Old-School Vitamins Are Getting A New-Science Upgrade In 2022
Some things in life stay the same. The field of science and technology should not be one of those things. Just like novel medical therapies, opportunities for space exploration, and the latest smartphone technology all represent forward momentum—your vitamins should be advancing, too. That's where the new generation of old-school vitamins comes into play.
In 2022, supplements will continue to represent a significant personalized and targeted nutrition strategy for hundreds of millions of Americans. But smart supplements will undergo strategic improvements to reflect the latest science has to offer. And we'll all be better for it. Welcome to the new school of vitamins.
What's an old-school vs. new-school supplement?
Once relegated to a mere gap-filling strategy (i.e., vitamins or minerals you missed from your diet) and perhaps a chalky or bulky not-so-pleasant experience, the new era of supplements boast new-science upgrades—including multivitamins, letter vitamins (vitamins C or D, for example), omega-3s from fish oil, minerals like calcium or magnesium, probiotics, and more.
Forward-thinking supplements not only effectively address nutritional sufficiency but also nurture specific areas of your health, from your cells to your whole body. For these evolved products, the totality of science and care for the customer's health is driving ingredient selection and overall formulation.
The advancements range from delivery format and options that consider our personalized genetic makeup to strategic ingredient combinations, environmental sustainability, and more.
Here are 10 ways we see old-school vites getting a refresh moving into 2022.
Look out for these new-school supplement features:
The term "vitamin" is used interchangeably with "supplement" in colloquial use. But in reality, saying "vitamin" is sometimes selling your supplement quite short (unless it's literally a singular vitamin or array of vitamins).
You see, a vitamin is a specific type of essential micronutrient. But supplements can feature macronutrients (carb, protein, fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), phytonutrients (plant bioactives), probiotic strains, and other targeted ingredients like peptides, amino acids, and more. You get the picture.
Forward-thinking supplement formulas are currently leveraging combination technology to offer consumers more ingredients for targeted and maximal support.
For example, you could reasonably take a stand-alone zinc supplement to support nutritional sufficiency of that mineral and to bolster immune function.* In contrast, a thoughtful and targeted immune complex would ideally pack in more actives, leveraging zinc and its immune-essential vitamin buddies (vitamins C and D3), plus key botanical bioactives like quercetin, beta-glucan, or others for immune resilience and immunomodulation.* This strategy is literally more bang for your buck (and for your innate and adaptive immune systems).*
Supplements are not just vitamins and minerals anymore. In elevated formulas, you'll find a marriage of micronutrients with targeted botanicals and other bioactives. More is more, when it's backed by science.
Plant-centric dietary approaches (whether vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian) are growing in popularity. This plant love has spilled over into supplement formulation. Supplement brands are now filling their formulas with fruits, veg, herbs, algae, and more.
Some real-time examples of this plant-laden approach in the nutraceutical world include plant protein blends, greens powders, innovative multivitamins, and algal-derived micronutrients.
While greens powders were previously siloed to provide just that, a blend of greens, the new-school of "greens" powders are organic and deliver a variety of leafy greens while also folding in root vegetables (carrot, beet, ginger, turmeric, etc.), sea vegetables (kelp, chlorella, etc.), grasses, fruits, herbs (green tea, cinnamon, etc.), prebiotic fibers (flaxseed, chicory, agave, etc.), and even sometimes digestive enzymes and targeted probiotic strains.
Modern multivitamins—I'm talking about a next-generation multi, not the chalky tablet you dreaded taking the past few decades—feature a comprehensive formula (read: complete lineup of fat- and water-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and microminerals) while simultaneously delivering powerful botanical phytonutrients like carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene) and antioxidant powerhouses (resveratrol, glutathione, etc.).
Why? Because multivitamins are not just for filling nutrient gaps. They should also support our bones, brain, heart, eyes, immunity, longevity, and more (whole body) from our cells on up.*
A focus on sustainability & the planet
Globally and individually, we have room for improvement when it comes to sustainability and prioritizing our planet. This green-mindedness should carry over into your supplements too.
