(This article was first published in Asian Hospital and Healthcare Management)
With so many products on the market, there is often confusing information concerning their safety and efficacy. Amid a barrage of product claims, contradicting news, and erroneous product claims, how should consumers decide? Reputation, conducting preliminary research, tech assistants, and investing in mental health are some aspects both consumers and healthcare professionals can look more into, in the drive towards individual health advocacy.
What comprises good health?
What comprises good health? For some, having a good immune system and proper food consumption may suffice. For others, it includes taking vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements which offer functional benefits. These nutritional supplements provide benefits that we may not get from our everyday diets. Unfortunately, with so much information and a wide array of supplements in the market, it can get confusing for consumers to assess the safety and efficacy of options .
A report by Ernst & Young (EY) revealed that the pandemic has underlined the importance of health, fitness, and wellness in Asia-Pacific consumers. Many are also concerned with protecting their health and that of their families. There is also strong consumer interest in using nutritional supplements as one way to boost their immune health.
In parallel, a Herbalife Nutrition Myths survey revealed that 60 percent of consumer respondents in Asia-Pacific were confused about nutrition facts. Meanwhile, less than a quarter answered half or more questions of a general knowledge nutrition quiz accurately. Against this backdrop, it is important that consumers have adequate access to the right information as they achieve their health and wellness goals.
Consumers see healthcare professionals (HCPs) as a trusted source of nutritional information. As such, HCPs are well-positioned to educate consumers on good nutrition and the supportive role of supplements, so that consumers can eventually become their own health advocates.
Here are a few thoughts that can help HCPs guide people to achieve and maintain their personal wellness goals.
The importance of micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our bodies need in small amounts to function. However, one in every three individuals globally suffer from what is known as hidden hunger, or micronutrient deficiencies.
Additionally, a Herbalife Nutrition survey revealed that only 33 percent of Asia-Pacific consumers are very knowledgeable about the health benefits of vitamins and supplements. Four in five said they would like to know more about the benefits of different vitamins and supplements. Hence, it is unsurprising that many individuals do not meet the recommended intakes for many essential micronutrients.
This is where HCPs can step in to reinforce the importance of micronutrients and thoughtful consumption to their patients and illustrate the various ways a healthy diet and supplementation can boost general immunity, health, and physical fitness. On the other hand, nutritional needs vary from person to person. They are influenced by factors like age, gender, life stage, dietary restrictions, and wellness goals. It helps to consider a multi-faceted approach to wellness – targeted nutrition to support the organs, sleep, and mood – all contributing to an individual’s overall well-being.
For these reasons, consumers may find it difficult to get the right amount of nutrients through diet. They may require guidance to identify supplements that may be best suited for their personal dietary considerations. In these cases, consumers can also consult with their HCPs to accurately incorporate supplementation in their daily nutritional regimen. This kind of patient-doctor transparency is critical in helping to support favorable clinical outcomes.
The marketplace is filled with new nutrition products that claim compelling results. Consequently, consumers can be overwhelmed by the wide selection of product options and have trouble telling facts from myths due to a lack of research or understanding.
Beyond looking at the lowest cost, there are other factors to consider such as:
- Leadership: Getting solid information about the company’s governance, management team, and a group of advisors in public domains can establish an initial level of credibility.
- Quality standards: The next step is understanding the company’s dedication to science, quality, and safety. Does the company source its raw ingredients with the utmost care? Look for the company’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), product guarantee, third-party verifications and certificates (such as ISO 17025 or NSF). The level of scientific and medical experts employed can also be looked at.
- Local agency information: Local government agencies and organizations work in parallel with industry players to establish and improve food and nutritional standards. By keeping abreast with news from these agencies and organizations, consumers can make more informed decisions about their product selections. Some examples of credible information sources in the region include those from GERMAS in Indonesia, the Korean Nutrition Society, Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), International Life Sciences Institute Taiwan, and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Vietnam.
Thanks to innovation and technology, consumers today have access to a wide range of supplement formats. With so many options, it may be difficult to choose the best one, but ultimately, it boils down to needs and preferences.
Some of the most common forms include:
- Tablets: These pills are made by crushing active ingredients. Since tablets do not have coatings, they can sometimes have an aftertaste to them
- Capsules: With capsules, ingredients are enclosed in an outer shell. They may be in the form of pills that are coated with an easy-to-digest casing to prevent an aftertaste, or ingredients may be enclosed in a two-part capsule
- Chews: Some consumers may prefer the experience of chewing supplements, so this alternative format can be more desirable
- Gummies: Once just for children, gummies are now widely available for adults. The appeal is the easy-to-chew and tasty format, and some may feature unique flavors
- Powders: Many consumers prefer powders because they are easy to swallow and can be mixed with beverages or other liquids for simple consumption
- Functional beverages and liquid supplements: For consumers on the go, these liquid products contain supplemental nutrients and provide a convenient alternative to other formats. However, they commonly have a shorter shelf life once opened
Mental health is wealth
These days, health also includes mental wellness and a state of mind. It’s estimated that mobility restrictions and daily Covid-19 rates led to an additional 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorders globally in 2020 alone.
Now more than ever, there has been an urgent call to strengthen mental health systems. Individuals must also take steps towards promoting self-mental well-being. In this light, both HCPs and consumers should place greater emphasis on the importance of countering mental stress and other psychological illnesses. HCPs can make a conscious effort to engage with their patients and evaluate their mental wellness during consultations.
In the meantime, people should be encouraged to reach out for help when they feel their mental health is being compromised. Community support also makes a big difference. Joining a support group with those with similar wellness goals or life stages can help individuals feel motivated in their personal journey.
Staying fit with technological assistants
Technology and social media also play important roles in healthy active living. Wearables and online platforms have enabled home-based consumers to get fit from the comforts of their homes.
In a Herbalife Nutrition Health Inertia survey among 5,500 consumers, one in two respondents used technology tools to support their healthy living regimens. This included fitness classes and videos, fitness trackers, fitness and workout apps, and nutrition apps Some also found that social media had a positive influence on their mental health, and cited factors - such as reading light-hearted content and inspirational posts from social media influencers - as having a positive effect on their psyche.
Technology has also enabled HCPs and even health entrepreneurs to reach their audiences. We have witnessed more HCPs opting for digital channels such as podcasts, webinars, and Facebook Live sessions to stay connected with their communities. This has not only helped in building their own brand online but helped many consumers to be educated and get access to useful health-related information.
Like anything – whether it is diet or exercise – consistency is key. Supplements are not a one-and-done deal; it needs to be incorporated into daily routines and a lifelong wellness plan. Recent studies suggest that taking certain targeted nutrition supplements like selenium and CoQ10, lutein and calcium may have long-term benefits if taken consistently.
Encouraging self-health advocacy is crucial, especially with the pandemic’s need for HCPs to limit face-to-face interactions and reach out to consumers through other means. Helping consumers gain the ability to make more educated decisions about their nutritional needs in relation to their desired health outcomes is a step in the right direction. As we move to a post-pandemic reality, self-care attitudes are essential in the longer term, with the deft guiding hand of HCPs along the way.
This article was first published on Asian Hospital and Healthcare Management