Vitamins Are Still Mostly Useless, Even If They’re Personalised

Vitamins Are Still Mostly Useless, Even If They’re Personalised
Contributor: Beth Skwarecki

The best explanation I’ve seen for why “personalised” products have bloomed in recent years is that we love to hear stories about ourselves. I think astrology is dumb personally, but I’ll still scroll through a bunch of Sagittarius memes until I see one that tells me something I want to hear. It’s no surprise that trend has extended to vitamins.

As we noted with personalised protein powder, the whole racket of personalisation is about collecting data and selling you a basic product you could get anywhere else cheaper. But to get you to take the quiz and pay extra for the product, the company has to convince you it’s just for you. One vitamin company used to run ads emphasising how confusing the vitamin aisle can be, as if we’re all just trying to do the basics to be healthy and need someone to hold our hand to solve the impossibly perplexing puzzle of which vitamins we need.

The appeal is real, but the underlying idea is bullshit. Vitamin supplements are somewhere between mostly useless and completely useless. If you eat fruits, vegetables, and animal products on any kind of regular basis, you almost certainly have all your bases covered. There are a few exceptions, and they’re not exactly secrets: Vegans typically need a B12 supplement. People who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should get extra folate, and typically do so by grabbing a bottle of prenatal vitamins at the grocery store. (There are a few nutrients where experts disagree; maybe we all need vitamin D supplements, or maybe we’re fine.)

As the U.S. National Institutes of Health points out in their page on dietary supplements, almost everybody can get their necessary vitamins from food, and your time and money are better spent on improving your diet than buying pills, even if it’s a slickly-branded algorithm that picks the pills for you. Remember, they’re just going to give you something you could have bought at the store anyway, based on some extremely basic facts like your age and sex.

If you think you have medical issues that mean you need something truly personalised, try this groundbreaking idea: ask your doctor. Vitamin deficiencies aren’t common, but they do exist, and an appropriate medical professional can diagnose one. (By “appropriate,” I mostly mean one who does not make a significant portion of their income from supplements, so skip the chiropractors with pill bottles displayed in the waiting room.)

But if you’re thinking about buying vitamins — personalised or not — just because a company promises to send them to you in cute packaging, remember that you’re probably fine without them.

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