Wellness supplements are incredibly popular. Sales of supplementary vitamins have grown sharply during the pandemic as people become more aware of how their overall health can influence how they react to times of illness.
It is estimated that the supplement industry will have grown to over $200 billion in the next few years. However, this growth has been going on for a long time, since before the COVID crisis even hit. So, why are wellness supplements so popular?
Although vitamin supplements cannot purport to cure any ailments or prevent aging and sickness, they can give the body the chemical elements which many of us lack in our diets. While we have access to all sorts of healthy foods and activities, we live in a strange epoch where we don’t always have the ability to access the right nutrients. The wellness industry claims to be giving a helping hand to the modern person in this regard, allowing them to achieve the total health that they need.
Wellness supplements may have really taken off in recent times, but they have a surprisingly long and storied history. They share their history with both the scientific discovery of vitamins and the cultural revolutions of the mid-20th century. Below we look at the evolution of wellness subjects to see how we got to where we are.
Although modern pills and powders that would be described as wellness supplements did not come about until the 20th century, the history of using vitamins to help people is a long one.
The ancient Egyptians used naturally occurring vitamins in the liver to cure an ailment called ‘night blindness’. We now know that night blindness was actually due to a severe deficiency of Vitamin A, which the liver contains. This clever matching of a supplemental to an ailment caused by a deficiency is essentially the way many preventable diseases were cured.
Ancient people continued to use certain foods to supplement health and well-being, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that the specifics began to be understood. Seafarers had long suffered from a disease called scurvy. On long journeys, sailors had very limited diets and often came down with scurvy, which was a truly terrible ailment. Muscles and teeth would atrophy, and states of delirium would develop that could lead to death.
Around the same time, a surgeon’s mate named James Lind discovered that compounds within citrus could prevent scurvy. In fact, scurvy is almost entirely caused by a lack of vitamin C. Lind was amazingly close to making a direct link between a vitamin and an ailment. After he made his discovery, sailors were issued with lime and lemon juice and scurvy was almost completely eradicated.
The Discovery of the Vitamin
The word ‘vitamin’ was first coined in 1912. The amazingly named Polish biochemist Casmir Funk observed that the health of living beings was dependent upon what he called ‘vital amine’ compounds. This was deduced by observing how processed and unprocessed rice affected bodily functions. Processed rice does not contain the same level of vitamin B as unprocessed rice.
Vital amine was soon abbreviated to vitamin, and a new and influential word had entered the vocabulary of the world. By the 1950s, all the known vitamins had been discovered and the supplement industry had taken off. A healthy and balanced diet should provide the correct amount of nutritious vitamins. However, diets in the 20th century were often very poor. War, famine, inequality, and the structured nature of industrialized society meant that huge amounts of people were without balanced diets. Rickets – caused by a lack of Vitamin D – was a huge issue.
The discovery of the vitamin allowed for the isolation and refinement of individual vitamin compounds. These could then be pressed into supplemental pills that would preserve the health of people with vitamin deficiencies.
The term ‘wellness’ has less to do with the content of health supplements and more to do with a cultural turn towards holistic and ‘complete’ approaches to the body and self. The Global Wellness Institute acknowledges the ancient roots of holistic wellness, but also notes that the 1960s and 1970s were the beginning of the modern use of the word.
The 60s and 70s were a time of great cultural change and this included shifts in the way we saw our bodies. In the West, Eastern philosophical and medical practices began to be studied in earnest, and a fusion of medical ideals became very popular. Vitamins and minerals became part of a ‘whole body and mind’ approach to being healthy, and many practices became adhered to across the world.
In 1970, the first wellness center opened in the United States. Since then, institutions purporting to support wellness have multiplied. Companies started to operate on the basis that their products improved wellness or contributed to a healthy lifestyle. Today, mysticism and esoteric knowledge are no longer part of the mainstream wellness culture. Instead, a scientific approach is often pursued by wellness practitioners and innovators.
More Than Just Pills
The explosion of the wellness industry has meant that companies that produce or market supplements have diversified their roles. Anybody that consciously practices wellness will tell you that it isn’t just about what you put in your body. Your exercise regime, mental health, and lifestyle all contribute to general wellness. As such, groups providing wellness supplements have begun to act as educational hubs.
Companies such as MyVitamins UK offer far more than supplements. Their weekly ‘Myvitamins’ Wellness Wednesday Tips offers advice to people looking to improve their lives whether they choose to take supplements or not. Yoga tips, food ideas, and lifestyle changes are all included in such guides. Today, the supplement industry is undoubtedly connected to both the pharmaceutical and sports industries. As such, expertise often goes beyond the traditional scientific and holistic specialties that were held by previous generations of supplement developers.
Of course, adherence to wellness principles is a good step to becoming healthy and staying happy, but in many circumstances, it is worth consulting a doctor if you are feeling unhappy or unwell.