If you’ve ever walked through the vitamins and supplements section of a pharmacy and were confused – which supplements do I really need? What dose is appropriate? Can I just take this multivitamin and be done with it? – Know that you are not alone. Several companies have identified this consumer problem and solved it, changing the vitamin industry along the way.
These new companies, including Care/of, Ritual, and more, have been showing up in online ads (and probably your Instagram feed) since 2015. Most of them work in a similar way: they try to get to know you and then recommend vitamins and supplements that suit your needs.
Are Multivitamins and Single Nutrient Supplements Necessary?
Multivitamins are extremely popular – according to statistics, about half of Americans over 50 take them. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. But the question of whether they are necessary or even useful is up for debate.
In one large analysis of over 4,900 people, those who regularly took multivitamins reported about 30% better health compared to those who didn’t, but the researchers found no hard evidence that this was true. The results of the study, which were published in BMJ Outdoor in 2020did not show a corresponding reduction in chronic disease risk in multivitamin users or improvement in health markers. And review published in June 2018 in Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed 179 studies and found that multivitamins (plus single-nutrient supplements such as vitamin C, calcium, and vitamin D) do not improve heart health or help people live longer.
Multivitamins have shown some benefits for certain groups of people, such as pregnant women who have higher nutritional requirements, and people suffering from certain vitamin deficiencies. Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health.
“As a rule, we are better off getting everything we need from whole foods, but most people don’t eat that way,” says Ian Smith, MD, author of several books on diets from Chicago. “It turns out, especially with some of these restrictive and trendy diets that people are following, most of us are severely deficient in our nutrient intake.” He says taking high-quality vitamins and supplements can help fill those gaps.
How do personalized vitamin services work?
One criticism of multivitamins is that not everyone needs the same nutrients in the same amounts, and even one person’s needs tend to change over the course of a lifetime. For example, people who follow a vegetarian diet are more likely to skimp on vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D. Mayo Clinic. Smokers, on the other hand, may need extra calcium and vitamins C and D. Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital.
Companies that make vitamins to order offer a one-stop solution. Many of these companies, including Care/of, Vous Vitamin and Persona, start with a short quiz (which can usually be completed in five minutes or less) that covers your gender, age, health goals, lifestyle, diet , exercise regimen, concerns and allergies. You will then receive a recommendation for an add-on or add-ons that will be delivered to you monthly (or at other intervals) if you purchase a subscription. This can be a supply of one multivitamin or a pack of several capsules.
Some vitamin makers, including Mytamin and Swiss-based Baze, are taking a more scientific but also more invasive approach, basing their custom supplement formulations on blood tests. Other companies, including Rootine and VitaminLab, use DNA testing—the latter even use test results from 23andMe and Ancestry that you may have taken before.
Benefits of Personalized Vitamins
There are two main benefits of personalized vitamins: convenience and personalization. Instead of remembering to go to the pharmacy to stock up on vitamins and supplements, they are delivered to your door every month. “The subscription and direct-to-consumer model makes sense for consumers who are increasingly looking for convenience and service at the door,” says Dr. Smith. “Many people may stop taking vitamins because they don’t have a way to replenish their supplies.”
The second major benefit is that the vitamins you receive are tailored to your needs. These companies are trying to get enough information about you to determine which nutrients you may be missing and which you need to stay healthy and achieve your goals. This personalization factor helps make them stand out. “While grocery store multivitamins use data from thousands of people, these personalized vitamin services try to use data from people close to your demographic for a more personalized experience. [approach]”, He speaks Caitlin Selflicensed dietitian in Baltimore.
Disadvantages of Personalized Vitamins
On the surface, these companies have a lot of bells and whistles: stylish websites with quirky quizzes, curated social media presence, and cute packaging. But your answers to the quiz questions are self-reported, not objective, and “I” worries that they may not be enough.
As for blood tests, they are reliable – if done correctly. “The issue could be human factor given that those who administer the test are not trained to take blood, handle it and store it,” he says. Trista Best, RD, MPH, environmental health professional and consultant for Balance One Supplements (a company that sells supplements) in Dalton, Georgia. Blood drawn in a lab is more likely to be stored properly, while blood samples sent by mail risk being spoiled by changes in temperature or other conditions.
Both Smith and Self say that buying these companies is probably better than just buying off the shelf. “I find these personalized approaches to be better than a typical multivitamin at the grocery store, but nowhere near as good as a nutritionist’s assessment of clinical signs and symptoms,” Self says. A registered dietitian dietitian can identify nutritional gaps in your diet and suggest ways to address them with whole foods, which are generally preferred over any supplements.
Also, while many of these brands have a team of doctors or dietitians who make recommendations and research specific nutrients, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not control these products. “This means that most of these companies have not been properly vetted by third party groups,” says Self.
Should You Try Personalized Vitamins?
If you’re interested in trying personalized vitamins, Smith suggests doing your own research so you can make an informed decision. Make sure you agree with the recommendations that the dosage is correct and pay attention to the possible side effects of the ingredients (MedlinePlus good resource for this information). It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before taking any new supplements and make sure the supplements are legal.
“The main way to know if a supplement manufacturer should be trusted to deliver a safe, quality product is to check out third-party testing,” says Best. According to National Institutes of Health, seals from NSF, ConsumerLab.com, and the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) certify that the supplement has been properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and is free of harmful contaminants. Not all of these supplement companies subject their products to third-party testing, but Best points out that Ritual is one that does.
Overall, Smith believes these companies can help you prioritize your health. “In my opinion, investing in your health is always a good thing,” he says.