Aging populations, interest in preventive health, and a desire to seek out more natural solutions have all spurred tremendous growth in the supplement industry.
However, this industry has only been around for about a century and has made tremendous strides in the last twenty years. Still, dietary supplements are largely unregulated by the FDA, making it more important than ever to do proper research, and know the source of a product’s ingredients before ingesting anything.
At LivingWell Nutraceuticals, makers of Heal-n-Soothe, we’re firm believers that Mother Nature provides the best ingredients, and fortunately, more vitamin and nutraceutical companies are coming around to this way of thinking.
In this article, we’ll explore the origin of the world’s first vitamin, touch on the industry’s dark past, and share how we’re working to make a difference in the efficacy and reputation of natural health solutions.
Origin of the Supplement Industry
Humans have been taking supplements since the dawn of civilization. The first official recordings of supplement use date back to the Sumerians in the region of Iraq who wrote about their findings on clay tablets six thousand years ago.
They used a combination of herbs and animal glands for medicinal purposes. The most common plants on record for that time are opium poppy, licorice, thyme and mustard plant. They even realized that specific foods could prevent and treat health conditions.
For example, the ancient Egyptians ate liver to combat night blindness. While they knew that liver helped with eyesight, it would take nearly six thousand years for humans to discover that it was the Vitamin A present in high doses that boosted the eyes’ performance.
Fast forward three thousand years, and it’s not surprising to see that the second society to demonstrate the use of supplementation was the Chinese culture, specifically in the Sichuan Province.
Europe and the Americas have a shorter history of consuming herbs for medicinal use. There are records of Native Americans and early European settlers concocting various recipes, most notably a primitive form of Aspirin from Willow Bark, and heart medicine from the Digitalis plant.
The 20thcentury marked an age of discovery that linked specific vitamins to health benefits. Even though Albert Szent-Györgyi was credited with discovering Vitamin C in the 1930s, sailors knew as far back as the 1750s that giving citrus fruits to sailors would combat scurvy.
Clearly, the history of associating foods and plants with health benefits is nothing new. However, our understanding and discoveries continue even today.
Evolution of the Industry
The first commercially available dietary supplements were cod liver oil products in the 1920s. Customers took them for their Vitamin A and Vitamin D content. Several brands emerged during this period, and it wasn’t long before people discovered that the labels were misleading as some of the supplements didn’t contain the promised levels of the advertised nutrients.
Prior to this time, labeling was voluntary, but over the next 30 years, the FDA started cracking down on misleading and incomplete labels. Still, demand soared. Scientific discoveries about the link between food ingredients and health benefits had created an entire industry and insatiable demand.
By the 1950s, functional supplements had also gained in popularity, especially among bodybuilders and dieters. Children’s vitamins were also becoming popular, and a company called Miles Laboratory began marketing a chewable vitamin called Chocks. Later, they also launched Bugs Bunny and Flintstones vitamins.
There was tremendous tension between supplement companies and the FDA during this time. The FDA took on the role of an aggressive consumer advocate, challenging the miraculous claims made on the labels. Consumers, however, were eager to take advantage of the promises they saw in commercials.
By the 1980s, vitamins had become mainstream, and the industry was experiencing exponential growth. It was time for the FDA to take a stronger stand to protect consumers.
In 1990, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). It required FDA approval for all disease prevention claims, even in cases where the ingredients were proven to prevent the disease. This was a blow to the industry because it meant that consumers weren’t able to make an informed choice about which supplements might be beneficial. The labels couldn’t say anything of value!
It wasn’t long before the industry overturned this act. In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) took effect, which was deemed a major win for the First Amendment right of free speech. It allowed for labels to cite prevention claims but prohibited them from claiming to cure a disease.
For example, a calcium supplement could say, “Calcium builds strong bones,” but it couldn’t promise that it would heal a broken bone.
The jury’s still out on whether the DSHEA is a win for consumers or whether it turns consumers into an easy and gullible target. The current law means that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements other than requiring the manufacturer to submit information stating that the supplement isn’t harmful.
Specifically, they only have to report whether their product is expected to have any negative side effects. Therefore, in order for a consumer to know if what they’re taking is significantly helpful, they’ll have to rely on their own knowledge and research as well as the reputation and integrity of the manufacturer.
This takes the concept of “Buyer Beware” to a whole new level. Granted, the chances of your taking something harmful are minimal, but what about the chances that you’re throwing your money away on something with zero health benefits? How do you know?
