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Use of Dietary Supplements on the Rise

More than one-half of U.S adults take dietary supplements, according to the CDC.

April 13, 2011 -- More than one-half of U.S adults take dietary supplements, according to the CDC.

The new report, which appears in the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics’ Data Brief, looked at dietary supplement use among adults from 2003 to 2006, and compared it to use in 1988 to 1994.

“Dietary supplement use has increased in adults over age 20 since 1994, and we have over one-half of Americans taking one or more supplements a day,” says study researcher Jaime Gahche, MPH, a nutrition epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics in Bethesda, Md.

“This information is important because such a high prevalence of people take dietary supplements. So we need to make sure we capture this information when assessing nutritional status,” she says. “If we only include food and beverages, we are missing out on a big proportion.”

Multivitamins were the most commonly used supplement, with 40% of men and women reporting that they take a daily multivitamin from 2003 to 2006, the new data show.

More women older than 60 took calcium supplements between 2003 and 2006, compared to the 1988 to 1994 survey, 61% vs. 28% respectively. Calcium is essential for optimal bone health and reducing risk for the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.

The use of folic acid supplements remained the same between the two surveys. Folic acid is known to help prevent neural tube birth defects among women of child-bearing age. Folate (a natural form of folic acid) is found in many foods including green leafy vegetables, beans, and legumes. Many breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice, and other grain products are now fortified with folic acid.

Use of vitamin D supplements increased in women from 2003 to 2006. In recent years, many studies have linked vitamin D  deficiency to a host of health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun, it is also found in milk and some other foods.

Monitoring Dietary Supplement Use

“The new report is consistent with what we are seeing, and the numbers have probably increased since 2006,” says Tod Cooperman, MD, the president of ConsumerLab.com, an independent organization that evaluates dietary supplements.

These increases are due in part to the down economy, he says, “More people are self-treating with vitamins and other supplements, so the numbers are higher.”

”It’s important that we continue to monitor dietary supplement use to make sure that we are not going over the recommended amounts and not reaching the upper limits of intake for any vitamin or mineral,” Gahche says. The upper limit refers to the upper level of intake that is considered to be safe.

“Americans and health care providers need to factor in all the source of nutrients including vitamin waters and nutrition bars because they do add up and can exceed upper limits,” Cooperman says. “You can definitely get too much of a good thing.”

When it comes to supplements, “be selective, use them in moderation, and don’t overdo it, and realize that the products can contain many times the amount that is good for you,” he says.

Some supplements may interfere with the action of other medications you take, increasing their side effects or rendering them ineffective. “Make sure your health care provider is aware of everything that you take,” Cooperman says.

A recent survey shows that most Americans may not be having this conversation with their health care providers. The survey, conducted by the American Association of Retired People and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that 53% of people say they have used complementary and alternative medicine at some point -- including dietary supplements -- but just 58% discussed it with a health care provider.

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