Nearly 30% of Americans today take more supplements than their pre-pandemic habits, according to a new survey by The Harris Poll.
The survey, carried out on behalf of the Samueli Foundation, found that 76% of all Americans now consume dietary supplements.
The main reasons for the increased use of dietary supplements were the desire to improve general immunity and specifically protect against COVID-19 – although no studies show that dietary supplements can protect against the coronavirus. Other common reasons cited were a desire to have more control over personal health, improve sleep, and improve mental health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for increased consumption of dietary supplements,” said Dr. Wayne Jonas, Executive Director of Integrative Health Programs at the Samueli Foundation.
“Dietary supplements – when used under the guidance of a healthcare professional – can be beneficial to health. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the risks and safety issues associated with their use. “
One worrying finding from the survey was that 52% of Americans who take dietary supplements mistakenly believe that most dietary supplements are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Almost a third of dietary supplements believe that if a dietary supplement were dangerous, it should not be sold to the public. And less than half of those who take supplements consult their doctor first before using them.
“Contrary to what many believe, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. In fact, many dietary supplements are not classified as dangerous until people are negatively affected,” Jonas said. “Dietary supplements have health benefits, but also risks. Therefore, I recommend that anyone taking or considering taking a dietary supplement to speak to your doctor first.”
In general, there is still a lack of consistent data on the safety and effectiveness of various dietary supplements. For example, a recent analysis linked high doses of fish oil supplements to atrial fibrillation, a dangerous heart disease. This contradicts previous studies that showed the supplement improved cardiovascular health.
Melatonin, used as a sleep aid, is another dietary supplement that has received little research, particularly into possible long-term effects. It is also not clear what the safest dosage would be for different age groups or the best time to take it.
Since dietary supplements are not heavily regulated in the US, not all ingredients need to be listed on the label, making it difficult for consumers to identify potentially harmful ingredients. Some studies have also found that dietary supplements can be contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria and fungi.
Another problem with their use is the potential interactions between prescription drugs and diet supplements, according to the survey. 46 Americans taking prescription drugs say they didn’t discuss what supplements they were taking with their doctor when they were given a script for medicine.
However, it is not that these discussions with your healthcare provider are undesirable, the survey results show. A majority of respondents said they would like to speak to their doctor about taking supplements.
However, 41% of the supplements surveyed said it just didn’t cross their mind to start the conversation, and 35% said they don’t believe their doctor will take care of their supplement.
Another 32% said they felt their health care providers did not know enough about dietary supplements to advise them. Some supplements also fear that their doctor would assess them based on the supplements they have taken.
“As more and more people start taking nutritional supplements, we need to be sure that they have the information they need to make informed and healthy decisions,” said Jonas. “My duty as a doctor is to help patients understand which nutritional supplements can play a safe and effective part of their overall health and wellbeing goals. The good news is that patients are ready to discuss this topic, but it’s up to Ask provider. “
The online survey conducted in June 2021 included responses from more than 2,000 U.S. adults.