Are Personalized Vitamins Worth the Price?

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Dietary supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry. About half of American adults take dietary supplements or vitamins daily but there's no scientific evidence to suggest that doing so improves health and well-being. In fact, it could be harmful, depending on the mix of nutrients already in your diet.

Nutrient needs vary between individuals. A young athlete who shoots hoops six nights a week needs a different mix of nutrients than a postmenopausal woman. But can specific nutrients be packaged perfectly to meet each person's needs? A growing number of companies say yes.

The Perks and Pitfalls of Customized Vitamins

We are in an era of personalized, precision medicine. Doctors are customizing patient's medical treatment based on genetic profiles, a specialty called pharmacogenomics. It makes sense that supplements are following suit.

Customized or personalized vitamins are tailor-made to meet an individual’s unique, genetically determined needs and nutritional deficiencies. If you're a menstruating woman, for example, your formulation will include more iron than, say, supplements for an elderly man.

To account for age, gender and lifestyle factors, many customized vitamin companies provide quizzes to help you determine which nutrients you may be lacking. Questions range from where you live to how often you exercise to whether you're suffering from digestive dilemmas. Based on your answers, they spit back a formula specifically for you.

The perks

  • They're tailor-made: Rather than a one-size-fits-all formulation, customized vitamins take into account the individual's specific needs.
  • They can resolve deficiencies: Even if you are eating a healthy diet, you may not be getting every nutrient you need from food alone. Customized vitamins can resolve the nutrient deficiencies many Americans face, including vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as choline, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium.
  • They may improve health and well-being: Supplementing with the right nutrients in the right amounts based on your individual requirements can improve both quality and quantity of life.

The pitfalls

  • They're unregulated: Customized or not, the supplement industry is largely unregulated, so there's no way to know what you're getting. Plus, there's no scientific evidence to suggest they're better than any other supplement on the shelf.
  • You have to special order them: You can't get them at your local drugstore. Personalized vitamins are only available online and often pricey.
  • They may contain harmful ingredients: Just like conventional dietary supplements, the customized variety may contain synthetic fillers, dyes and other potentially harmful ingredients. In those instances, your daily tailor-made vitamin may cause more problems than it solves.

Becoming Supplement Savvy

The supplement industry is fraught with controversy. Manufacturers can put almost anything into a capsule without verifying its contents. Plus, without testing for vitamin deficiencies, there's no way to determine which nutrients you need. Your best bet is to partner with a functional medicine doctor and get tested. Then, focus on foods before you turn to supplements.

You can meet most nutrient needs by eating a plant-based diet featuring a rainbow of colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains and reducing your intake of saturated fats and processed foods. Still, there are certain tough-to-get nutrients that may require a supplement, depending on your age, health status and activity level. A few needed nutrients in that category include vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron and calcium.

Think you may need a customized supplement? Talk to your doctor first. Just like any medication, dietary supplements can interact with medications and other supplements and also come with side effects and risks.


Henry Ford’s functional medicine and lifestyle medicine doctors and registered dietitians can guide you. To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Dr. M. Elizabeth Swenor leads the functional medicine team for the Henry Ford Center for Integrative Medicine and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Bloomfield Township and Novi. Learn more about Dr. Swenor and read more of her articles.   

Categories: FeelWell