Personalization has become something of a buzzword in the supplement world lately. And at Ritual HQ, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about whether Essential for Women is personalized—not to mention what we think about personalization in general. As usual, we’ve got a lot of thoughts on this topic and a lot of science to back them up. Here’s Luke Bucci, PhD, our Head of Research and Development, to tell you more.
What’s the goal of personalization and why might it be important?
We are all different, including our nutritional intakes, our metabolisms, our exposures and our genetics. Personalization done right should include comprehensive testing that can help identify any unexpected nutritional needs a person might have. For example, if a test shows that you’re anemic and you decide to take more iron, you’re personalizing. If you decide to take glucosamine because research shows it can be good for joints, you may be stacking the odds in your favor, but you’re not personalizing.
With the technology we now have available, what’s possible currently?
The dream would be to look at a battery of all kinds of tests, but that’s a ways away from being the everyday because it can be costly, difficult to collect and needs to be analyzed in multiple labs. Currently, it’s possible to get an idea of what might help from a questionnaire or diet survey and even a few simple blood or urine tests. The key to making any findings worthwhile, however, is to work with a good physician or healthcare expert, or with a company that can support its recommendations with credible studies and data.
What about personalization right now isn’t helpful? What should we look out for there?
One thing to look out for is ending up with a lot of different bottles of supplements. This can pretty easily lead you to take more than you really need, which is expensive and has potential for unbalancing or blocking other nutrients. I can’t stress how important it is to recognize that identifying issues like nutrient deficiencies or heavy metal burdens is very different from matching preferences like “more energy” or “better skin.” While the former is determined by lab tests, the latter is usually gathered by questionnaires. Because questionnaires usually do not reflect objective analytical testing, they’re pretty shot-in-the dark as far as what they might be able to deliver. And that’s important to know because to be truly personalized, the dose needs to be effective and safe for you.
Are there risks to personalization as it’s possible right now?
I think the biggest problem with personalization is that somebody's wants will lead to taking unneeded nutrients that may unbalance other essential needs. Also, needs change with time, meaning the process should be repeated frequently, adding cost and complexity.
Where does Ritual fall on the spectrum and why did you choose to build it that way?
The fact is that our bodies are more alike than different, so our approach is to scour the wealth of peer-reviewed, published scientific population data to pinpoint as precisely as possible what we all needs in terms of essential vitamins. Let's take Vitamin D, for instance. Research shows 80-90% of adult women are not in the healthy zone for that nutrient, so it’s an overwhelmingly safe bet that you could benefit from some supplementation. For Essential for Women, we chose a dose that has been shown to get almost everyone into the healthy zone without overdoing it. It’s personalization in the sense that we don’t just rely on government Daily Values for doses--we look to the most recent science. At Ritual, our approach is to make getting and staying healthy easy by providing everything that’s commonly missing from even a healthy diet. We then focus on sourcing the best form of each nutrient, because not all ingredients are created equal and we want ours to be as healthy and effective as possible. We also get obsessive about dose, because to do the best job possible inside your body, ingredients need to be carefully and specifically balanced.
Any final thoughts on where things are going and what’s ahead?
To get the very best results, we feel that significant and expensive testing involving informed and well-trained medical personnel is needed. Luckily, there are also many credible, reliable, and affordable ways to personalize your diet using supplements that have been developed with the biggest, most common, and most well-researched needs in mind. The best supplements are just that--they fill gaps or specific needs that are always difficult to get from even healthy diets.