How to Know If There's Scary Sh*t Hiding in Your Vitamins and Supplements

How to Shop for Vitamins and Supplements
Photo: Stocksy

Welcome to our 2018 Wellness Guide, a series of stories we're running this January to help you own your health and happiness this year—all curated with the knowledge that wellness is never one-size-fits-all. Check back all month for expert-led guides on tackling your goals, from choosing the best workout for your personality to staying mindful even when your schedule is absolutely insane.

While it's easy to attribute the rise of adaptogenic herb "dusts," collagen gummies, and tailor-made vitamin startups to the recent wellness boom at large, in reality, the supplement market has been in desperate need of disruption for some time. This isn't just a matter of lackluster branding and outdated products—although if you've ever faced a CVS shelf with approximately 23 kinds of generic-looking vitamin D bottles, you know that this is also a problem—but safety and efficacy: The industry is notoriously underregulated by the FDA, which means a lot of companies willingly sacrifice quality for sales. And as many studies over the past few years have revealed, the consequences can be downright harmful.

A 2015 study, for example, found that vitamins and supplements send roughly 23,000 people to the hospital each year. In 2016, editors at Vox conducted a review of court documents, government databases, and scientific research and uncovered at least 850 products cut with hidden and even illegal ingredients—including antidepressants and synthetic chemicals that had never been tested on humans. That's not to mention an abundance of research suggesting that many vitamins on the market simply don't work due to shoddy ingredients that the human body can't effectively absorb.

"It's unfortunate that most companies just care about their bottom line," says Kat Schneider, the founder of Ritual, a vitamin startup that has earned major funding and consumer popularity alike for its entirely transparent approach to the multivitamin. ("We don't believe in hiding any bit of information," she told us in 2017. "In fact, we get excited to share the research, the science, and info about all of our ingredients because we are so obsessed with what we've formulated.")

It's frustrating that the onus is still largely on the consumer to seek out a quality, effective, and safe vitamin, that we have to lead with distrust. But that appears to be changing thanks to companies like Ritual—and in the meantime, it's worth getting versed on label reading so you can shop for supplements like a total pro. Read on for some key pointers.