Body + Wellness

This supplement subscription service will make sure you don’t forget to take your vitamins


By Wei Yeen Loh

This supplement subscription service will make sure you don’t forget to take your vitamins

How many times have you bought new bottles of health supplements (from probiotics to multivites), felt good about consuming them for a few days, but only to lose track and forget about it altogether? If you are guiltily recalling a stash of half-finished bottles of vitamins in your pantry, Vitamine may be the solution for you.

This health supplement subscription service is the first of its kind in Malaysia—a quick chat with a registered pharmacist will get you started on your subscription plan, and a box of supplements will be delivered to you every 28 days with just the right number of vitamins for each day and night.

Yes, that means you don’t have to worry about said half-finished bottles of vitamins, or even a dreaded trip to the pharmacist to find out whether you should be on glucosamine or calcium.

Ahead, we spoke to pharmacist and Vitamine founder PJ Lai on whether supplements are truly effective, common misconceptions about vitamins and how a subscription service can help:

What made you decide to launch Vitamine here in Malaysia?

“It started a few years ago when I was still practicing in Australia. One day, my father got diagnosed with high cholesterol and pre-diabetes, so I bought him supplements but I eventually found out that he didn’t even finish them.

“What happened was that he didn’t like the taste of fish oil that I got for him; and he didn’t continue taking the red yeast rice that I bought for him as well—he finished it, but he didn’t continue with it as he thought it was too troublesome and he wasn’t sure of which brand to buy. So I thought: ‘What if I started a subscription supplement service to help people like my father?

“I also saw the opportunity for supplements to become more popular among Malaysians. With the subscription model, people don’t have to buy supplements in bulk if they find out that one supplement is not right for them—they don’t have to waste the entire bottle, they just need to change the plan for the next month.”

“If I can take the hard work out from the process (of buying and sorting supplements), they’d be more likely to stick to the plan and get the benefits from it.”

Please give us a brief explanation of how Vitamine works and your target client demographic.

“First, we’ll carry out an in-depth conversation with our clients online (via Facebook chat) or in-person. If they choose to come into our office, we can do a quick blood/sugar/cholesterol test for them as well. After understanding their concerns, we then draft a supplement regimen for them to address said concerns.

“Once they confirm the plan, we’ll pack the supplements and deliver it the next day. The supplements will be delivered every four weeks. Each subscription box has two slots—a morning and evening slot; so all they have to do is unpeel the tape and take a sachet from each slot. I designed the box to be easily placed on the desk or even hung on a cabinet door, so our customers can remember to take their supplements.

“Most of our customers are middle-aged men, who choose our service because of the convenience. Most of them are already taking the supplements anyway, so they like that it is hassle-free. But I would like to reach out to the younger generation—those who are working longer hours, eat out a lot more and exposed to more aggressors (stress, environmental pollutants, etc)—they can really benefit from Vitamine.”

Were there any challenges you faced while launching  Vitamine here?

“It is not easy to get started. In Australia, it’s a common service provided by local pharmacies—they pack it individually and deliver it to you every month. There were two challenges I faced here: the first was to convince people that supplements are beneficial—just getting people started on it was a challenge on its own.

“The second is to explain and demonstrate how the service works to them—the subscription service model is not popular here in Malaysia and there aren’t many services available here anyway, other than TV programmes.

“Right now I would focus on letting people know the importance of taking supplements. We create a lot of content and articles to teach people the right supplements, so hopefully when they take it more seriously, they would see benefits of the subscription model.”

What are some of the most common misconceptions about health supplements you’ve heard that you’d like to debunk?

“The first one is that people think supplements aren’t necessary. This may be true 20 years back, but now I think everyone should be on multivitamins and fish oil, at the very least.

“The concept of essential nutrients is that we have to get them from our diet. But if you don’t eat healthy and get it from your diet, you’ll need supplements. Most people nowadays don’t even meet the basic daily requirements—which is five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit.

“On top of that, we’re exposed to more toxins now than generations before. We’re glued to our phone screens more than half the time, and we get exposed to work stress, noise and air pollution, and etc. These toxins get accumulated in our body and need antioxidants to neutralise it. Supplements are getting more necessary as many people are have much longer lifespans as well.

“Twenty years back, we can die from an infection and diseases we contract from others. Nowadays, the main cause of death is cancer, obesity, high cholesterol or sugar levels—all these are diet-related and can be prevented with a proper diet, exercise routine and supplements.

