We are a nation obsessed with our health. But on the subject of vitamins and supplements, we are a nation divided. Endless studies are churned out, year on year, with conflicting evidence. Some reports claim we will drop down dead tomorrow if we don’t guzzle enough vitamin D, others assert that adhering to recommended daily allowances (RDAs) can actually do more harm than good.
Yet despite contradictory evidence, the vitamin market is booming. Supplements are fast becoming a multi-billion dollar market. In 2014 the global supplements market was valued at £60 billion. In America alone it is thought to be worth £25 billion.
And, like all 21st-century commercial goods, the market is heavily endorsed by celebrities, including health oracle Gwyneth Paltrow, age-defying singer Madonna and models such as Miranda Kerr. But vitamins aren’t just for the glitterati: research suggests that over half of Americans and Britons regularly take supplements to enhance their health and wellbeing.
So how did so many of us become a slave to supplements? It didn’t, in this case, start with a kiss, but instead with a grain of rice. In 1911, Polish biochemist Casimir Funk fed sick pigeons a substance he extracted from de-husked rice polishings — and lo, the pigeons recovered. Funk then developed his findings, concluding that ailments (such as scurvy) were cultivated from a deficiency of nutrients that could be found in the rice husks. He named these nutrients vital amines, later shortened to vitamins.
For years the medical powers that be have lectured us about RDAs and how vitamin XYZ will help prevent some ghastly and terrifying illness (cancer, dementia and arthritis, to name a few). But now, there’s a new kid on the block. Enter VITL: ‘the complete daily supplements pack’ which, like everything these days, is delivered to your door. And VITL isn’t alone. InnerMe, Just Vitamins and Go Well Path are all doing a similar thing, delivering daily doses of vitamins to your door.
Always happy to sacrifice myself at the altar of health research, I tried VITL’s 28-day pack to see if indeed such a product could ‘reinvent the approach to daily nutrition’. I was apprehensive, having been brought up with the advice that there wasn’t any affliction that water, fresh air, or fruit wouldn’t cure. How could four capsules possibly achieve any feat that five-a-day and regular exercise couldn’t? The pack’s promise to ‘fortify, focus, protect and replenish’ seemed too good to be true.
The daily routine was as follows: one multivitamin, one Krill Oil Softgel (fish oil), one COQ10 soft gel (a co-enzyme that assists metabolism) and one ‘supergreen’ supplement (antioxidants). Despite initial expectations, I didn’t miraculously morph into a cover-girl clone. The weight didn’t fall from me as I meandered from A to B, nor did I wake up one morning with the radiant, clear complexion of Snow White. However, after two weeks, I started to notice a difference.
I can already hear the sceptics cry out in protest — and, I concede, they may have a point. The effects may indeed have been merely placebo. But (now I’m showing off) I wasn’t alone in observing change. For the first time since the halcyon days of being an undergraduate, I fell prey to compliments on my complexion and my hair. My energy levels soared and, frankly, life before VITL looked in retrospect like it had been lived in slo-mo: listless, tired, lacking in fizz. You may call me Gwyneth.