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Despite Mixed Evidence Half of Americans Take Vitamins and Dietary Supplements

CardioSmart News

Despite mixed evidence on the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements, half of Americans continue to take these over-the-counter products, according to recent findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Using national survey data, this study looked at changes in supplement use over the past few decades in the United States. In recent years, a number of large studies have failed to demonstrate health benefits of supplements, and even identified certain risks associated with certain pills.

For example, studies funded by the National Institutes of Health found no association between multivitamins and lower risk of cancer and heart disease, and no benefits of St. John’s wort for treating major depression. And as many know, the popular weight-loss supplement ephedra was linked to increased risk for heart attack, seizure, stroke and sudden death, leading to its ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004.

Results of these studies have gained a wealth of attention over recent years and experts wonder if they’ve had any impact on supplement use in the United States.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which routinely collects health and lifestyle information from a representative sample of Americans. From 1999–2012, nearly 38,000 U.S. adults were interviewed about their health and diet. Participants reported any supplement use in the past 30 days, which included any type of pill, tablet, softgel or chew that contained at least one vitamin, mineral or other supplement. The average age of participants was 46, roughly half of which were women.

After analyzing trends, researchers found that supplement use remained unchanged from 1999–2012, with 52% of adults taking vitamins and minerals during this period. However, researchers did note that during this time, use of multivitamins decreased, while use of fish oils, vitamin D and probiotics increased.

Based on findings, it’s clear that research findings have not had a major impact on overall supplement use in the United States. More than half of U.S. adults continued to take supplements from 1999–2012, and according to past studies, less than one-quarter of all supplements are used at the recommendation of a health care provider.

Findings raise concern among experts, as some supplements have no proven benefits and can actually have negative effects on health. As a result, experts encourage physicians to review use of supplements as well as medications during office visits.

Experts also highlight the need for policy change, as a law passed in 1994 assumes that all supplements are safe until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration detects evidence of harm. With more than half of Americans taking supplements, it’s important that products undergo more rigorous testing and that consumers become better educated about the supplements they’re taking.

Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.