The world of dietary supplements is expansive, with a market that caters to a diversity of consumers, including adults, pregnant women, children, the geriatric population, and infants. It’s a market fueled by the belief that these supplements can enhance wellness—a priority that’s steadily growing among nearly every demographic. Research from 2021 reveals a staggering statistic: 79% of approximately 7,500 surveyed consumers in six countries consider wellness to be of paramount importance, with 42% ranking it as a top priority in their lives. Moreover, this prioritization of wellness isn’t confined to a single region or culture; it’s a global phenomenon.
Notably, this surge in wellness enthusiasm aligns with an estimated global wellness market size that surpasses $1.5 trillion. This market encompasses a broad spectrum of products and practices designed to promote health and vitality. Among these, dietary supplements have emerged as potent players, promising to bridge nutritional gaps, boost immunity, and bolster overall well-being, and even beauty.
The active participation of women in the wellness journey underscores the importance of inclusivity in clinical trials. In this landscape, the beauty industry carves out its niche, offering supplements valued at $2.32 billion in 2018 and projected to reach $3.33 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 4.61%. From liquids and gummies to powders and capsules, the beauty industry provides an array of SKUs that claim to enhance appearance and amplify the health of skin, hair, and nails, among other aspects of the body.
Yet, within the wellness market, a critical concern emerges—one that revolves around the glaring lack of diversity and inclusivity in clinical trials and the regulations that allow the practice to continue. These factors raise a fundamental question: Can these dietary supplements, celebrated as wellness champions, genuinely serve the health needs of a diverse consumer base when they’ve not been adequately tested on them?
Clinical trials are the cornerstone of scientific inquiry, serving as the testing grounds for the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements. However, a hugely concerning reality prevails—these trials have historically been dominated by one demographic group: white men. In fact, at the request of Congress, a federal report called “Improving Representation in Clinical Trials and Research: Building Research Equity for Women and nderrepresented Groups” was developed to identify best practices aimed at increasing the inclusion of underrepresented groups.
While progress is being made with the inclusion of more white women in clinical trials and clinical research, more work is needed to increase participation of racial and ethnic minority population groups. When trial participants are dominated by one demographic group, questions arise about the relevance and accuracy of results for women, people of color, sexual orientation and individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Consider the implications: when dietary supplements predominantly undergo testing on men, how can we confidently assert that the benefits and potential risks apply equally to pregnant women, children, the geriatric population, LGBTQ+ populations, the neurodiverse, and infants? Physiological differences, hormonal variations, and unique health challenges faced by these groups necessitate more inclusive and thoughtful clinical trials.
To address this disparity, the dietary supplement industry is increasingly prioritizing inclusive clinical trials that better and accurately reflect the true demographics of their consumers. As we celebrate the surging interest in wellness worldwide, we must also ensure that wellness products are tested on a representational range of individuals.
As an example, Radicle Science is a B Corp that is heeding this call to action with its clinical trials achieving gender parity with 54% women and working toward racial parity to match the demographic of the United States. This demonstrates that with mission focus, creativity, and dedication, increased diversity, equity, and inclusion can be achieved.
Broader proactive industry measures like tailored outreach, cultural sensitivity, and collaboration with community organizations can enhance broader participant recruitment. The updates to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulatory clarification reinforces this testament. In its most recent Health Products Guidance document, it references high-quality, randomized, controlled human clinical trials (RCTs), as best practice including utilizing participants that align with the intended treatment group.
The path to a more equitable future—one where wellness reaches all who seek it—begins with these vital steps. In the vast landscape of the wellness market, dietary supplements can genuinely serve as wellness champions for everyone, irrespective of their gender, race, or background. By fostering inclusivity and advocating for regulation, we pave the way for a healthier, more equitable world—one where wellness is truly attainable and accessible for all.
NOTE: WholeFoods Magazine is a business-to-business publication. Information on this site should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before making lifestyle changes, including taking a dietary supplement. The opinions expressed by contributors and experts quoted in articles are not necessarily those of the publisher or editors of WholeFoods.