Nutritional supplement sales revenue was expected to reach about 32 billion US dollars in 2019 according to an August, 2019 article on Statista.com.  That's a lot of money for vitamin, mineral and health supplements that often have a disclaimer that says, among other things, they are, "..not intended to treat, prevent or cure disease."  Huh?  

Supplements don't treat, prevent or cure

Then why, when surveyed did the majority of people say they used supplements for health and wellness benefits?   Moreover, how has the industry continued to grow by the billions if these supplements are not intended for this purpose?   Do billions of users know something the FDA doesn't?

The Statista article included statistics from a 2018 survey that indicated 70% or more of the US population used supplements.  The $80 average household annual investment is almost twice the amount, $46, in 2007.  Supplements aren't even regulated as a food or drug by the FDA.  Are these nutritional gems really worth our money or are they just a bunch of hype?

Industry supplements may not be guaranteed, but the industry has more than pills and potions

Many consumers research current trends in health and wellness online.  Despite the pitfalls associated with online research, consumers have access to more current information than ever before.  This gives industries like this one an excellent platform to promote and merchandise their products, services and books.

Whole wellness is bigger than ever.  Despite tighter regulations for prescription drugs, statistics suggest most Americans want more than prescriptions and medical treatment from their doctors to support their health and wellness needs.  They want resources, whole body remedies and alternatives to "medical intervention only" treatments.

Trends in health and nutrition and our aging population are two major factors that contribute to these sales increases.  While the industry takes into account supplements like multivitamins, alphabet vitamins, herbal remedies, macrobiotics and minerals, things like weight loss remedies, health and wellness books and pet supplements are also a large part of the investment Americans make at the top retail chains like Vitamin Shoppe® and GNC® (source Dun & Bradstreet).

Separating the good from the bad

Like anything we consume, use or practice, we should take caution when taking interest in big claims and creative advertising campaigns.  The industry relies heavily on clever marketing to appeal to target demographics.  We have a list of things to consider before purchasing supplements, food, creams or remedies.

  • Read the labels on the back of the product, not just the ads on the front.
  • Ask your doctor if he/she feels the product, program or supplement would be beneficial and if there are potential problems you could experience with it.
  • Taking too much of a supplement may interfere with medical tests, effectiveness of current medications or have other harmful side effects.
  • Know that some supplements, creams, lotions and foods may interfere with your current medication(s), their effectiveness and medical tests.  Always follow the instructions on the label of the products packaging.  Taking too much of a supplement may result in life threatening overdoses and/or interfere with current medication(s), their effectiveness and medical tests (even if the supplement did not interfere at normal doses).
  • While seeking supplements for preventative health or to improve symptoms of another, know that it may exacerbate another medical condition or health problem.
  • Don't accept online information regarding the product as wholly reliable.  Scrutinize the claims and sources.  It's best to seek well known, reputable sources only.
  • Don't just research commercially driven retail sites that sell these items. 
  • When seeking information on a product look for both good and bad experiences so that you know what the product could do, has done, claims to do and/or is guaranteed to produce, reduce or remove.
  • Don't buy a product or program on the spot or in a high pressure sales demonstration.  
  • Avoid products or supplements that require a monthly commitment without a reasonable trial-period of time to evaluate it.
  • While herbal supplements, vitamins, minerals, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, microbial probiotics and metabolites are evaluated by the FDA, know that they are regulated under the diet supplements category, not food or drugs.
  • Research the product's active ingredients to determine why it's different than other products on the market.  Sometimes the trend setting new "remedy" is just a repackaged/remarketed version of an older product that has suffered declining sales and can be found for much less money by an equally reliable manufacturer.
  • Don't assume "all natural" means "safe".  Know the ingredients and potential interactions or side effects.
  • Know the difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.

Buy from reputable sources

Be cautious of the hottest new supplement(s) shared on social media. Companies know how to market with the power of influencers and peer "likes".  Avoid sharing information about supplements unless you can provide a testimonial based on your experience with the product.  Just because it sounds really awesome or was shared by a friend doesn't mean it really works and should continued to be shared.  This is how products and supplements that don't really work, go viral.

Make sure the manufacturer has supporting documentation and multiple studies related to the safety and effectiveness of their product.  Don't just rely on a single study.  It's also best to rely on a product that has been on the market for a long period of time rather than the new hot breakthrough.

Dunn and Bradstreet report the majority (55%) of US spending at the health supplement stores is done at the top 50 companies like Albertson's LLC, Vitamin World Inc. and Vitacost.com Inc., leaving 45% of spending dedicated to smaller operations.  This indicates that American's are willing to spend nearly half their budgets at companies that are smaller and newer.

Before you buy

It's important that you research the company, know the return policy (to include shipping policies when sending the product back, if ordered online) and money-back guarantees. 

Before purchasing online, make sure the company has a customer service number or dedicated chatline (instead of e-mail only) so that you can discuss any questions or concerns of an order and get an immediate response.

It's best to purchase from companies that provide a representative who is knowledgeable about their products and the (VMHS) vitamin, mineral, herbal supplement industry.

Research the company to include testimonials and feedback from customers or people you trust.  Be scrutinizing of online reviews.  Consider the reviews, sources and reasons for a good or bad review.  When it comes to reviews, know that the reviewer and/or customer is not always right; nor is the review always true.  Remember many consumers are more likely to post a negative review when they feel they've been wronged than it is to take time out of their busy schedule to post something positive.

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