Authors of the study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of the Dietetic Association (2003;103:1500-1505), say that their findings mean dietetics professionals need to uniformly screen clients for dietary supplement use and provide accurate information and appropriate referrals to users.
The report is based on a stratified random sample of 15,985 adult members of a model health maintenance organization in northern California, who were respondents to a 1999 general health survey.
The researchers looked at data on the use of herbal medicines and dietary supplements, with a checklist for six specific non-vitamin and non-mineral supplements.
The most frequently used herbs were echinacea (14.7 per cent) and Gingko biloba (10.9 per cent). Use of all non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements was highest among females aged between 45 and 64 years of age, whites, college graduates, and among those with selected health conditions.
The authors said dietetics professionals need to be aware of this information to protect patients from potential drug-supplement interactions.
Further evidence for the growth in supplements came this week from preliminary results from this year's Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) Health & Wellness Trends Database study.
The annual survey, which tracks five years of trended data, and polls more than 2,000 consumer household respondents annually on health and wellness attitudes, behaviors and product usage, found that more than 85 per cent of the general population has used some type of nutritional supplement in the past year and over 59 per cent of respondents use them on a daily basis.
It also reported that more than 57 per cent of those polled agree that taking vitamins and minerals is "extremely" or "very" important in maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Over the past five years this positive attitude towards the importance of supplements has had 3 per cent compound annual growth, an increase considered significant in a mature category.
And educational efforts with regard to supplements seem to be connecting with consumers, as only 18 per cent of respondents claim to be "overwhelmed" by the characteristics of the dietary supplements they use, down from 26 per cent in 2002.
The report continued that while longevity and prevention remain the main reasons for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, an increasing number of consumers cite immediate benefits, such as improved appearance - up 4.2 per cent (CAGR) over the past three years.