Personalized Supplements: A Better Way To Improve Health?

Finding the right balance of vitamins and minerals can be a daunting task. Amidst the many aisles of shelves upon shelves filled with supplements in stores, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of which ones are truly beneficial for your unique needs. Analysis paralysis may only get worse when searching online — the options are nearly endless. As precision medicine grows in popularity, though, formulators of personalized supplements have started to hit the market. But are they worth it? And, are they more efficient than a generic brand?

Key takeaways:

According to an Ipsos Public Affairs online survey conducted on 2000 U.S. adults, 77% of Americans reported that they were taking dietary supplements, whether regularly, seasonally, or occasionally. Of that 77%, the majority, 8 out of 10 people, were between the ages of 35 and 54. Additionally, females are slightly more likely to take supplements, with 79% of them taking supplements compared to 74% of males.

Such high demand for dietary supplementation pushed the market toward significant growth. By 2024, the value of the U.S. dietary supplement market is expected to reach $56.7 billion, according to recent statistics. For the sake of comparison, it’s worth mentioning that this number stood at $41.4 billion in 2020.

What are personalized supplements?

Personalized supplements are exactly what they sound like — vitamins created for a specific individual’s biology. They are meant to be the answer to the problem with one-size-fits-all health solutions. Rather than adopting a generic approach, these supplements are meticulously designed based on your individual health profile. They may take into account factors like genetics, nutrient levels, and lifestyle preferences to create a customized roadmap for your well-being journey.

Once the supplement company gathers all the information needed to create the tailored stack, they provide the option to have the supplement shipped to you every month. Think of it as a subscription. In addition to that, some even recommend retesting after about three to six months to see how certain vitamin levels have changed, so they can tweak the supplement once again to continue to best support your health needs.

Generic vs. personalized supplementation

As cliché as it sounds, it’s been well articulated across the healthcare and wellness industry that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to improving health outcomes. The human body is a symphony of complexities, with each individual's nutritional needs playing a unique tune.

Generic supplements offer a general approach, aiming to fulfill broad requirements. However, our bodies vary significantly, and a deficiency for one person might be an excess for another. Personalized supplements are aimed to tackle this concept by analyzing your genetic makeup, biomarkers, and lifestyle factors to create a concoction that harmonizes perfectly with your individual needs.

However, studies of their efficacy are scarce. There have been some that show efficacy in personalizing nutrition but not particularly supplementation. Some studies have shown that personalization leads to greater improvements in diet than universal approaches and that it may foster sustained change in behavior.

However, most research is based on observational studies with low levels of reproducibility. While the nutrition and supplement industry is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is under the umbrella of “food” and has to meet much fewer requirements than medications, so more robust studies are needed to be able to draw definite conclusions.

How personalized supplements work

The process of creating personalized supplements typically begins with gathering information about your health background. This can be done through a combination of blood tests and detailed questionnaires. Blood tests provide valuable insights into your nutrient levels, genetic variations, and overall health markers. Questionnaires, on the other hand, delve into more subjective factors, such as lifestyle, dietary preferences, and specific health concerns.

Both blood tests and questionnaires play important roles in the creation of personalized supplement recommendations. Blood tests provide objective data about nutrient deficiencies or imbalances, while questionnaires offer subjective information about your habits and preferences. By combining these two sources of data, companies can develop targeted supplement plans that address specific nutritional needs.

Not all brands require both, though. Depending on their business model, some companies only ask customers to fill out a health quiz, while others require a blood test to look at biomarkers, mineral levels, and, in some cases, DNA.

Blood tests vs. questionnaires: which is better?

Both blood tests and questionnaires have their strengths and limitations when it comes to gathering information for personalized supplement recommendations.

The choice between blood tests and questionnaires ultimately depends on the specific goals and circumstances of the individual. In some cases, combining both methods may provide the most comprehensive and accurate information for personalized supplement recommendations.

Benefits and risks of personalized supplements

By targeting an individual's specific nutritional needs, these supplements have the potential to optimize health outcomes, address nutrient deficiencies, support specific health goals, and provide personalized guidance for lifestyle modifications.

It’s important to look for a brand that does third-party lab testing and is fully transparent about using clean and validated ingredients without any harmful additives. The supplement industry has seen many scams over the years, so a personalized route may provide peace of mind that you are getting what you’re paying for and not getting what you’re not paying for.

However, personalized supplements are not without risks. The field of personalized nutrition is still relatively new, and more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and limitations. Additionally, the cost of personalized supplements can be higher than traditional supplements, as they often require additional testing and consultation fees. It's also key to work with qualified healthcare professionals who have expertise in personalized nutrition to ensure safe and effective recommendations.

The cost of personalized supplements

Personalized supplements can vary in cost depending on several factors, including the complexity of the testing and the expertise of the healthcare professional involved. The cost may include fees for blood tests, consultations, and the actual supplements themselves. It's important to consider the long-term value of personalized supplements and weigh the potential benefits against the financial investment. Most brands have it set up as a monthly subscription service with a higher initial investment when a blood test is included too.

