Are Customized Supplements Worth Checking Out?
Vitamins packs, personalized to your needs and delivered directly to your door, do offer some benefits, experts say.
With the COVID pandemic still underway, many of us are doing whatever it takes to stay healthy and keep our immune systems strong. In fact, 86% of Americans currently take supplements, despite just 21% having a confirmed deficiency, with some of the most popular supplements being vitamins D and C, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, according to a separate 2020 study.
But what if instead of popping a general multivitamin that may contain vitamins your body doesn’t truly need, you could instead opt for a customized supplement package that provides exactly—and only—what your body lacks?
With that question in mind, a booming niche industry has been born: personalized supplement options to meet the specific needs of the consumer. But before you invest in any one brand out there, it’s important to consider whether there is any real science behind your custom plan, and if the company you’re supporting with your hard-earned cash uses actual M.D.s to assess your deficiencies, oversee testing, or even weigh in on product development. The safety and efficacy of taking supplements and vitamins is a concern, too, as are broader privacy issues. Here’s what you should know about the growing trend.
Why a Customized Approach May Benefit You
“Most vitamins are generally safe to take in the recommended daily allowances [RDA]. However, fat-soluble vitamins can build up in body tissues and reach toxic levels if one isn’t careful,” warns Nadia Khan, M.D., whose specialty is internal medicine at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Wheaton, IL.
That means fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed and stored in the body's fatty tissues and in the liver. They include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Often taken orally, these supplemented vitamins are sold to help you reach your recommended RDA. However, according to Dr. Khan, they rarely have a significant impact on immediate well-being, and much of the vitamin goes through the gastrointestinal tract undigested by the stomach, and therefore don’t do much, well, of anything.
Supplement services offering a tailored approach may be better than just taking a general multivitamin. Says Dr. Khan, “Since a general multivitamin only has the basic minimum levels of most common vitamins, having additional levels of specific ones that you may be deficient in can be helpful.”
Customized supplements may benefit some people with busy lifestyles and poor diets, specifically, she adds. “If someone has a highly processed diet, or doesn’t reach their daily allowances of fruits and vegetables, these supplement packs can help bridge a gap," she says. "For busy people on the go, an all-in-one pack may save them time and effort."
The best example is vitamin D, Dr. Khan notes. Most multivitamins have anywhere from 400 to 800 international units (IUs). But for a person deficient in vitamin D, doses in the 2,000 to 4,000 range are often needed. “If these services are checking levels and making recommendations, then tailoring can be beneficial,” she says.
Ultimately, the best way to get your vitamin and minerals remains through eaten and digested food, which provides vitamins that “are pure, unprocessed, and absorbed and utilized by your body more efficiently than supplements,” explains Dr. Khan.
Still, the market for customizable supplement packets continues to grow. And if you’re curious to try out a service for yourself, here are four brands worth checking out:
Pricing: Varies, depending on which supplements you take. Each vitamin is priced differently, ranging from $5 to $25 for a month’s supply. Powders range from $14 to $32.
How it works: Founded in 2016, Care/Of is a monthly subscription service that delivers personalized vitamins each month in a signature box of 30 daily vitamin packs. To get your personalized packet (which can include vitamins such as vegan vitamin D, minerals like iron, and herbs like American ginseng), you take a health survey to find out what supplements you should be taking. While no blood test is given, you do fill in the basics like your age, where you live, and your current vitamin regime. Then, you share your health goals and the benefits you want to focus on including stronger immunity, better sleep, less stress, brain health, digestion, and more.
One big caveat: No M.D.s are involved in product creation. However, Care/Of’s supplements are developed specifically for the brand using current research, and are tested three times within the brand’s supply chain before approval. In addition to vitamins, they also sell products like protein powders, collagen powders, and more.
Privacy concerns: Care/Of asks you to provide personal health info in the survey mentioned above, including your age, gender, and any medical conditions you have experienced (or that exist in your family). Of course, for delivery you’ll also need to give up your name, e-mail and shipping addresses, and zip code.
In regards to data collection and the selling of your info, the company states that they do “at times collect contact information about prospective customers from third-party sources, including promotional and marketing partners.” This includes, without limitation: “IP addresses, browser type and language, referring and exit pages and URLs, date and time, amount of time spent on particular pages, what sections of the website visitors visit, and similar information concerning your use of the services.” Knowing this, proceed with your own level of caution. For complete privacy info, click here.
