or the National Institutes ofHealth’s RDA for dietary supplements,since all three are based on a notionalaverage for a large number of healthypeople, and not on the specific needs ofthe individual concerned. Also, the ideathat a deficiency in the fat-solublecarotenoids alone implies a deficiency inmany other antioxidants, including thewater-soluble variety, calls for a considerableleap of faith.Notwithstanding these criticisms, weshould recall that possibly half of all curesachieved by clinical intervention areattributable to the placebo effect, wherebytruly believing you will be cured is all thebody requires to heal itself. It is entirelypossible that a session with the scannerwill create this belief, so let’s not knock itbefore we try it.Both the scanner and supplies ofLifePak may be found at The Beauty Club,opposite the Costa Rica Country Club, inthe western San José suburb of Escazú,where Sean Wintraub and his inimitablemum Elaine will be happy to make you abeliever. For information, call 288-2980.