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The Popularity of Health Supplements is Booming, but are They Effective?


As we continue to live with the coronavirus threat, many people are turning to vitamin and health supplements as a cheap way of maintaining their health. Who needs to go to the doctor when you have a stockpile of Emergen-C packets?

Whether they’ve lost income or their employer-sponsored health insurance, consumers often ramp up their dependence on health supplements during times of crisis.

But are all these packets and pills doing your patients any good?

Betting on Health Supplements

We know that many Americans don’t have as much money in the bank as they used to. The COVID-19 pandemic has stripped millions of consumers of their ability to earn a living, especially those in the customer service, events, and hospitality industries. Women continue to make up the bulk of the newly unemployed. There are currently around 10.74 million people without jobs across the US, and millions more have left the job market entirely, and many are dropping out for good.

Without as much cash on hand, many consumers who are worried about their health have been turning to over-the-counter vitamin supplements as a way of boosting their overall health and immune systems, protecting themselves from infection and disease. Coming down with COVID-19 or some other medical condition can be financially crippling, so these people are hedging their bets on immunization packets and other standard vitamin supplements.

“What we are seeing now is unprecedented growth with COVID-19,” says Joan Driggs, vice president of thought leadership and content for IRI, one of the largest big data firms in the world that tracks consumer spending in healthcare. “If you’re looking at the vitamin/minerals supplements market right now, it’s very positive,” she told Nutritional Outlook.

The same thing happened during the 2008 recession. As the housing market collapsed, many people used supplements to safeguard their health during difficult times. “The market did do well in the last recession,” says Driggs. “I think they were up 5% in the 52 weeks through June 2009, which is a pretty healthy leap.”

However, the pandemic is bringing this industry to new heights. Driggs says that’s because the current economic crisis is all about health and fighting off infection.

“There are similarities, of course, going into a recession, but COVID-19 makes everything different because people are really, first and foremost, concerned with their physical health and the physical health of their loved ones,” Driggs says. “I think that while consumers will be concerned about their financial health, certainly, some of these CPG [Consumer Packaged Goods] categories are really recession-proof.”

It seems people are willing to spend what little money they have on OTC supplements if they believe they will protect them from death and disease. According to Diggs, sales went up 35% during the first few weeks of the pandemic here in the U.S.

She also says it’s about helping people feel as if they’re in control over their health, despite everything that’s going on around them.

“There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of the unknown. People don’t know how this is going to shake out. They don’t know how long it will take to shake out. So, they’re looking for a little bit of control and [are] taking things like vitamins and supplements to maybe shore up their immunity or keep themselves healthy. It’s what they’re doing to help keep themselves safe.”

What the Science Says

It’s important to remember that, while these OTC supplements can boost overall health and wellness, they are not meant to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. According to Brian Tanzer, manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe:

“People may not have access to nutritious foods for one reason or another, so supplements can help fill gaps in their nutrition. If a person does not get adequate nutrition through diet and/or supplementation, their immune system can be further compromised. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic can further deplete essential nutrients that the body needs to maintain health. So, although supplements have no direct effect on the COVID-19 virus itself, they can certainly help support overall health and wellness during this very stressful time.”

A recent report in Science Daily suggests that some supplements may be more effective than others, at least when it comes to fighting off COVID-19.

Valeo Pharma, a rising Canadian pharmaceutical company, has just started selling its signature immune system support flavonoid formulation, Hesperco, online after receiving a Natural Product License from Health Canada. Research shows that hesperidin may help boost immunity and help the body combat viral infections.

However, the same can’t be said of vitamin C. A recent report found that vitamin C didn’t demonstrate affinity to receptors that would interfere with SARS-CoV-2 infectivity. There’s also no evidence to suggest that vitamin C helps prevent respiratory diseases.

Many people are also stocking up on vitamin D supplements as they spend more time indoors, but studies show the health benefits are mixed.  

Diggs wants people to focus on holistic wellness instead of just quick supplements. “There’s not a magic bullet out there. It’s eating right, getting exercise, getting good sleep, trying to ease your anxiety – and multivitamins are a good bet just in case you have some kind of deficiency in your diet,” she added. It’s alway better to get vitamins from natural foods instead of pills.

If your patients are starting to fill up on vitamin supplements during the pandemic, make sure they’re using products that support their immune systems.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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