In addition to recyclable packaging (a must), you'll begin to see more vitamins, minerals, and botanicals with the environment top of mind—from the source to your bottle. Amber glass is the ideal planet-friendly packaging for a supplement in 2022 and beyond. Not only is it recyclable, but the amber hue protects the integrity of the supplement ingredients from degradation via light exposure.
Another sustainable (and plant-origin) innovation making its way into novel supplement formulas is algae. High-quality algal-derived ingredients, like calcium from mineral-rich red algae and vegan vitamin D3 from organic algae, are now available in the market for your plant-conscious needs.
For other botanicals, you'll begin hearing about their farming stories and methods to cut down on waste. For example, you can now find European organic heritage full-spectrum hemp produced sustainably on multigenerational farms in Poland.
There is the adaptogenic herb ashwagandha that leverages the root and leaf extract to minimize farm waste while also tapping into solar power for a smaller footprint.
Now, you can also get whole fruit extract from stateside-grown pomegranates, for a unique antioxidant-laden plant ingredient that also limits overall footprint.
These sustainability stories and practices are becoming increasingly common, and that's a trend we can get behind.
Cleaner excipient profiles
When most people talk about supplements, they are describing the active ingredients (vitamins, minerals, botanicals, probiotics, etc.). But below the Supplement Facts panel, you'll find the excipients (aka, the other stuff).
At their core, excipients are not bad. They help keep the ingredients homogenous and together. They also ensure ingredients flow through machines during manufacturing and into the capsules, softgels, gusset bags, jars, etc. Excipients help keep moisture levels down in supplements (which is important to mitigate microbial growth). They can also confer flavor, sweetness, freshness, time-release, and color.
However, new-and-improved supplements are prioritizing quantity (i.e., less is more) and quality when it comes to excipients. For example, an organic veggies powder with zero excipients is ahead of the pack. And this 33-ingredient vegan multivitamin with only three "other ingredients" (one of which is the vegan capsule itself) is revolutionary.
Another great example: mindbodygreen formulated its chocolate beauty & gut collagen+ with just two excipients, organic cocoa and organic monk fruit extract. This was intentional, with a hard pass on chocolate flavoring (read: fake), artificial sweeteners, gums, etc.
Some particularly unsavory (or "lazy") excipients to avoid are synthetic dyes, opacity agents (titanium dioxide), artificial flavors and sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols, cheap oils, gums, artificial preservatives, gluten, and other major food allergens.
What's more, a plant-centric or vegan supplement formula should consider whether each excipient meets those plant-origin standards, too. Consider leucine, for example. It's an essential amino acid and a clean excipient option to help keep the ingredients together and flow into the capsules. However, it's worth noting that leucine is typically sourced from duck feathers (or sometimes human hair), which are not vegan and kind of gross. In contrast, vegan leucine is sourced via microbial fermentation technology. Vegan leucine is the kind mindbodygreen uses in our supplements+ portfolio.
Some other watch-outs include supplements that use the term "natural" before flavors or dyes and any supplement brand that uses the term "pharmaceutical-grade" to describe its ingredients. These are irresponsible claims that blur lines, entire categories, and laws.
Transparency & authenticity
In addition to more straightforward formulas, consumers expect supplement companies to be transparent and authentic (i.e., confirm that the ingredient is what it says it is).
Look for supplement brands that discuss their quality standards and process. This should encompass purity and potency testing, from the raw materials all the way to the finished product. For example, botanical fingerprint identification testing is important at the raw material stage, to confirm the correct species and part of the plant are present (instead of other plants, parts, or adulterants even).
Certification techniques are even beginning to emerge for classic supplements like fish oil. Did you know that fish oil can be spiked with cheaper fishes but still pass EPA and DHA potency testing? That's why transparency of fish species and country of origin are paramount.