At LivingWell Nutraceuticals, we believe in full transparency. There are no gimmicks, and certainly no synthetics. Before releasing Heal-n-Soothe, we put it through rigorous testing and trials.
What is a Vitamin?
The idea of a vitamin or supplement is a relatively new concept. In 1912, a biochemist named Casimir Funk discovered a part of the rice that was essential for life. He coined the term “vitamin,” which was a combination of “vita,” meaning life, and “amine,” which he shortened from thiamine, the nutritional component of rice.
Later, the FDA created an official categorization. Today, the definition of a supplement as stated by the (Food and Drug Administration) is a product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient.” Within this broad category, the FDA regulates vitamins, minerals, botanicals and herbs, extracts, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, and metabolites.
An aging population, an increased focus on health and performance, dramatic spikes in chronic diseases, and elevated environmental toxins have all contributed to an increase in demand for supplements, and more than two-thirds of Americans take supplements daily.
Notable Advancements and Innovation
We’re facing a global pandemic of chronic diseases that are linked almost 100% to diet and lifestyle. Because the pharmaceutical industry focuses only on the treatment, they’re unable to exact any real or positive change in health outcomes. Increasingly, consumers are aware of supplements not just as a way to boost dietary intake of essential nutrients, but also as a way to support overall health.
The early advances of the 20thcentury showed promise as researchers began linking biological benefits with different compounds. As discoveries were made in the field of chemistry, it became possible to isolate and manufacture synthetic versions of vitamins and minerals, making them inexpensive and easily accessible.
In the 1980s, scientists also recognized that there were other compounds in plants that were beneficial to health. These are called phytonutrients or phytochemicals, and though they are not “essential” to the diet, they have been found to be beneficial to overall health. These nutrients are found in plant-based foods and include lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene in carrots. There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients in all.
These are our body’s protection against free radicals, which are components that damage cell membranes, artery linings, and DNA. They act as antioxidants, which became a buzzword in the 1990s. Their role is to help prevent chronic disease like cancer, heart attacks, and diabetes.
The 80s and 90s saw an explosion of brands and options. It also marked a time when people began taking supplements in other forms. Gummies, liquids, gels, and powders all became wildly popular.
However, there was also backlash as study after study came out citing that not only were these vitamins and supplements useless; they could also cause harm. This is when it became clear that using isolated, synthetic ingredients might not be the best form of supplementation.
Scientists discovered that by using the whole food or plant, they create a “synergy.” Synthesizing materials has been shown to have less of an effect. Now, reputable companies use “whole food” and smartly sourced ingredients.
There’s also a movement toward non-GMO, organic and gluten-free ingredients, all of which are proven to be safer and healthier.
The Introduction of Nutraceuticals
We’ve come a long way since the days of naming vitamins after letters and discovering minerals to boost the nutritional values of what we consume. Now, more than ever, people are looking for ways to derive additional health benefits to enhance their everyday life.
The term “nutraceutical” combines two words: nutrient and pharmaceutical. This field of natural medicine is a way to promote health, control symptoms, prevent chronic disease, and even slow the aging process. While the term is a recent addition to our vocabulary, the concept is, in fact, ancient.
The first person on record to hint at the idea of a nutraceutical was Hippocrates, more than 2,000 years ago. He said, “let food be thy medicine,” recognizing that any human ailment could potentially be cured by consuming natural foods and herbs.
Today, there are various companies creating high-quality, functional nutraceuticals to boost immunity, reverse eye conditions, manage weight, balance hormones and more.
Heal-n-Soothe by LivingWell Nutraceuticals, for example, is a proven defense against inflammation. It uses proteolytic enzymes to reduce inflammation, which allows for the repair and regeneration of injured tissue. It’s shown to have an immediate impact on improved heart health, cancer prevention and recovery, and memory loss.
Unlike NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, Heal-n-Soothe addresses the underlying condition to permanently reduce inflammation. Aspirin and its relatives, on the other hand, only give temporary relief and don’t promote any healing.
We believe that nutraceuticals are the future of the supplement industry.
Current Industry Trends
The growth of the supplement industry has outpaced most sectors and is forecasted to continue this trajectory for the next several years. There are five distinct factors responsible for this growth:
- An aging population The Baby Boomer cohort has shaped entire industries since the end of World War II. And now, as they approach retirement age, they’re seeking natural solutions to help what ails them.
