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Bella Hadid supplements scam healthy nutrients
Bella Hadid

Are supplements a scam?

With Bella Hadid’s wellness routine costing an eye-watering $736, it’s clear the supplements trend has gone too far

Every morning, Bella Hadid wakes up and drinks a mixture of three tinctures. Then she downs a gut-support liquid. Then she knocks back 14 different pills with green juice. Then she quaffs a heap of sea moss gel dissolved in water. Then some fulvic acid. Then a glass of liquid trace minerals. Then a croissant. Then she washes it all down with a drink infused with “adaptogens, nootropics, and botanics”. According to The Cut, Hadid’s morning wellness routine costs an estimated $736.

The model’s regimen is extreme, but it reflects supplements’ growing popularity and the ongoing ‘medicalisation’ of the beauty industry. “The supplement industry has been steadily growing for a very, very long time, says Rina Raphael, journalist and author of The Gospel of Wellness. “We had 4,000 available products in 1994, and then about 50,000 in 2019.”

Today, ‘supplements’ encompass everything from fruit-flavoured gummies, to adaptogenic powders, to vitamin-infused tinctures. In the UK, the vitamin and supplement market is currently worth £582 million, rising to a staggering $2 billion in the US. It’s an industry which is projected to keep growing, too: while the global vitamin and supplement industry was valued at $48.8 billion in 2023, it’s poised to grow to $79.5 billion by 2031.

For many people, taking supplements can be hugely beneficial. “A vitamin supplement can be helpful if you are missing dietary sources,” says Aisling Pigott, a nutrition expert and registered dietician. She points out that the NHS advise anyone living in grey old Britain to take a vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter. “Taking supplements can also be helpful if you have high losses of vitamins,” she explains, suggesting that people with heavy periods could benefit from taking an iron supplement.

But among medical professionals, the consensus is generally that most vitamins and supplements don’t make a jot of difference to anyone who is otherwise in good health. Notably, in 2022, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that supplemental vitamins are basically useless after analysing 84 different studies on commonly purchased supplements. Just because a little of something is good for us does not mean that we need to take mega doses,” Piggott says.

The wellness industry has also long been criticised for fuelling eating disorders by preaching the dogma of ‘clean eating’, and it seems the supplement trend is the latest manifestation of this obsession with purity. Among health-obsessed elites, it seems there’s a growing interest in overcoming the human need to ingest food at all – an urge which has arguably driven the rapid, indomitable rise of Ozempic, the weight-loss drug designed to dull appetites.

In extreme cases, taking a variety of supplements is implicitly marketed as a way of ingesting vitamins and minerals while circumventing the need to eat, which sounds appealing to anyone with a neurotic fixation on maintaining both health and thinness. But vitamins are best absorbed by our bodies when consumed alongside the fats and oils in food, and Piggott adds that we’re best off getting nutrients via our diet anyway. “Taking a vitamin out of the original food does not always yield the same benefits,” she explains. 

@babybella777 mornings with me before we start making things for you cc @Orebella ☁️🤍🫶🏼🪩 #orebella ♬ ♡ ᶫᵒᵛᵉᵧₒᵤ ♡ - SoBerBoi

There have even been a number of studies where manufacturers of supplements have been caught out for flogging entirely useless – or even unsafe – products. In 2013, Canadian researchers found that many supplement pills contained large quantities of powdered rice. In 2015, experts from University College London tested 30 ginkgo supplements bought from high street shops or online retailers, and found that around 27 per cent contained little or no ginkgo extract. In 2022, another study revealed that more than one in 10 fish oil supplements tested from among 60 large retail brands contained rancid fish oil

Raphael adds that it’s possible for supplements to worsen people’s health by lulling them into a false sense of security. “There have been studies that have shown that supplements can actually have the opposite of the intended effect,” she says, explaining that many people believe they can “buy some quick, easy pill” which will solve all their health problems. “Because of that, they maybe aren’t investing as much in their nutrition or their movement or their sleep habits, because they assumed they took a pill that’s going to take care of everything.”

With mounting hard evidence that taking a smorgasbord of different supplements isn’t necessary – and could even prove detrimental to your health – why do so many of us continue to believe the hype? In a word: marketing. In 2021, the supplement industry spent $900 million dollars on marketing, in a sly bid to convince us that a vitamin C gummy a day will keep the doctor away. “Supplements are very popular in part because they’re easy and they promise fast results,” Raphael says. “Taking them sounds a lot better than committing to big lifestyle changes, like changing your diet or getting more movement or adhering to a better sleep routine.”

You used to open a magazine and hear celebrities talk about their favourite fashion brands. Now, they’re all talking about their wellness and health routines” – Rina Raphael

Raphael also believes that celebrities have catalysed the ongoing supplement trend, with many helming their own lucrative vitamin and supplement brands. Back in 2017, high priestess of woo Gwyneth Paltrow began selling vitamins via her wellness brand, Goop, while more recently Kourtney Kardashian launched her own supplement brand Lemme in 2022. Notably, Hadid’s controversial morning routine video was posted to promote her new wellness brand, Orebella. “You used to open a magazine and hear celebrities talk about their favourite fashion brands,” Raphael says. “Now when you open up a magazine, they’re all talking about their wellness and health routines.”

The explosion of the wellness industry is one of the most potent signs of late capitalism, where everything is at risk of becoming commodified. “Material needs in Western countries have mostly been met,” explains Mariano Torras, Professor of Economics at Adelphi University. “So, in order to remain solvent, many companies have seen no choice but to manufacture new ‘needs’. Enter ‘wellness’ to continue the consumer treadmill.” Take Lemme’s controversial ‘Lemme Purr’ supplement, marketed as a means of promoting ‘vaginal health’. By selling a product like this, Lemme is simultaneously telling their customers that they should be worried about their vaginal health – even if they haven’t experienced any unusual symptoms – and marketing Lemme Purr as the supposed ‘solution’ to this invented problem. As Torras says, “fear and anxiety are catalysts for the manufacture of needs.”

It’s also understandable that many of us feel increasingly pressured to do all we can to prevent health issues, given the continuing erosion of state support in the UK and the US. “Decades ago, much of the support we relied on came from the extended family network. The family was then replaced by the state and the market. And, especially with the advent of neoliberalism during the Reagan and Thatcher years, the market has been increasingly crowding out the state,” Torras explains. Essentially, as individualism has taken root, maintaining ‘good health’ has become a private responsibility – and a hobby reserved for the wealthy, hence Hadid’s morning routine costing triple figures.

Given the supplement industry’s aggressive marketing tactics and the atomisation of Western society, it tracks that so many of us put our faith in supplements which promise to keep us fit, healthy, and beautiful. But as author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her 2018 book Natural Causes, “no matter how much effort we expend, not everything is potentially within our control, not even our own bodies and minds.” So while loading up a shopping basket with pills and powders might feel good in the short term, we’d do well to remember that there’s a difference between feeling empowered and being empowered. Arguably the most liberating thing we can do as consumers is actually to pause, take a step back, and put the ashwagandha capsules down.

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