There is a frightening reality of the endless vitamin aisles of online marketplaces and retail stores – significant risk of consumer “DIY” (do-it-yourself) dosing that puts them at risk of an overdose. Overdose situations are common and can have serious consequences for consumer health. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated about 23,000 annual visits to Emergency Rooms for dietary supplement adverse reactions, a subset of which, relate to ingestion of high doses. (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmsa1504267). There are almost certainly a number of unreported or underreported cases that relate to organ failure due to excessive supplementation levels. This is a logical extension of a retail system for over-the-counter medications that puts too much authority into the hands of the consumer, with limited regulation and medical supervision, and expects the consumer to figure it out for themselves.
Many consumers believe in the myth that they cannot overdose from dietary supplements. They are under the opinion that “more is better” for their health. They tend to think these products are innocuous and cannot adversely impact their bodies. There are low literacy rates around the back labels of these products and many consumers do not even realize whether the dosages they are taking are safe and/or efficacious for their individual needs. Many retailers carry products that have foreign substances mixed into the supplement that are not indicated by the label. It is not unusual for energy supplements to be spiked with substances like caffeine. Other products go through a loosely regulated manufacturing process that can result in dosages that are different from the back label. Overall, the vitamin aisles are the “Wild West” and the consumer can easily fall prey to misleading packaging and marketing practices that can contribute to overprescribing or excessive consumption.
Consumers can benefit from personalized vitamin technology platforms that help them cut through the confusion of the vitamin aisles. There is an emerging crop of companies that are focused on analyzing personal data to make targeted recommendations to the consumer around their needs. These companies often take into account sensitive health and lifestyle data to ensure the consumer is getting a set of products that are calibrated to their profile. This data is often collected through an online survey assessment tool, but it may also include uploaded genetic information or submitted biological material (stool, hair, blood).
The most common form of prescribing is to offer a pill pack, or arrangement of daily vitamins, back to the consumer for purchase. These pill packs are a supply chain innovation – they will assemble the recommended vitamins into an individual serving packet with the consumer’s name or other information printed on the packet. The risks of a pill pack model is that they can frequently overprescribe supplements to a consumer. It is not uncommon for a consumer to be recommended 10+ daily pills and powders at a cost of $100 or more per month. This is not sustainable for most consumers, and they are likely to fall off with their vitamin routine.
Another form of personalization is to customize all-in-one pill formulations. These formulas are integrated so the dosing and absorption profile is often carefully balanced. These models also have less cost (sometimes $30 or less per month) and can promote higher adherence through a lower pill load. The downside is less range of supplements as these companies will not veer into many herbal remedies and other types of supplements (protein powders, CBD oils, etc.). But, for a consumer that wants to avoid the vitamin aisles, they present a simplistic solution that can be sustained over time.
Regardless of approach, it is critical to trust your preferred brand in personalized nutritional supplementation. Do they have medical professionals involved in the company in more than an advisory capacity? Do they have published research or a book on the topic? Does the company have a long track record in the market and positive customer reviews? You are going to share intimate personal data with the company, so you want to be sure that you can trust them to use the data responsibly to get you to an efficient and targeted vitamin routine. With proper research and evaluation, you will find a personalized vitamin brand that will navigate you to the right mix of vitamins to address your safety concerns.