“The other thing is that the soil quality now has declined compared to 20 years ago. You used to be able to get a lot out of your food, including essential nutrients. Nowadays, a serving of broccoli has 49 per cent less vitamin C and minerals compared to the same serving 20 years ago. A lot of minerals are essential nutrients, and these are stored in soil; but when the soil turnover is high, vegetables grown from it will have very little mineral content.

“Also, people have unrealistic expectations of supplements. For example, those with osteoarthritis expect glucosamine to work as a painkiller, and they don’t take it early enough (they take it only when they’re in pain). But when glucosamine doesn’t reduce the pain, they dismiss the supplement and assume it’s ineffective.“

“I think it’s important that people have the right expectations from supplements—it is used to prevent health conditions but if you are really ill, you should be taking medication.”

What would you recommend for healthy skin, hair and nails?

“Hair, skin and nails have fast-turnover cells, so I would recommend vitamin B and zinc—basically supplements designed for cells that undergo fast turnover; and vitamin A, C and E for antioxidants (which also helps to brighten the skin).

Protein and collagen do help as well as your cells need amino acids to build. Biotin (aka vitamin H) isn’t super essential but if you are deficient in biotin, your hair will thin quickly. If you aren’t deficient in it, biotin won’t exactly help your hair grow thicker either. It really depends on your situation—although there is no harm in taking it.

“The last would be silica to provide building blocks for collagen regeneration (many supplements for hair, skin and nails have silica).”

What are your thoughts on collagen as a supplement for the skin?

“I’m sceptical about it because your stomach breaks down collagen if you consume it orally—your body can never absorb collagen on its own. Just like any other protein, it gets broken down in your stomach. But collagen is a good protein to have as the amino acids in it (after it breaks down) do help with the building blocks of collagen. So I wouldn’t recommend buying expensive collagen supplements!”

When it comes to supplements in the form of gummies—are they as effective?

“I’ve read a report on Consumer Lab and it was found that most gummy supplements have a higher or lower dosage than what is stated on the label. This is because it’s rather difficult to control each amount of nutrients they put in each gummy—the supplement is typically sprayed on the gummy so it’s difficult to control the precise amount that goes on it.

“For tablets, the active ingredients are relatively easy to control—it’s either soluble in water or oil. With gummies, it has to be designed to dissolve in the mouth, so it may get tricky.

“The second concern I have is the sugar content. In order to make it taste better, the sugar content is typically higher. In a way, it may be help people regularly consume supplements as it’s made of sugar (and it tastes good, right?). But in the long run, people will only eat the supplements because of the sugar and not so much for the health benefits, which truly defeats the purpose of eating supplements in the first place.”

What is the best age to start on health supplements? How about for those well into their 70s—are supplements as necessary or effective?

“That’s a good question. I don’t think there is a perfect time to start on supplements, but the wrong time to start is when symptoms of a problem start showing. A good time to start is when someone has just started working and eating out a lot—they tend to be more stressed and don’t have the time to eat healthy or exercise.

“For elderly people, supplements are even more important, especially to prevent conditions that they aren’t taking medication for.”

“For older people, their appetite is generally reduced and their food absorption system isn’t as good as when they were younger. They would derive less nutritional value from their diet, hence why it is important to take supplements.”

Is there such a thing as over-consuming supplements? What are the probable dangers in this scenario?

“Yes, and this is why it’s important to speak to a professional before starting on a supplement regimen. A lot of elderly people are on medication already, and some supplements are not recommended to be taken with specific medication as they have blood-thinning properties.

“Also, certain supplements don’t go well together and are designed for younger people, as elderly people would require a reduced dosage. For example, younger people use up vitamin B a lot faster compared to older people, so they would need a higher dose. For calcium or antioxidants, elderly people need that more than younger people as they are more prone to bone diseases.”

How do you think the trend of health supplements will evolve in the future?

“As a pharmacist, we like to use medicine to correct a problem. We don’t really believe in supplements—a lot of doctors think that too. But the thing is that humans are evolving in rapid ways now—and that they are living much longer lifespans.

“Naturally, the healthcare industry is changing accordingly. What I notice is that healthcare is moving from being reactive to becoming more preventative. People prefer preventative medication and healthcare over reactive healthcare—you don’t correct a problem when it surfaces, you do something to prevent it from happening in the first place, whether it is health diseases or wellness management.”

For more information on Vitamine, check out the website here.

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