Prices range between as low as $15 a stack, when the company only uses a health quiz as their assessment, to around $500, when a DNA test, vitamin test, and mineral test are all taken into account for formulation.

What do the questionnaires look like?

The questionnaire serves as a window into your nutritional needs, allowing healthcare professionals to gather information about your lifestyle, dietary and exercise habits, any allergies, and health concerns. The questionnaires are often a brief online assessment via the company’s website and may cover topics such as age, gender, medical history, dietary restrictions, and specific health goals.

The information collected from the questionnaire helps healthcare professionals develop a comprehensive understanding of your current state and unique nutritional needs. It allows them to tailor supplement recommendations that address any deficiencies, support specific health goals, and align with your preferences and lifestyle.

What types of blood testing do I have to do?

Blood testing allows for an even deeper dive into personalized supplement recommendations. It provides objective data about your nutrient levels, genetic variations, and overall health markers. Some common types of blood testing in personalized supplements include:

  • Nutrient testing. Measures levels of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in the blood to identify deficiencies or imbalances.
  • Genetic testing. Analyzes your genetic variations to gain insights into how your DNA may impact nutrient metabolism and overall health.
  • Inflammatory markers. Measures markers of inflammation in the blood, such as C-reactive protein, which can provide insights into your level of oxidative stress, overall health, and potential nutrient needs.
  • Hormone testing. Assesses hormone levels in the blood, which can help identify imbalances and how supplementation can best support your hormonal needs.

Personalized vs. generic supplements

In a world where personalization reigns supreme, the evolution of supplementation is no exception. The days of generic supplement regimens that overlook your unique intricacies are waning and personalized supplements offer several advantages over one-size-fits-all pills. Here are some key advantages:

  • Targeted nutrition. Personalized supplements are designed to address your specific nutritional needs, ensuring that you receive the nutrients your body requires in the amount that will make a positive impact.
  • Optimal absorption. By tailoring supplement recommendations to your unique characteristics, personalized supplements can optimize nutrient absorption and utilization.
  • Comprehensive approach. Personalized supplements take into account your overall health, lifestyle, and goals, providing a holistic approach to nutrition and wellness.
  • Potential health benefits. By addressing nutrient deficiencies and imbalances, personalized supplements have the potential to support overall health, improve energy levels, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

It's important to note that personalized supplements are not meant to replace a healthy diet. They should be used as a complementary set of tools to a balanced and nutritious eating plan.

What else to know

Whether supplements are truly necessary and offer any benefits has been a topic of debate among scientists. There has been mixed research on whether, for example, multivitamins have any efficacy at all for healthy individuals. However, supplements may play an important role for some high-risk groups who are predisposed to certain diseases or have existing health conditions.

Personalized supplementation is an advanced and data-driven step toward tailoring health solutions to your individual needs. Armed with knowledge, guidance from professionals, and a commitment to holistic well-being, you’ll be able to gain more control over your biology and hence the health outcomes you’ll see.

However, as with many health interventions that require you to invest time, money, and effort, it’s important to keep a few additional pillars in mind before getting started.

Expert guidance is essential

While personalized supplements hold immense potential, it's crucial to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting any regimen. Some brands offer a consultation with a healthcare professional, which you should take advantage of. A registered dietitian, nutritionist, or medical doctor can help interpret your blood test results, assess your needs, and ensure that the supplements are aligned with your overall health plan.

Be patient

Don’t expect personal supplementation to be an instant fix. It takes time for your body to absorb and respond to the nutrients provided by the supplements. Be patient and consistent in your approach, and remember that long-term benefits often outweigh short-term gains.

Apply a holistic approach

Personalized supplements are only one piece of the larger puzzle of wellness. They work best when complemented by a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management. No pill will ever fix an unhealthy lifestyle.

Retest and monitor adjustments

Your health isn't static, and your supplementation plan shouldn't be either. Periodic reassessment of your health markers through follow-up blood tests and consultations is essential to ensure that your personalized supplement regimen continues to meet your evolving needs.

Transparency in ingredients

Many personalized supplement providers prioritize transparency in ingredient sourcing and formulation. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on their website, don't hesitate to inquire about the sources and quality of the ingredients in your supplements. Knowing what you're putting into your body is essential, so take the time to ask questions.

Interaction with medications

Certain supplements can interact with prescription medications, reducing their effectiveness or causing adverse effects. Be sure to inform your healthcare provider about all supplements you're taking to avoid potential harmful interactions.

Are personalized supplements for you?

At its core, personalized supplementation is about enhancing your unique health journey. Embrace it as a tool to support your goals, but remember that your health is a combination of various factors.

As more research is needed in this area, be willing and open to doing some additional digging on your own, ask questions from healthcare professionals, and stay informed. Weighing the pros and cons as well as the financial commitment will allow you to make an educated decision whether this approach is the right one for you.

The popularity of personalized supplements is growing, as is the number of companies in the market. Be cautious when choosing a provider and look for reputable companies that emphasize evidence-based practices, transparency, and ethical sourcing of ingredients.

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