Study probes dietary supplement use

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dietary supplements Dietary supplement Fda

A pamphlet distributed by the FDA is discouraging consumers from
continuing or recommending dietary supplements, reports a study
from the University of Connecticut.

The FDA pamphlet, entitled Tips for the Savvy Supplement User​, was published in 2002 and is intended to allow consumers to make informed decisions about if and what kind of dietary supplement they may need.The post-test study asked 113 supplement users to complete a dietary supplement questionnaire and then to answer a questionnaire about their intentions to continue dietary supplements 15 minutes after reading the FDA's pamphlet.

"A total of 23.7 per cent fewer people than in the comparison group planned to recommend dietary supplements to family and friends after reading the revised FDA pamphlet,"​ wrote authors Dr. Deborah McDonald and Dr. Nicholas Nicholson.

Supplement intake ranged from a daily multivitamin to complex combinations of barb root tea, shark cartilage and St. John's wort.

Two hypotheses were tested by the survey. Firstly, that people who regularly use dietary supplements would decrease their intake and, secondly, that people who read the pamphlet would be less inclined to recommend the supplements to friends and family.

The pamphlet was not intended to advise against dietary supplements but to promote a more responsible use by consumers. Fifteen per cent fewer people than in the comparison group said that they intended to continue with their own supplements.

"Encouraging a critical attitude towards dietary supplement information might prevent people from starting harmful or unnecessary supplements," wrote the researchers in the International Journal of Nursing Studies​ (Jan. 2006, Vol. 43, pp. 51-57).

Between 40 and 48 per cent of American adults are estimated to take supplements regularly, while the figure is as high as 57 per cent amongst college athletes. According to Euromonitor, the American supplement market was worth $ 7.84 billion in 2004.

The FDA's pamphlet asks the consumer to consider the following questions: "Do I need to think about my total diet? Should I check with my doctor or healthcare provider before using a supplement? Who is responsible for ensuring the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements?""The choice to use a dietary supplement can be a wise decision that provides health benefits. However… these products may be unnecessary for good health or they may even create unexpected risks,"​ said the pamphlet.Dr. Andrew Shao from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) told, "There are serious limitations with this new study. Let's not make more of this than there actually is. The sample size is very small, and they only reported influences after taking a subset of volunteers."

When asked about the FDA's pamphlet, Dr. Shao said, "The CRN encourage the FDA to be actively involved in the education of the use of supplements. We also encourage people to see their doctor or health care specialist before starting to take any type of supplement,"

Dr. Shao stressed that the great majority of supplements are safe, especially when people follow the instruction on the label. "The problems arise when people do not follow the advice on the label."

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