There is a growing fascination with personalized nutrition and its applications to the vitamin and supplement market. A bevy of personalized vitamin brands have entered the scene, and they each take a slightly different approach to personalization. Some of these brands are positioning personalized vitamins as a silver bullet – a panacea for many conditions with a low barrier to entry. It is important for consumers to see through the marketing hype and have the ability to discern how these products work in conjunction with lifestyle changes. A personalized vitamin on its own will have a positive effect, perhaps greater than a store-bought option, but that effect will be compounded when the vitamin is coupled with meaningful lifestyle changes.
What are personalized vitamins? There are companies that will work with you to calibrate your daily vitamin routine to your personal profile. These companies typically start with a lifestyle assessment – an online survey that collections information about your diet, fitness, and health status. A subset of companies will also request blood, hair, stool, or genetics. The consumer should be aware that many of these biological and genetic tactics are limited in evidentiary support. They may seem “high tech” or meaningful to vitamin recommendations; however, the scientific support is not quite there. These point-in-time measurements are often inaccurate and have loose connections to vitamin research. The cost and privacy concerns will usually outweigh the benefits of these approaches. Ultimately, the best approach to customize a vitamin routine is a well-structured survey instrument, ideally designed by physicians and experts.
There are two different approaches that personalized companies will take to deliver their solution. The vast majority of companies will prescribe a daily vitamin pack. These personalized vitamin packs can contain 10+ daily pills and powders and run north of $100 per month. There is a real tension between what is recommended to the consumer and the profit incentive of these companies, which tend to be venture-backed or owned by larger supplement companies. Besides the risks of overprescribing, these companies often suggest supplements, like herbal remedies, that have weak scientific support, or allow consumers to design their own pack (or add on pills and powders), which steers back into the issue of consumer confusion and “DIY-approaches” that suboptimize the consumer results. Pill packs present a problem because many consumers have a hard time staying on a handful of daily pills and affording the solution.
Another group of companies will suggest a customized all-in-one supplement. These companies may offer liquid mixes, or customized pills. The liquid mixes have been critiqued for their taste profile. Does anyone want to choke down a pre-made vitamin smoothie pouch or “Keurig-like” liquid as their first act in the morning? The customized all-in-one supplements are usually a tenable solution for man consumers, and good entryway into personalization. They have a price point that is a premium to over-the-counter multivitamins, but they can cost less for consumers that are taking multivitamins, plus “add-on” pills to improve their dosing.
Overall, it is important to find a personalized vitamin brand that you trust. You can look for trust indicators, such as physician-scientist involvement or published material. You should look for social indicators, such as media reviews or customer testimonials. You may seek third-party testing verification or other attributes of quality. Finally, a company that has been in the personalized vitamin market for 5 or more years is a good indicator of longevity and success, and can help weed out new entrant companies with untested products.
A company that is being forthright will acknowledge that wellness improvement goes beyond vitamin habits. There are several changes that consumers should pursue:
Achieving better health is a piecemeal process. It requires coordinated change, and vitamins represent one aspect of that change equation. Personalized vitamins are an exciting development and superior to mass market shopping, but they are not a cure-all. You can simultaneously recognize that modern technology allows you to “lever up” your vitamin game, while also acknowledging that lifestyle changes are critical to an overall boost in health.
Vitamins are moving into the digital age, and finally targeting their solutions to individual needs. There are going to be some digital brands that are trustworthy, and others that are trying to capitalize on intrigue around the emerging space. You should do your homework, and find a company led by experts and with a tenure in the space. If personalized vitamins are seen as part of the bigger picture, they can be an effective new tool in the toolkit to advance personal health.