Verification technology for fish oil is highly advanced and rare to find for fish oil supplements (it's more common for premium European brands). In a new mbg supplement coming soon, mindbodygreen leverages third-party verification of our fish oil species and origin via ORIVO in Norway, which uses cutting-edge magnetic resonance fingerprinting technology. Authenticity tests like ORIVO are important, as they confirm the fish species and origin of the fishery, which has implications for purity and sustainability of the fish supply.
Other supplements that "show their cards" on an ingredient-specific basis are also rare but beginning to emerge. For example, with collagen, you'll want to know the back story on those peptides. What animal (cow, fish, chicken), conditions (grass-fed, pasture-raised cows), and country or region does it come from? What's the amino acid profile and type (I, II, III, etc.)?
Finding a quality hemp oil is another great example. How well do you know its source, cultivation, strain, and THC levels (if any)? Hemp has been legally grown in Europe with regulatory oversight decades longer than U.S. hemp. Because of this, the E.U. offers certified, seed bank-registered heritage hemp strains that have been DNA-tested, validating it's truly hemp and safe for consumption.
When it comes to active ingredients, there's a spectrum of quality and metaphorical "levers" companies can choose to pull in order to optimize each vitamin, mineral, botanical extract, etc. The more levers they pull, typically the more costly the product (because premium characteristics are more expensive).
If you come across supplements with cryptic "proprietary blends" of ingredients (which makes the dose difficult or impossible to ascertain per ingredient), dusted ingredients (i.e., sub-efficacious dosing), or formulas with suboptimal or less bioavailable forms of ingredients, those are red flags. Move on.
For example, a vitamin D supplement should provide a science-backed and clinically useful dose (to improve serum vitamin D levels in your body). Additionally, the supplement should maximize the bioavailability of vitamin D by including the D3 (not D2) form, along with healthy oils (fat component) or instructions to take with a meal.
Other ingredient-optimizing examples include chelated minerals (which are gentle and have superior bioavailability), the bioactive ubiquinol form of CoQ10 (instead of ubiquinone), the triglyceride form of marine omega-3s EPA and DHA, and active forms of B vitamins like methylated folate and B12.
Each person has unique DNA, microbiome diversity, and metabolic responses to nutrition. A personalized and precision nutrition approach considers this level of granularity, to support the individual. Even though these fields are in their infancy (or toddlerhood), some supplements are already thinking ahead.
Certain people can have unique (higher) vitamin D needs based on key genetic polymorphisms that affect vitamin D circulation, activation, and receptor binding.
Body composition also directly affects your personal vitamin D needs. Individuals with overweight or obesity may need two to three times more vitamin D than others. High-potency vitamin D3 supplements that feature clinically efficacious doses for adults (5,000 I.U. plus) provide a useful daily nutrition approach for those individuals to achieve and maintain healthy vitamin D levels for life.*
For individuals with genes that affect methylation pathways in the body (e.g., the MTHFR gene), a new-school supplement, like a B complex, comprehensive multivitamin with a built-in B complex, or a specialized methylation supplement, will feature bioactive formats of those B vitamins.* Specifically, you would want to see 5-phosphate forms of riboflavin and vitamin B6 and methylated versions of folate and vitamin B12.
These optimized forms help overcome individual differences in B vitamin metabolism, which is critical for normal methylation function in the body—with broad implications for DNA, red blood cell, and neurotransmitter synthesis, as well as detoxification, cardiovascular, and cognitive pathways in our body (pretty important stuff).*
Curated formulas for dietary patterns & food sensitivities
We are all individuals with unique sensitivities to food. Oftentimes, the dietary patterns we follow directly cater to our needs. The next generation of supplements is considering this level of nuance, too.
You'll find vegan, vegetarian, and keto-friendly formulas, plus powder blends with low or no FODMAPs and lectins. In terms of allergens and intolerances, there are a growing number of soy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free offerings. Bottom line: Look for supplements that are curated to fit your individual nutrition needs and preferences.
An inside-out approach to health
The way we feel, how we look, and our lab results are outward manifestations of our inward physiology—which starts at the cellular health level and branches out to tissues, organs, and the whole body. Smart supplements consider health from the inside out.
