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Interview for Baltimore Style Magazine on Vitamin Supplements

I was asked by a reporter from Baltimore Style Magazine to talk about trendy vitamins appearing on Instagram and twitter. I started doing a bit of poking around on social media and I must say that the marketing of these supplements is spot on, and I found myself getting sucked into the fairy tale claims. Everywhere you look are pictures with bright colors and beautiful people, slim bodies, even some puppies and babies. Everything is designed to evoke a happy and wistful feeling, implying that these supplements can make your life complete. The three companies I specifically looked at were Olly, Ritual, and Care Of.

So let’s talk facts. Dietary supplements are unregulated, meaning there is no oversight of this industry. Unlike food, which is overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is simply not enough funding for supplements to be covered. Instead, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are published, but it is up to each individual company to follow them and be honest. Dietary supplements are a multibillion dollar industry in the United States, and individuals pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year for the next ‘it’ supplement that promises to give them more energy and cure their dry skin.

These trendy companies are advertising the offer of brand transparency and well sourced ingredients. While that all sounds great, given the threat of lead, bacteria, or other contamination in unregulated and imported supplements, it still comes with drawbacks.

Just a few reasons why I think supplements can be tricky and this casual attitude towards them, as seen in the trendy marketing, can be dangerous:

1.       Some vitamins and minerals can negatively interact with medications making them less effective.

2.       They do not always provide what they claim to, with names such as ‘Goodbye Stress’ and ‘Undeniable Beauty’. The company, Olly, failed testing by Consumer Lab (independent 3rd party) for having 174% more folate then what was on the label.

3.       They are expensive. Ritual wants me to spend $30 a month, and Care Of has me up to $45. Now I believe that preventative medicine is worth spending money on, but vitamins should not be a quick fix for a bad diet. Most vitamins and minerals can be adequately obtained through a healthy, varied diet.

Bottom line: Dietary Supplements are a business and the goal with any business is to make money. Marketing with bright pictures and beautiful people aims to hook consumers and increase sales. Do not believe everything you see or hear. If you want to start a multivitamin look for one that is certified by an independent third-party verifier such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, UL, or Consumer Lab. Check with your Registered Dietitian if you need to be on a dietary supplement and what the best one to take is.

Stay tuned for my interview on trendy vitamins with Baltimore Style Magazine!

Kathleen Johnson