This is the year of personalization. You can buy a shampoo mixed just for your hair, have a personal trainer create a one-of-a-kind workout plan, and find pretty much anything you want designed exactly to your preferences.
Wellness isn't an exception from this personalization trend. If you've been on Instagram for the past few months, chances are you've seen a well-dressed influencer posted up in their minimalist kitchen holding a small, artsy-looking pack of vitamins, containing a mix of nutrients that's designed just for them.
Here's how it usually works: You take a quiz, answer questions about your health, detail your current habits, share your wellness goals — such as getting better sleep or reducing stress levels — and you end up with something just for you. Some companies take things a step further, asking for an at-home blood test to suss out exactly what nutrients you're lacking. It's not surprising that this approach is attracting so many people. Why take some generic multivitamin or guess at what your body needs, when you could be shipped a just-for-you mix?
I decided to test out one of these companies to see what all of the hype was about. I chose Persona Nutrition, which uses the aforementioned quiz-based system. After filling out all of my info — age (23), sex (female), health concerns (stress and overall health), etc. — my final list of vitamins included a digestive enzyme, plus a "foundational multivitamin," which contains all the nutrients most people fall short on, including vitamin K and vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, a daily probiotic, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium with more vitamin D, and something called bilberry that's supposed to be beneficial for people who look at screens all day.
I was also given the option to add on a CBD Hemp Extract pill to treat stress and sleep problems for $69. With that in my cart, the grand total for a month's worth of vitamins came out to be around $117. (Full disclosure: The brand comped my first month.)
There were four vitamins in each pack I had — one bundle for the morning and one for the night. Persona gives you enough for 30 days, a.k.a. one month, so I received a total of 60 packs of personal vitamins. As of right now, I'm on my last few packs.
After taking them for a month, I have to admit, I feel... pretty much exactly the same as when I wasn't taking them. I was most looking forward to adding in a probiotic to my regimen, since I feel like my gut health isn't where it should be. But, nothing — at least on the surface — feels much different.
It's hard to tell if whether or not the pills are doing their job. Most of this stuff — like vitamin levels — can't be felt on an intensely physical level.
The results of my last blood test told me that I was pretty low on vitamin D. So while I'd need another blood test to confirm it, it's possible that the D supplements are improving my levels, and thereby strengthening my immune system and improving my mood (among other benefits). To be transparent, it's been a pretty great month — I haven't felt any anxieties lately which may be a result of my new vitamin D fix.
But I don't know how much I needed the other nutrients I started downing. As far as I know, I've already been getting enough calcium from my diet. "Supplements should fill in gaps in a diet if it's deficient," says Manaker. "If a person is eating a well balanced diet filled with a variety of foods such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains, they may not really need to supplement any nutrients," she explains.
"It's fun to receive "personalized" advice, but I have yet to see a company not recommend supplements when a potential customer takes a quiz," Manaker says. "Additionally, if a nutrition gap is discovered, these companies are only recommending their supplements and not food solutions that could accomplish the same goal."
Almost all of the supplements I started taking are things I don't have a Recommended Dietary Allowance for — no one necessarily needs a greater amount of digestive enzymes going into their system unless they're experiencing things such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease (which I don't).
Since they didn't make me feel better — or anything at all — after taking them, there's no real incentive for me to keep going with a subscription.
What's a little iffy about these products are that at best, they might be helping you, but probably they're doing nothing; at worst, however, they may be harming you. Vitamins and supplements don't have to be regulated by the FDA. So while you may trust a brand, you never really know what you could be putting into your body.
"I think it's very important for consumers to know that just because they can buy these supplements over-the-counter does not mean they are necessarily proven to be efficacious or safe," Erin D. Michos, MD, MHS, FACC, FAHA, Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine previously told Refinery29. "Dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or alleviate the effects of diseases, even though many adults take them for that purpose."
These personalized vitamin packs aren't a necessity for your health — especially if you're not trying to drop as much as $117 a month for them. If you're deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, you could be adding different foods to your diet to make up for that, Manaker suggests.
So instead of adding another month's worth of vitamins to my cart, I probably should just try to find a way to enjoy a nice slab of salmon. At the very least, it'll be easier on my wallet.
If you're interested in ordering your own personalized pack — whether it's for your Instagram aesthetic or your health — you'll want to double check that the supplements provided have been verified by a third-party manufacturer, says Manaker. Usually there will be something on their website or a seal or marking on the packaging from companies such as the United States Pharmacopeia or NSF International, so keep your eyes peeled. After all, knowing what you're putting into your body is more important than having your name spelled out on a vitamin pack.