Government survey highlights most common supplements

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Medicine Alternative medicine

Omega-3s, glucosamine, echinacea and ginseng are the most commonly consumed supplements as part of alternative therapy regimes, according to a new US government survey.

Conducted as part of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the study examined the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by adults and children in the US.

It found that 38 percent of adults aged 18 and over and nearly 12 percent of children aged 17 and under use some form of complementary medicine. CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products such as herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic, and acupuncture that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine.

The survey – an annual study involving tens of thousands of Americans – was developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It gathered data from over 23,000 interviews with American adults and 9,400 interviews with adults on behalf of a child.


Out of all CAM products and methods, the most commonly used were nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products, which 18 percent of all adults reported taking.

Out of these, the most popular were:

· Fish oil/omega 3/DHA

· Glucosamine

· Echinacea

· Flaxseed oil or pills

· Ginseng

Almost 4 percent of all children were also found to take supplement products, again the most commonly used form of CAM. The most popular products taken by children were:

· Echinacea

· Fish oil/omega 3/DHA

· Combination herb pill

· Flaxseed oil or pills

· Prebiotics or probiotics


The conditions that most commonly drove adults to use CAM included back and neck pain, joint pain, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

The conditions cited for children included back or neck pain, head or chest colds, anxiety or stress, other musculoskeletal problems, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD).

"The survey results provide information on trends and a rich set of data for investigating who in America is using CAM, the practices they use, and why,"​ said Richard Nahin, Ph.D, acting director of NCCAM's Division of Extramural Research and co-author of the National Health Statistics Report.

"Future analyses of these data may help explain some of the observed variation in the use of individual CAM therapies and provide greater insights into CAM use patterns among Americans."

According to the director of NCCAM Josephine Briggs, MD, the statistics reinforce the need for “rigorous research to study the safety and effectiveness of these therapies.”

The data also point out the need for patients and health care providers to openly discuss CAM use to ensure safe and coordinated care, she said.

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