What You Should Know Before Hopping On the Vitamin Trend

Every day, there seems to be a new pretty package of supplements that college age women must have. Vitamins are all the rage on social media right now and are mentioned by multiple influencers across all platforms. But, what we actually need in order to be healthy college women is very unclear. Supplement advice varies depending on who you ask, but the safest bet is to trust the experts.

For example, Lorraine Maita, M.D., a physician in Summit, NJ, and diplomate of the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine and other experts, there are five vitamins and minerals that you don’t need to take as a supplement. These include calcium, vitamin E, iodine, iron and vitamin B6. So, which supplements actually help? Do supplements help?

First, I decided to examine the newest form of taking supplements such as brands like Care/Of and OLLY.

Care/Of claims to “recommend the right vitamins and supplements for you,” after you take a quick online survey on their homepage. Care/Of’s suggested vitamins include common drugstore vitamins as well as herbal alternatives. They also offer supplement packs, that come as powders or “quick sticks” such as the Extra Batteries formula that has vitamin B12, citicoline and caffeine. There is research available about each product, but many of the studies were animal-based or had small sample sizes. This means that it’s hard to say that these results could apply to everyone or consistently show up in all types of situations.

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The biggest issue with Care/Of is that they are trying to diagnose someone’s issues by simply having them take an online quiz. Many issues, such as stress, can’t be pinpointed without further physical testing, or even may be attributed to lifestyle choices. Lifestyle choices largely include sleep habits and diet.

According to Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., board-certified ER physician and assistant clinical professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine, some people do need supplements if they’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet or have a condition that affects how your body absorbs vitamins. But, keep in mind, these conditions require blood tests. Gillespie says your best option is to go to your doctor to check your vitamin and mineral levels, so you’re actually taking what you need. Gillespie stresses that “if it’s strong enough to help you, it’s strong enough to hurt you,” so you have to be careful what you put into your body.

There are some positive reviews for these vitamin brands out there. According to Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN “OLLY [is] growing in popularity, and [it seems] decent in quality ... [but] be wary of any supplements that contain sugar/syrups/fake sweeteners. Not all of them are bad, and they can be helpful for people having trouble with swallowing capsules. However, it's always good to be aware of the added sugar you are consuming through supplements.” So, these personalized pill brands could still be good options for some people, but there are still aspects to be aware of when you’re choosing which vitamins and supplements work best for you.


To further investigate whether these new brands could be beneficial, I spoke to UF Lecturer in Dietetics Professor Laura Acosta, MS, RDN, CCSD, LDN to find out.

HC UFL: What brand of vitamins do you recommend for college-age women?

Acosta: While I am not comfortable endorsing or specifically referring to any particular brands, what I can say is that no one should be cavalier about taking supplements or assume that just because they come in a pretty package they are harmless. Supplements can and do fulfill important dietary needs for some people, but there is no such thing as “one size fits all.” I would strongly encourage anyone considering adding supplements to their diet to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to determine what supplements, if any, are necessary and appropriate. 

HC UFL: What should consumers know about supplements?

Acosta: It is important to recognize that supplements are not regulated by the FDA the way that food and drugs are. Manufacturers have a great deal of freedom to put just about anything on the market, which is one of the reasons the supplement industry is so lucrative. Whereas pharmaceuticals have to undergo rigorous testing and be essentially proven “safe” in clinical trials before they are allowed to go to market, supplements can go to market without any red tape, and then must be proven unsafe to be taken off the market. 

HC UFL: What about alternative supplements?

Acosta: There are plenty of perfectly harmless supplements out there, but unfortunately there are many questionable ones as well. Several herbal remedies such as ephedra, ginkgo, goldenseal, hawthorn, licorice, aloe, arnica, black cohost, feverfew, ginseng, stinging nettle, green tea extract, kava, comfrey, St. John’s wort, and others have been linked to cardiovascular problems, liver toxicity, and/or psychiatric abnormalities.

HC UFL: Can you ever take too many vitamins?

Acosta: Dosage is another consideration. If you are taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, watch out for high-dose supplements in excess of the UL (tolerable upper limit). Excessive intake of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B6, fluoride, iron, calcium, and other micronutrients can be toxic. Again, consult with an RDN for guidance. 

HC UFL: What’s the most important takeaway?

Acosta: In short, focus on eating a well-rounded diet, based on whole, unprocessed foods, and rich in fruits and vegetables. If you choose to explore supplementation, do so under the guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist.

 

So, the golden rule agreed upon by most experts is to only take vitamins and supplements if your doctor recommends them. Even though it’s so tempting to find a quick fix for your drowsiness or stress levels, odds are it may not work for you and could possibly be unnecessarily harming your body. It’s incredibly difficult to determine whether something would be beneficial for your health just through a quick web search. All of our bodies are unique and have different needs. Don’t let yourself get tempted by the carefully cultivated Instagram feeds or allow your FOMO to take over when you see these brands pop all over social media and influencer’s platforms. Be your best advocate.