Singapore

S'poreans spent $490m on health supplements last year

Singaporeans spent $490 million on vitamins and health supplements last year as lifestyles get more hectic

LINETTE LAI, HEALTH CORRESPONDENT

Faced with the pressures of a busy lifestyle, more people here are popping pills as a quick fix.

They spent US$374.4 million (S$490 million) on vitamins and supplements last year, says market research firm Euromonitor. That was US$30 million more than the US$344 million spent in 2012.

"Many Singaporeans do not have time to stay physically active, and often indulge in meals that are unbalanced in terms of nutrition," said Ms Yvonne Wong, a research analyst at Euromonitor International.

"This, therefore, spurs them to purchase vitamins and dietary supplements to obtain the necessary nutrients."

Experts say that for the most part, there is no harm in taking supplements and healthy people do not need to consult a doctor before taking them.

But they warn that those on medication for chronic conditions should always seek medical advice first.

"Some supplements may interact with medications or work in a similar way to the medicine itself," said Dr Derek Koh, who heads Thomson Wellth Clinic @ Novena. "Consuming both may be a form of overdosing."

He said that while stimulant drinks can provide a useful short-term boost, users may develop a tolerance in the long term and need to consume more to achieve the same effect.

Ms Wong said the growing pill-popping trend is also seen in other developed economies such as the US and South Korea.

Pharmacy chains here say that demand for vitamins and supplements has grown over the past five years, with popular products including probiotics for the gut and fish oil, said to be good for the heart and brain.

Singaporeans also take a product known as coenzyme Q10, supposed to help lower cholesterol levels, said a spokesman for health supplement chain GNC Singapore.

The spokesman did not say how much sales of such supplements have grown.

Ms Sarah Boyd, chief executive of Guardian Health & Beauty in Singapore and Cambodia, said customers go to stores "with a lot of existing knowledge and research".

The pharmacy chain saw "single-digit growth" for vitamins and health supplements last year.

"We brought in more brands after understanding that there is a demand in this category," she added. "The range of products has increased by about 10 to 15 per cent."

Parents tend to buy probiotics as well as brain and immunity-boosting supplements for their children, Ms Boyd said.

Working adults typically spend on immunity and energy boosters, while seniors buy supplements such as glucosamine for joints or eye care products.

Unlike medication, health supplements do not have to be approved or licensed by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before they are sold here.

They are also not assessed for effectiveness before they hit the shelves.

But HSA does monitor products on the market to make sure that they do not contain harmful ingredients, and issues product recalls when necessary.

On its website, the authority says that this is "in line with the approach adopted in the regulatory systems of developed countries".

It advises consumers to practise "personal caution" as "the onus is on dealers to be ethical, accurate and honest in claims".

Mr Kelvin Bai, a senior executive for business conduct and sales administration, said: "Supplements help me fill my nutritional gaps."

The 33-year-old finds it hard to maintain a balanced diet because of his busy schedule, and pops multi-vitamin pills regularly to get "overall coverage of health benefits".

linettel@sph.com.sg

MEDICAL & HEALTH