Cultural and social experts have called the 2010s the “Subscription Decade.” But it may actually have gone a step further than that… it’s more like the “Customization Decade.”
Your meals can be customized and delivered to your home for you to cook. You can design your own shampoo by answering a few questions about your hair and feeding the answers into an algorithm. You can even customize your entertainment by choosing a number of platforms you utilize the most and only paying for those.
It’s no surprise, then, that customizing your health is an emerging field generating confusion and excitement from the masses. Flashy advertisements make customized soap, exfoliants, protein shakes, and more seem like they’re the magic bullet you’ve been hoping for.
What about customized vitamins?
A cursory Google search about which vitamins are most vital to your well-being yield lists of supplements by the dozens.
Do we really need to take a dozen pills every day to maintain our homeostasis? That can’t be right.
Of course, they make multivitamins…
But studies have shown that there is no proven effect of taking multivitamins on your overall health. There’s only a calculable difference in taking specific vitamins to target a specific issue.
In this post, we’re going to look into how customized vitamin companies do what they do, and whether or not they make a discernible difference.
How do they do it?
Like most customizable wares, vitamin companies put the onus on the customer to answer questions about themselves — their lifestyles, eating habits, leisure habits, age, gender, geographical location, personal goals, etc.
Depending on the company, they may just recommend a series of vitamins based on your answers. (Consider: women need more iron, calcium, and folate than men, and at different times in their lives. Multivitamins don’t necessarily account for those differences in sex and stage in life.)
However, some companies go the extra mile and concoct a vitamin built just for you. (They’ll even make the capsules pretty.)
What could go wrong?
Because this is a fairly new service, there haven’t been any reported side effects or lawsuits to speak of.
The truth is, while our bodies are different from one another’s, we’re more alike than we are different. So speculatively, taking specific vitamin packs or customized capsules based on your subjective answers and a company’s databases…
Could result in excessive amounts of vitamins which block or unbalance the usefulness of other vitamins.
Also, one of the imbalances this industry seeks to rectify is that your nutrition needs change constantly — as you get older, as your weight fluctuates, your diet changes, your exercise habits wax or wane.
So relying on personalized vitamins is only as effective as the frequency with which you update your questionnaire answers and send out for another pack. Which isn’t something most people are willing to commit to with rigid regularity.
Finally, the point of lots of these quizzes are personal goals, and not what your body needs. It’s like eating potato chips when you’re craving something salty instead of finding out why you’re craving salt. Stress? Boredom? Sleep deficiency? PMS? Because you just worked out?
Solving the imbalance that’s causing you to crave salt would have been a healthier alternative to giving into the craving… but humans are fallible, and impulsive, and often just want to be soothed rather than fixed. Basing your vitamin intake on your dreams (luminous skin) instead of your requirements (more vitamin D for more energy) might be ill-advised.
Is it worth it?
If you’ve got the time, the money, and the narrow focus, then personalized vitamins could certainly benefit you. And remember, they’re not all customized concoctions. Some are “multivitamins” themselves.
These companies aren’t irresponsible. In fact, largely, their databases are founded on much more recent research than the government’s Daily Dosage recommendations.
So their multivitamins may actually be more tailored to you than the kind you buy in the drugstore.
Not only that, but since these companies aren’t part of the $80 billion essentially unregulated vitamin industry, they’re choosing their ingredients more carefully. Most companies are touting bioavailable, sustainable, eco-friendly and non-synthetic ingredients.
Is it a cure-all?
The only thing that can provide you with personalized data about your body’s deficiencies is a micronutrient test.
Short of that, customized vitamins may help you tailor and support your nutrient needs more closely than Big Pharma can.