Are tailored vitamins the solution to your wellbeing woes?

A personalised dose could be the key to getting the pick-me-up you need. But does it work?

By Steve Colquhoun 31/10/2017

The vitamins and supplements industry undoubtedly has a credibility issue, stretching back to frontier days when splendid-looking, slick-talking salesmen spruiked the ‘cure-all’ properties of dubious brews of tonics and elixirs.

They have been replaced by multinational pharmaceutical corporations bombarding us with exotic-sounding ingredients that ‘may’ assist in wellbeing (although ‘results may vary’). They do for some people, to some extent; meanwhile, testimonials in forums and on social media suggests that for many more, they do not.

Part of the problem has always been that every person is different. To each of us goes a different physical and mental make-up, a set of attributes that makes our wellbeing needs, if not absolutely unique, then at least very rare.

Australian pharmacists Johnson Zhou and Helen Lee (above) co-founded their company Hearts & Crosses “on the idea that as individuals, we should use products and services that are most relevant to us, we should not have to change how we live to suit the products”, says Zhou.

From this guiding principle, Zhou and Lee launched Vitamin Rituals, a customised service that uses an online survey to understand clients’ needs and then employs the increasingly rare skill of compounding to assemble a blend of vitamins tailored to the individual.

“We picked vitamins as the initial service offering because in our daily practice, we notice that many people take vitamins because of the marketing, and there is not enough understanding of why someone should or should not take vitamins,” Zhou says.

“We encourage people to look beyond the marketing and try to understand and look at vitamins and supplements as a collection of ingredients that each need to serve a purpose.”

With refreshing honesty, Zhou and Lee don’t proclaim their products are to the benefit of everyone. “We fully support the notion that if you normally eat a well-balanced diet, lead an active lifestyle, have good balance between the stressors in our modern lives, then frankly you don’t need to take a vitamin supplement,” Zhou says.

“Nor should you take a vitamin supplement indefinitely without knowing why you need to take it and what goals you wish to meet.
“But if you feel you need to take a supplement, then our service aims to provide a convenient and (hopefully) intuitive way to gauging what your goals are and what supplements are most relevant to you.”

My experience

It took approximately five minutes to complete the online survey, which is intuitive and easy to navigate. My ‘prescription’ arrived via the mail in powder form, although I could have specified capsules. Zhou recommends the powdered form, since packing all the required formulations into a single capsule delivers a tiny dose of each, meaning you may have to ingest multiple capsules to get the required daily dosage.

One teaspoon of powder is stirred into the liquid of your choice once a day. Be warned, though, the bitter taste will dominate whatever it’s mixed with. Zhou says it’s possible to add flavouring to the powder for better taste. I would opt for the flavouring or the capsules, as the bitterness of the powder spoiled any drink and lingered long afterwards, making it a daily routine I didn’t enjoy.

My particular formulation was assembled to address a number of characteristics identified in my survey – a major one was low energy levels in the morning, which prompted the inclusion of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12, along with co-enzyme Q10 and activated folic acid.

“Symptomatically, you should not feel instant energy like drinking coffee, but rather subtle incremental small wins like ‘this didn’t bother me so much as it normally does’ or ‘I didn’t notice I forgot my morning coffee today’,” Zhou says.

“Over time, we want to see a shift in your energy curve so you are most energetic in the morning and naturally feel tired in the evening and into the night.

“This, of course, will not be accomplished by vitamin supplementation alone – nor any singular medical intervention, for that matter – and lifestyle and diet factors will play a very significant part into achieving the overall objective.”

During two weeks of stirring the Vitamin Rituals powder each day into my morning juice, I noticed no significant change in my energy levels at any time of the day, or any other obvious differences – save for luminous urine, a legacy of the orange colouring added to the powder.

That’s not to say my formula wasn’t doing me any good. Two weeks is a short timeframe to see results and as Zhou says, changes may be incremental and subject to a number of other lifestyle factors.

I have a reasonably balanced diet – with a few indulgences – a few opportunities every week to exercise, and relatively normal BMI. Others may gain greater benefit from a tailored dose than I did.

Will Hearts & Crosses’ Vitamin Rituals work for everyone? Possibly not. But even as a skeptic, it makes sense to me that if you are going to take vitamins, a formulation created specifically for your individual needs is much more likely to be efficacious than a generic formula plucked from a supermarket shelf.


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