Losing a job often means losing health care. But Americans are still trying to stay healthy, self-medicating with vitamins and herbal supplements, according to a government survey released last month. Such alternative meds are popular, in part, because they are usually cheaper than prescriptions medications. But there's also a cultural shift at work. "The [American] mindset has become more about staying fit," says Joe Fortunato, CEO of nutritional-supplement retailer GNC. "We exercise; we eat right; we take supplements. It's all a regimen that [customers] believe in," he says.
And it's not just your everyday vitamins that are selling well. Shoppers are looking for what Fortunato calls "specialty items" higher grade fish oils, fiber supplements, multivitamins and cleansing products, also known as laxatives. Overall, the $21 billion the herbal supplement industry shows no signs of decline in this recession.