Sep 1, 2023 - Business

Electrolyte powders are popular in Boston, but not proven

Data: NIQ; Note: Includes sales of powdered drink enhancers that list electrolytes on the packaging from grocery, mass merchandise and drug stores in the US; Chart: Axios Visuals

Electrolyte supplements have become a shockingly big market in Greater Boston, even though they're supported by limited scientific evidence.

Why it matters: Although influencers and marketers consider electrolyte powders hydration hacks, doctors say that regularly drinking them instead of plain water is a waste of money.

By the numbers: Nearly twice as many electrolyte powders have sold in Greater Boston in the past 12 months compared to 2021, according to consumer research company NIQ.

  • Electrolyte powder sales have also doubled nationally in recent years.

Zoom in: Boston metro area consumers bought about 966,000 units of electrolyte powders between July 2022 and July 2023.

  • Even if you've never bought products like LMNT, Liquid IV, Sqwincher or DripDrop, you've probably seen their products online, in Stop & Shop or even in a recent wedding welcome bag.
  • Videos about "trace mineral drops" have more than 13 million views on TikTok.

What they're saying: "Eat a handful of berries or a handful of mixed nuts ... and save your money," says Mark Loafman, chair of family medicine at Cook County Health in Illinois.

  • "The truth of the matter is the Western diet has enough electrolytes in it [as is]," with an average of more than 3 grams of sodium daily, says Grant Lipman, emergency medicine physician at Washington Hospital Healthcare and founder of GOES Health.

One reason it might feel as though electrolyte drinks are effective: the placebo effect.

Between the lines: When you exercise you lose electrolytes like sodium, and your body can help replace some of that as long as you stay adequately hydrated.

Yes, but: Sometimes it might make sense to reach for an electrolyte drink.

  • You might use a sports drink mix because it's easily available and tastes good.
  • When it comes to plain water, "I just don't have a great palette for it," Lipman says.

And if you're hungover and vomiting, "there's a lot of anecdotal evidence" that sipping an electrolyte drink with a little sugar in it can help, according to Loafman.

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