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.
The Impact of Lifestyle Modifications on Personalized Vitamin Effectiveness
A company that is being forthright will acknowledge that wellness improvement goes beyond vitamin habits. There are several changes that consumers should pursue:
- Start watching portions: This could mean cutting down on restaurant meals, or setting aside your servings of food at home (this includes “seconds” and “tastes”). Set aside premade or pre-portioned to be used during the day– it helps limit endless snacking (even with healthy foods, the calories add up based on portions).
- Consider a healthy eating plan: that is maintainable in the long term such as Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, or Noom among others. Find something that you can do that allows for travel, eating out and special occasion splurges.
- Restrict alcohol consumption: If you drink 4 drinks or more per week, consider cutting back. This is hard for some to fathom, but note that alcohol is both a huge source of calories and a gateway to other deleterious eating. It is also not healthy for women to drink more than a few drinks per week because of breast cancer risk, while for men one drink daily is the “recommended” amount. Less will not hurt you or your waistline and it will help your pocket book too as an aside.
- Up your exercise: For those of you without this habit already, you can so easily improve! You can either start a walking regimen (10 min daily or 30 min a few days per week is a great start) or a simple exercise plan. Or, this could be as easy as the New York Times 7 minute workout. Who doesn’t have 7 minutes? Some online yoga is also a great free option. Or bite the bullet and join a gym, with the understanding that you are actually going to go to the gym two-three times weekly (know in advance when those time will be). If you are already a regular exerciser, think of some small things thatl you can do to up your game (extra cardio? some added weight training or perhaps just filling in days off with some stretching).
- Make sure you commit to getting healthy sleep: Commonly overlooked, positive sleep habits are essential to all aspects of your health. In fact, even losing weight is facilitated by getting good quality sleep. So, don’t let this important part of your regimen get cut short in the name of other tasks in your life.
- Become more mindful: Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to help reduce anxiety, stress as well as improve you approach to life. Learning these techniques and employing them can be a great way to aid in focusing on other aspects of your health. Check out phone apps like Headspace or Calm or go to mindful.org for more info.
- Don’t forget to make sure you are up to date with your doctors: But seriously, make sure you caught up with all appropriate screening tests, such as mammography.
- Get the right vitamins: And we do not mean take handfuls of pills here! We can all benefit from better nutrition and one of the easiest ways to do this is via a personalized multivitamin. Taking too many or the wrong vitamins can actually do more harm than good. Taking the right combination of nutrients for your individual needs based on your diet, lifestyle and health history can make all the difference. This small step and easy habit to adopt can help you feel better, more energetic and more able to control your eating, all ultimately aiding in the weight loss process. And you don’t even have to leave your couch to do this!
Your Next Steps to Combining Lifestyle Changes with Personalized Vitamins
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.