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Cultural and social experts have called the last 10 years 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 and wellness 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 yields 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.
And yet, there are a plethora of companies that make multivitamins and now even customized vitamins…
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 medical condition (such as prenatal vitamins)
In this post, we’re going to look into how customized vitamin companies do what they do, and whether or not these supplements make a discernible difference in your overall health and wellness.
How Are Customized Vitamins Made?
Like most customizable wares, vitamin subscription companies (such as Care/Of, Persona Nutrition, or Rootine) put the onus on the customer to answer questions about themselves—their lifestyle, eating habits, leisure habits, age, gender, geographical location, personal goals, etc.
Depending on the company, they may just recommend a supplementation of vitamins based on your answers. (Consider: women need more iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B12, 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 formulation built just for you, based on a DNA test. These are designed to take all the guesswork out of your hands. (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, or 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 health 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 higher energy levels) might be ill-advised.
Are Customized Vitamins 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 Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) 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 (no artificial colors, fillers, etc), so if these claims are true, that is a step in the right direction.
Is it a cure-all?
The only thing that can provide you with personalized data about your body’s deficiencies is a micronutrient blood test.
Short of that, customized vitamins may help you tailor and support your nutrient needs more closely than Big Pharma can. The best way to be sure you get your needed nutrients is to have your vitamins and dietary supplements selected by a nutritionist or registered dietitian, and ask your physician to check for any side effects.
A Better Option: Good Nutrition & Probiotics
A more tried and true option for better healthcare is a healthy diet full of vitamins and probiotics.
If you need some help figuring out where to start, there are gut health microbiome testing services that assess your microbiome on many different levels, providing you a detailed report that even includes nutrition suggestions.
Viome, one such company that offers these tests, uses metatranscriptomic sequencing technology to search deep into the RNA molecules of the different organisms that make up the microbiome.
Supplementing with a spore-based probiotic is another great option for your digestive and overall health, especially if you know your microbiome is not in good standing due to poor diet and lifestyle and/or antibiotic use.
Whether you choose customized vitamins, gut health testing, probiotic supplements, making changes to your lifestyle and food choices, or some combinations of these, many dietitians would agree: A healthy diet doesn’t simply hinge on being gluten-free, carb-free, or even vegan.
To be your healthiest, you must be getting the vitamins and enzymes necessary to support the vital parts of your body, such as the digestive, cardiovascular, and immune systems, bones, muscles, brain, and skin. Eating diverse, organic, whole foods when possible with crucial nutrients like vitamin C, omega 3s, and probiotics will do just as much, if not more, for your overall health as a customized vitamin or supplement.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 21, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy on May 21, 2021.