Do Vitamin Patches Actually Work?

By Karen D'Souza Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The FDA does not regulate supplements (pills or patches) so doctors and other health experts warn that it pays to be wary of vitamin patches.

Mercury News

In an era obsessed with quick fixes, many people are looking for an easy way to boost their wellness.

One of the hottest trends out there right now is vitamin patches. They're right up there with charcoal and acai.

Slap on one of these puppies and you don't have to worry about eating your greens, or so the marketing implies.

As the Washington Post reports, transdermal vitamin patches have flooded the market, with companies selling high-end cocktails of "supplements" that promise to help with acne, insomnia, poor focus, premenstrual syndrome, hangovers, weight gain and stress. "Just apply a single patch and get instant and lasting results all night long," says the marketing language that accompanies PatchMD's "Menopause Night Relief" patch. PatchMD also sells an autism "focus bundle," for example.

The rub is that the FDA does not regulate supplements (pills or patches) so doctors and other health experts warn that it pays to be wary.

"FDA is aware that some transdermal vitamin patches are being falsely marketed as dietary supplements; the agency considers this action to be health fraud," Jeremy Kahn, an FDA spokesman told the Post. "Generally, FDA considers any patch product that is promoted as a dietary supplement to be an unapproved new drug and a misbranded drug."

"My message for the public is 'buyer beware.' The evidence for nutrient absorption through the skin barrier is very limited, and many of the health-related claims are unsubstantiated. The companies need to provide proof for the claims," JoAnn Manson, a physician, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard professor, told the Post. "I would ask the companies to 'show me the data' -- show me evidence that absorption is effective and blood levels of these vitamins and minerals increase appropriately."

Nutrition experts caution that the body is built to get its nutrients from whole, natural foods and whenever you mess with that system, you run the risk of botching the process. Sometimes vitamins consumed outside of foods are not absorbed by the body in the right way. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest that all vitamin supplements should be looked at with skepticism. Not just vitamin patches.

"In the absence of significant positive data--apart from folic acid's potential reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease--it's most beneficial to rely on a healthy diet to get your fill of vitamins and minerals," said Dr. David Jenkins, of St. Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto, as Newsweek noted. "So far, no research on supplements has shown us anything better than healthy servings of less-processed plant foods including vegetables, fruits and nuts."

There's just no magic pill for healthy eating.

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