Pricing: Varies by supplement, and Persona lists its products in a price-per-day format. Supplement prices range from $.06 to $1. 83 per supplement, per day.
How it works: Maybe you’ve seen TV personalities Kelly Ripa and Daphne Oz hawking this brand on Facebook and other social platforms—it may be the best-known of the bunch. Persona learns about you through an in-depth questionnaire (asking about your health, gender, age, diet, allergies, lifestyle, and even your Rx medications), then applies this info to science-backed algorithms that draw from published medical and nutritional research. The results are reviewed by a medical advisory board comprised of doctors, researchers, nutritionists, and other medical experts with credentials from places like The Cleveland Clinic. While there is no blood test with this one, either, it does ask about your DNA based on any previous testing you’ve had done. (Persona doesn’t provide any DNA testing on its own.)
The company’s customized supplements, including customer favorite "essential" packs for sleep, stress, immunity, and more, are created by Persona’s advisory board of doctors and nutritionists, and are manufactured in the U.S. under strict guidelines from the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP), which is enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Persona also gives back with each purchase: The brand partners with Vitamin Angels, a charity that provides life-saving vitamins to mothers and children who are at risk of malnutrition around the world. With each order, Persona provides two malnourished children a year’s supply of vitamin A; to date, they’ve helped over one million children. That means you can do good and feel good at the same time.
Privacy concerns: It's true Persona vets all medications you take, and you might feel hesitant to share this type of private medical info through an online questionnaire. However, the company states that it does so to reduce the chances of drug interactions with any of its supplements you wind up purchasing.
Pricing: DNA testing costs a cool $125, and the blood test is an additional $195.
How it works: For those who love the deep dive—especially when it comes to their own physiology—Rootine may provide the most in-depth customization of your vitamins. The company recommends supplement packs based on your DNA, a blood test, and your lifestyle data. If you haven’t already completed a DNA test on your own (like from 23 and Me or Ancestry), Rootine organizes this test to be done for you.
To start, you complete a lifestyle quiz to give Rootine your baseline information: your height, weight, age, habits, and diet. The DNA test (performed via cheek swab) and the blood test (collected with a finger-prick through a kit that they send to you) examine your levels of 18 key nutrients and 10 amino acids. Following analysis, you are sent 90 days’ worth of supplements, ranging from vitamin B12 to CoQ10, that are formulated in an easy-to-digest, slow-release microbead formula. (That means your supplements aren’t in pill-form). According to Rootine, microbeads “ensure optimal nutrient absorption” thanks to their slow-release, which prevents over-absorption in your gastrointestinal system.
Pricing: Blood and nutrient test kit go for $199.
How it works: Baze is also based on a blood test—the company sends you what’s called the Baze Nutrient Test Kit. It takes your blood via a sampling device that collects about four drops in anywhere from two to seven minutes. The device is designed especially for folks who are squeamish about needles; it looks a little bit like a cute computer mouse that seals to your cleaned and sterilized upper arm as it collects your blood. The test is patented and FDA-approved. You’ll then send the device with your blood sample to Baze’s labs to be analyzed for 11 essential nutrients by a team of registered dietitians.
Based on the results, Baze sends you a 30-day supply of personalized supplements that can include anything from choline to ashwagandha, ranging from $20 to $40 per month.
Privacy concerns: To sign up for Baze, you’ll need to give up your basic information at checkout, including your name, shipping address, and email. From there, you’ll need to download the Baze App, where your profile is created. You can track the status of your blood test, and this is where you’ll receive your results.
- Supplement Survey: The American Osteopathic Association. (2019.) “Poll finds 86% of Americans take vitamins or supplements yet only 21% have a confirmed nutritional deficiency.” osteopathic.org/2019/01/16/poll-finds-86-of-americans-take-vitamins-or-supplements-yet-only-21-have-a-confirmed-nutritional-deficiency/
- Most Popular Supplement Study: Nutrients. (2020.) “Determination of the Popularity of Dietary Supplements Using Google Search Rankings.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7231191/
- Fat Soluble Vitamins: Colorado State University. (September 2017.) “Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, and K – 9.315.” extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/fat-soluble-vitamins-a-d-e-and-k-9-315/