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More than half of supplement users rely on doctors for advice on how to use products, survey finds

By Hank Schultz , 28-May-2014
Last updated on 28-Oct-2014 at 18:20 GMT

Botanicals might be a area where the average MD's knowledge is limited, CRN's Duffy MacKay said.
Botanicals might be a area where the average MD's knowledge is limited, CRN's Duffy MacKay said.

More than half of supplement users rely on their doctors for information on what products to use and how to use them, according to a new survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. This places a burden on the part of healthcare consumers to engage in an open dialogue with their physicians to make sure they are getting the best advice possible, according to Duffy MacKay, CRN’s senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs.

 “The patient-doctor relationship is a partnership in which both parties have responsibilities when it comes to communication,” MacKay told NutraIngredients-USA.

Myth busting

“This survey addresses some of the folk tales that are out there about supplements.  One of them is that people will take supplements instead of making other health lifestyle choices or in lieu of eating well. Supplement uses are not doing it instead of other healthy things.  This is a cohort of people who are taking supplements in addition to other things,” he said.

In fact, the survey found that supplement users are more likely than non supplement users to engage in a primary health behavior—periodic doctor visits. 74% of the supplement users in the survey said they saw their doctor regularly;  the figure for non supplement users was 66%.

 “And I think its a little bit of a myth, too, that peple don’t talk to their doctors about supplements. Those conversations are taking place and it something that policy makers should capitalize on,” MacKay said.

In the survey, 78% percent of the more than 1,300 respondents agreed with the statement that, “I believe my physician spends enough time answering my questions about supplement use.”  67% agreed with the idea that “My physician has talked to me about the benefits of supplements,” while 56% agreed with the statement that, “My physician has talked to me about the potential interactions certain supplements can have with drugs and food.”

The results offered an encouraging picture of the knowledge that many physicians have about supplements, MacKay said.

“It has a lot to do with the specialty you are in.  I’m sure the average MD has fielded a lot of questions about the use of multivitamins, fiber and fish oil, and about supplements in prenatal nutrition.  Internists and family practitioners are quite comfortable with how supplements fit into a healthy lifestyle,” MacKay said.

Limited knowledge

While many MDs are familiar with the above products, their knowledge might be limited about some of the other products available on the market, and that’s where the two-way communication comes in, MacKay said.

“The sophisticated supplement user—people who are using botanicals or who have researched the use of a particular kind of probiotic, for example—that’s where you might start to exceed your doctor’s knowledge,” he said.

MacKay offered the following tips for consumers to interact successfully with their doctors in regards to their supplement use:

  1. Before your doctor’s visit, in addition to the prescription and over-the-counter drugs, jot down a list of all the supplements you are taking, including the brand name and the amount you take. You might want to toss them in a bag and bring them with you to the appointment.
  2. If your doctor is unable to answer your questions, or is not open to discussing your interest in supplements, ask for a referral for a registered dietitian or other healthcare practitioner who may have the answers you need. Or consider seeing a different doctor.
  3. Particularly if you are taking prescription medications, be vigilant and ask about potential interactions with the supplements you are taking. 

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