In 2020, convenience is the key to survival. We order everything online – from groceries to clothes to furniture - and have it delivered right to our home. We’ve become accustomed to these modern conveniences so it’s no surprise that a lot of people also turn to the internet as a source for their health decisions. Many people look to social influencers for life advice, and these influencers often post health tips.
The latest trend is personalized vitamins and supplements designed to provide you with exactly what you need. Ordering a custom package of vitamins online may simplify your life, but is it really the answer to optimal health?
We dug in so you don’t have to.
How does it work?
Getting customized vitamin packages online is simple. For many services, the first step is to complete a lifestyle and health preference quiz. Based on your answers, a custom health supplement plan is designed. Most services provide an explanation for each supplement, including why it’s recommended. From there, you can choose products and have them shipped directly to you. You will receive a box of individualized packets, each containing your daily dose of vitamins and supplements.
It’s easy enough and sounds harmless. Right?
We asked Tom Greenlee, a pharmacist, for some guidance. He walked us through the pros and cons to ordering your vitamins through an online service.
- Convenience: Using one of these services saves time. The online test takes a few minutes, and getting your vitamins and supplements delivered to you beats making an extra stop at the store.
- No Tests: No blood tests are required to order supplements online. Choose what you want based on the information from the online assessment, and you’re good to go.
- Simplified Routine: Because all of your daily vitamins come in one convenient packet, your routine is simpler. You don’t have to lay out your doses or remember whether or not you took your prenatal vitamin each day. Most packages will come in a nice box that is pretty enough to display on your desk so you’ll never forget to take your daily dose. Plus, when you’re about to run out, you can just renew your order online to get more shipped to you.
- Increased Interest in Health: Perhaps the most positive thing about convenient, online health services is getting you to focus on your health. It also offers up new recommendations that you may not have considered.
- Side Effects: Vitamins and other natural products are chemicals, no matter their origin. Any chemical put into the body could create side effects and/or interact with prescription drugs. This is one reason why it’s so important to let your health care provider know what medications or supplements you take. Many social influencers and online services recommend new products that could have negative side effects. The products could cause a bad reaction, or worse, they could cause an adverse effect when taken at the same time as a prescribed medication.
- Doctor Did Not Review: Answering an online questionnaire alone isn’t enough to determine your health needs. Just because an answer on a questionnaire matches a product suggestion does not mean this is in your best interest. Nothing can replace the patient/physician relationship that you should be building with your doctor. Your doctor has your best interest in mind and would not let you take something that is unnecessary or dangerous.
- No FDA Regulation: The vitamin/supplement market is not FDA regulated. This means these products do not have to submit evidence to support claims they make about the effectiveness of their products, nor do they submit their products for purity testing (screening for contaminants). This creates a “buyer beware” situation, so it’s best to stick with reputable brands. Purchase products with a “USP” seal which indicates that the manufacturer submitted their products to an independent third party (United States Pharmacopeia) organization that tested the product for impurities and accuracy in ingredients vs. labeling. The USP seal can provide some confidence to consumers about the contents of the product.
- Claims: Vitamins and supplements are allowed to make dietary guidance statements and structure/function statements without studies or scientific evidence submitted to the FDA. Claims are generally made regarding the importance of a supplement in meeting the daily dietary requirements or supporting a certain body system or structure — think “supports the immune system” or “promotes healthy skin.” Again, these claims can be made without any studies or scientific evidence submitted to the FDA.
- Supplements Aren’t Always the Answer: There is such a thing as taking too many vitamins. If you do not truly have a deficiency, it can be toxic to your body to take unnecessary vitamins — another reason why it’s best to check in with your doctor. The idea that a pill solves everything is flawed. Lifestyle changes can often correct many of the issues that supplements claim to reverse. There is no substitute for a healthy diet and exercise!
- Cost: The cost of the online vitamin services varies based on the recommended vitamin plan. However, companies often suggest “premium” vitamins at a higher cost than what you could buy at your local pharmacy whether or not they’re truly a higher quality. It’s also worth noting that these vitamin services have financial incentive to recommend additional products. It is okay to be skeptical if the recommendations seem excessive.
So, what’s the verdict? Even if you decide that convenience is the most important thing, it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor about the supplements you’re interested in purchasing, especially if the intent is to take long-term.