WASHINGTON — The pandemic has seen a big increase in the number of health supplements Americans are taking, according to a new poll of 2,000 U.S. adults. Researchers report 29 percent of Americans are taking more supplements right now than then they were prior to the COVID pandemic. That increase brings the overall percentage of Americans who take at least one supplement to 76 percent of the population.
Conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Samueli Foundation, the survey also finds that most increased their supplement intake to boost their overall immunity (57%) or protect themselves from COVID-19 specifically (36%). Others told researchers they want to take their health into their own hands (42%), improve their sleep (41%), or improve their mental health (34%).
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for increased supplement use,” says Dr. Wayne Jonas, executive director of Integrative Health Programs at Samueli Foundation, in a press release. “Supplements–when used under the guidance of health care professionals–can be beneficial for one’s health. Unfortunately, however, many people are unaware of the risks and safety issues associated with their use.”
Notably, over half (52%) of supplement-taking Americans erroneously believe most dietary supplements available on the market have been deemed safe and effective by the FDA. Another 32 percent mistakenly believe that if a supplement may be dangerous it would never be allowed to be sold in the United States.
“Contrary to what many believe, the FDA does not regulate supplements. In fact, many supplements are not identified as dangerous until after people are negatively affected by them,” Dr. Jonas explains. “There are benefits to one’s health from supplements, but also risks, so I encourage anyone who is taking a supplement or thinking of taking one to discuss it with your health care provider first.”
Did you check in with your doctor before buying that supplement?
Only 47 percent have taken the time to consult with their doctors about the supplements they’re taking. Another 46 percent on one or more prescription medications haven’t asked their doctors about any potential medication-supplement interactions. Puzzlingly, however, 81 percent say they would feel comfortable discussing their supplement use with doctors, and 80 percent even say it’s important to tell their health care provider whether or not they are taking supplements.
So, why then have so few Americans actually brought up supplements with their doctors? Close to half (41%) say it simply hasn’t occurred to them. Meanwhile, 35 percent don’t think their doctor is “interested” in their supplement choices. About a third (32%) don’t think their doctor is very knowledgable when it comes to supplements. Also, 26 percent are worried their doctors will “judge” them regarding their supplement use.
“As more people begin taking supplements, we need to be sure that they have the information needed to make informed and healthy decisions,” Dr. Jonas notes. “My obligation, as a physician, is to help patients understand which supplements can play a safe and effective part of their overall health and well-being goals. The good news is that patients are willing to discuss this topic, but it is up to providers to ask.”
Regarding race differences, Caucasian Americans (86%) are more likely to feel comfortable discussing supplements with their doctor than African Americans (75%) and Hispanics (67%).