These formulas will include vitamins, minerals, and botanical bioactives that directly support cellular health, energy, oxidant-vs.-antioxidant balance, cleanup (autophagy), and resilience.* For example, a beauty-from-the-inside-out formula could feature botanicals (e.g., astaxanthin, pomegranate, ceramides, etc.) shown to energize and rejuvenate cells, combat free radicals, confer photoprotection—and ultimately, support skin hydration, elasticity, and smoothness.* Because the skin is an organ, and its beauty starts from within.
New-school collagen powders are another evolved beauty supplement option. While some formulas just include collagen, a more comprehensive blend will feature high-quality (grass-fed, pasture-raised) collagen peptides as the hero ingredient, plus critically important inside-out "supporting actors" like vitamins C and E (nutrients involved in collagen production, cross-linking, and stability in the body), antioxidant powerhouse botanicals like turmeric and broccoli, and other skin-loving bioactives like hyaluronic acid.*
Science-backed, targeted probiotics with clinically researched strains are another stellar example of an inside-out approach to health. Indeed, key probiotic strains (yes, you should look for supplements that are transparent enough to list the genus, species, and strain for each probiotic and their CFU amount) have been shown to promote key functions of the GI tract like digestion, motility, and regularity while also supporting immune health.*
Safer & smarter newcomers
Sometimes the old-school supplements don't just get a refresh, but a complete makeover. Why? Because the alternative is more efficacious and/or safer.
A great example is hemp oil. Previously relegated to tinctures with eyedropper guesstimates for dosing, the new-school of hemp is more exacting. Now there are organic, full-spectrum, DNA-verified hemp strains that are encapsulated (in an easy-to-take softgel) and combined with synergistic botanicals (e.g., ashwagandha, lavender) to take full advantage of the phytocannabinoids (hemp), glycowithanolides (ashwagandha), and terpenes like linalool (lavender) for calm, relaxation, and balanced mood.*
Last but not least, sleep supplements. What comes to mind? Perhaps a classic option like melatonin? In fact, sleep science and sleep-support strategies have evolved way beyond that hormonal approach. Indeed, our country has been overdoing melatonin dosing (by a lot): A safe daily dose of melatonin is thought to be 0.3 milligrams (in stark contrast to the 3 milligrams, 5 milligrams, and higher that many people take nightly).
Recent nonhormonal sleep supplement alternatives are shaking up people's sleep game (in a good way), with the powerhouse macromineral magnesium at the helm.* Its supporting actors include botanicals like jujube, hemp, ashwagandha, and saffron, while amino acid bioactives like GABA and 5-HTP are bringing up the rear.* Together, these safe (mineral, plant, and amino acid-derived) ingredients are helping you not just fall asleep but stay asleep—and allow you to feel refreshed when you wake up.*
Old-school vitamins are evolving into a new generation. We expect our nutrition, from food to supplements, to be science-backed and forward-thinking. We predict this type of innovation will continue to emerge from thoughtful brands, driven by customers with high expectations, and even pick up momentum in 2022. The future is now when it comes to evolved supplement formulas. And we're all better for it.
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN is Vice President of Scientific Affairs at mindbodygreen. Ashley received her B.A. in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania (along with a double minor in Nutrition and Music) and Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Georgia. Her research contributions span vitamin D, cardiometabolic health, bone density, and weight management. Ferira is a nutrition scientist and dietitian with experience in nutrition product innovation and development, scientific affairs, education, communications, and SEO writing for global firms, including Nature Made, Metagenics, Three Ships, and mindbodygreen.
In addition to her mindbodygreen contributions, Ferira is published in Health, Metagenics Institute, American Family Physician, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and Osteoporosis International. She has a passion for the translation of evidence-based science into innovative and high-quality products and information that help people lead healthier lives. She is a believer in compassionate, informed, and personalized approaches to nutrition, health care, and wellness. Ashley lives in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina, where she was born and raised. Whether savoring an orchestral performance or delectable meal at a local restaurant, you will find her enjoying Charleston’s cultural and culinary arts with family and friends.