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Are ‘Wellness Shots’ Bullshit?

Is that 2-ounce organic immunity boost the tidiest punch of nutrients you’re ever gonna get or overpriced, evil marketing genius?

We now live in an era of such heightened “wellness” that pre-packaged “wellness” shots like the ones Vive Organic makes are even now available at Walmart. Such convenience makes them the new impulse buy, one that feels healthier than soda or chips at checkout. They also feel like a more responsible choice than the “boost” beverages their packaging resembles, e.g., 5-Hour Energy and Redbull Energy Shots. As an article in BevNet, an industry publication, explains:

“As the juice cleanse trend washes out, JUS by Julie has in the past few years been increasingly focused on its line of cold-pressed juice booster shots. Featuring ingredients like chlorophyll, turmeric and ginger to give consumers the same functional benefits they sought in larger packaged juices without the high sugar content. But for years, buyers rebuffed them. Now, the company says, retailers are getting up to speed.”

By calling them “shots” (expensive ones at that as they average about $3.75 for 1.5 to 4 ounces), the entrepreneurs branding these drinks equates their size to their potency. As BevNet notes:

“Justine Monsul, founder and CEO of ginger and turmeric shot maker Monfefo, told BevNET she feels that buyers are now recognizing the value and potential of the category. Monfefo, which sells at a premium price of $4.99 per 1.7 oz. bottle, has seen increased sales and retail expansion over the past year. While there are still many skeptical consumers, Monsul said she has often compared the product to a shot of alcohol, noting that consumers enjoy the same invigorating shock to the system a shot of tequila might have, but in a healthy product.”

But can the body really receive an increased amount of nutrients at quicker rates through wellness shots?

For an answer, I sought out Dana Hunnes, the senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

“Honestly, I need to go into the wellness shot business,” she jokes, noting how many relatively low-cost ingredients these shots are typically comprised of, such as ginger and lemon. “Wellness shots are popular because they’ve been marketed so well. People are on the health bandwagon. We’re always looking to get healthier in non-pharmaceutical ways. At the same time, we’re always looking to get healthier in easy ways. Wellness shots ‘promise’ a lot. They promise to cleanse us, they promise to boost our immunity, they promise to make our skin better, etc.”

“People who wouldn’t have otherwise thought to buy them will be standing in line, waiting to be checked out and they see them and think, ‘Heck, it’s only $3 or $4, maybe it will make me feel better,’” she continues. “But I’m not sure if the small one-time dose really does all it promises to do. One to two ounces of carrot juice with beet greens, wheat grass, turmeric and ginger once isn’t going to give you a big wellness or health boost.”

I’ve tried at least a dozen brands of these shots, sometimes using them to support my adaptogen-obsessed health regimen and other times detoxing (at least psychologically) from a yellow bag of Chester’s Flamin’ Hot Fries I’ve mowed down in a moment of stress. Given this personal experience, I asked Hunnes to weigh in on some of the claims of popular shots, when (if ever) they might actually be useful and when you should just make them at home.

Vive: Immunity Boost

Ingredients: Ginger, turmeric, black pepper, echinacea, pineapple and ginger
Hunnes’ Analysis: “I’m not aware that any of these ingredients (except maybe echinacea) do anything for immunity. Some of them are anti-inflammatory. But for immunity, we usually give arginine and/or zinc in hospital settings.”

Vive: Wellness Rescue

Ingredients: Grapefruit seed extract, cold-pressed oil of oregano and elderberry, medium concentration of ginger and cayenne pepper
Hunnes’ Analysis: “I’m not sure what these are supposed to help you recover from. Why not just eat a grapefruit and a little oregano for half the price?!?!”

Kor: Wellness

Ingredients: Ginger juice, lemon juice, coconut water, cayenne pepper
Hunnes’ Analysis: “I guess it’s supposed to help you wake up with the ginger juice and cayenne pepper (primarily the cayenne), and maybe it’s anti-inflammatory. But you could make a dozen 1.7-ounce shots yourself, by buying the ingredients for $8 or even less, versus the $45 they’re charging. So save yourself a ton of money by buying fresh ginger root, which is really cheap, and grating it into your favorite juice or steeping it in water to make ginger tea. Alternately, you could buy organic ginger powder in the spice aisle and do the same thing, which is still much cheaper.”

Kor: Potent-C

Ingredients: Sea buckthorn juice, camu camu, baobab, pineapple juice, orange juice, lemon juice
Hunnes’ Analysis: “Sounds like this might be good for vitamin C and carotenoids, but I’m not sure it’s all that much better for you than getting vitamin C from mandarin oranges.”

Kor: Black Magic

Ingredients: Activated charcoal, lemon juice, coconut water, ginger juice
Hunne’s analysis: Activated charcoal is medically used to treat certain overdoses or toxicities. I wouldn’t recommend just taking it without medical oversight.”

Solti: CBD+ Ginger Wellness Shots

Ingredients: Thirty milligrams of hemp CBD, organic cayenne pepper and organic juice from ginger, lemon and green apple
Hunnes’ Analysis: “Most of the ingredients are anti-inflammatory — save for CBD, which who knows what you’re really getting in these products or how well-tested they are. But at this low dose, I’m not sure how much of that you’re even getting.”

Erewhon: Germ Warfare

Ingredients: Organic reishi, organic kyolic garlic, organic echinacea, Goldenseal, Astragalus, organic elderberry, silver, organic oregano oil, organic grapefruit seed extract, organic lemon juice and filtered water
Hunnes’ Analysis: “I’m not sure there’s any proof whatsoever that any of these ingredients help keep you from getting sick.”

Legacy: Wellness Shots, Cold Pressed, Tart Cherry Boost

Ingredients: Organic tart cherry, turmeric and black pepper

Hunne’s analysis: “All of these ingredients may be somewhat anti-inflammatory, but likely not so much at the low doses they’re talking about.”

Whatever the ingredients, Hunnes unsurprisingly prefers people to source their nutrients from their food as much as possible. “What people need to pay more attention to are the everyday foods we put into our mouths, not the couple ounces or juice bottles of concentrated juice (often with sugar) that companies are trying to sell us. The best anti-inflammatories out there are fresh fruits and vegetables and garlic and ginger in their natural form. Go make a soup out of them!” she explains. “Or if you’re convinced wellness shots will help you, buy your own organic produce and a juicer and make your own from scratch. You’ll pay off that juicer in no time with the amount of money you’ll save by not buying them at the checkout line.”