- Focus on preventive healthcare The list of doctors who have become A-list celebrities is long, and health blogs with millions of daily views are commonplace. People are becoming more informed and looking for ways to prevent chronic disease before it starts.
- Informed consumers With the length of a doctor’s appointment shrinking and visits becoming more expensive, consumers are turning to a self-serve model to get information. 70% of Americans now go online to get health information. In turn, supplement companies are responding by creating a wealth of information to inform and educate their customer base.
- Overwhelming choice Between private label brands and industry fragmentation, consumers have a dizzying array of choice. There’s often a lack of brand awareness and loyalty as a result. To compete, companies are focusing more on quality and benefits, while also providing discounts for joining loyalty programs. What started out as a negative (confusing choices), can ultimately be a positive for consumers who take the time to research options.
- Niche products This last trend is the most exciting of all. The growth in the number of people adopting supplements as a part of their daily lifestyle means there’s now adequate volume to support niches that were previously not economical.For example, the field of bio-hacking has gained popularity in recent years, and people are turning to nootropics to boost brain function. Years ago, the interest in this type of product didn’t have enough critical mass to warrant widespread production. Now, however, consumers worldwide benefit by enough demand for there to be numerous viable solutions.
The Major Players
Unlike other industries, the supplement industry is relatively fragmented with the four major players making up less than 20% of the market.
Surprisingly, many of the top vitamin and supplement companies are owned by pharmaceutical companies.
Here’s a list of companies that dominate the shelves, both in physical retail and online:
– BASF Global
A giant conglomerate that makes everything from plastics and rubber to paper, paints and, yes, nutritional supplements. They boast that they create products for both people and animals. For human consumption, they divide their product line into three life stages: adulthood, childhood and seniors.
– Unilever Food Solutions
Known mostly as a soap company, Unilever owns hundreds of consumer brands that are made and distributed across the globe. In the 1980s, Unilever invested heavily in research on vitamins and has several products and concoctions still being sold today.
– RB (Formerly known as Reckitt Benckiser Group)
This company owns Mucinex (the cough medication with grotesque commercials), and they also make 61 other drugs in the United States, including Airborne, Chloraseptic, K-Y Jelly, and Schiff Vitamins.
This famous Aspirin and Aleve maker is also the name behind Flintstones vitamins and the One-A-Day vitamin line.
– New Chapter
Started in 1982 by a husband and wife team, New Chapter was one of the first whole food supplement brands on the market. They’re not necessarily a major player, but they’ve been responsible for a lot of innovation.
This powerhouse owns two of the top OTC (over the counter) brands: Advil and Centrum. They also own Caltrate, the world’s number one selling calcium supplement.
– NOW Foods
Celebrating 50 years, NOW Foods boasts a complete line of natural supplements, beauty care products, essential oils, sports nutrition and pet health products. Similar to New Chapter, they were innovators in the natural products industry before it was popular.
– Nature Made
This name is actually owned by Pharmavite. The company was started by a California pharmacist in 1971. They launched the name Nature Made in 1989. Staying true to its pharmacist roots, this is the brand you see at just about every drug store in the US, usually at a low price point.
– Nature’s Bounty
While the company behind Nature’s Bounty owns a handful of well-known brands, they’re most known as a private label manufacturer.
– Jarrow Formulas
Yet another California company founded in the 1970s. They make a complete range of nutritional supplements, including vitamins, minerals, probiotics, herbal concentrates, amino acids, enzymes, and even bone broth.
– Standard Process
This company was an early innovator in the field of nutritional supplements. Founded by Dr. Royal Lee in 1929, the company believed in using whole foods as they’re found in nature. Today, visitors can tour the farm and production facility, which is a breath of fresh air when it comes to transparency.
Glanbia focuses on performance nutrition and owns the popular brand, Optimum Nutrition. This company also makes GNC’s product line.
Newer niche players that have made waves recently include:
- Ancient Nutrition: A bone broth and collagen supplement maker started by former chiropractor, Dr. Josh Axe
- Bulletproof: Performance foods and supplements that started with the concept of Bulletproof coffee
- Innate Choice: A specific line of whole food organic supplements focusing only on four essential products – Fish oil, Probiotics, Vitamin D, and multivitamin-mineral supplements.
We believe that a healthy diet filled with real food along with an active lifestyle are the keys to achieving and maintaining optimal health. While no supplement can take the place of a balanced diet, sometimes our bodies need a little help. When used as a way to enhance health, they can be life-changing.
For more information on Heal-n-Soothe visit https://healnsoothe.com/