Dietary supplementation linked to healthier college lifestyle behaviors

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Yuricazac / Getty Images
© Yuricazac / Getty Images

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New research supports findings that associate dietary supplement intake with healthier lifestyle behaviors in college students but revealed no impact on blood biomarkers.

“The primary aims of this study were to describe the prevalence of dietary supplement intake and types of dietary supplements used by a sample of college students as well as to investigate the associations between supplement intake and blood biomarkers,”​ wrote nutrition and health researchers from the University of North Florida, who expected to find effects on both behaviors and biomarkers. 

Published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements​, the cross-sectional study ​was funded by a University of North Florida Faculty Development Grant.

Dietary supplements and lifestyle behaviors

The study references an existing body of research that has explored dietary supplement intake and lifestyle factors in college student populations. It notes the growth of the dietary supplement market and particularly the increasing popularity of sports nutrition supplements within that market.

“Although dietary supplement categories seem to differ across studies, the majority of dietary supplements consumed are classified as sports supplements, such as protein supplement, sports bar/gel, amino acid, electrolyte and vitamin/mineral supplement, compared to herbal or other types of supplements,”​ the study noted.

For the purposes of this research, dietary supplements were defined as both single nutrient supplements and sports nutrition supplements, then classified into four categories: protein, herbal, sports nutrition and other (such as joint supplements, melatonin, alpha lipoic acid and coconut oil). Positive lifestyle behaviors linked to dietary supplementation included physical activity, breakfast consumption and fruit and vegetable intake, evaluated through questionnaire.

“One unique strength of the present study was the assessment of blood biomarkers of health in combination with dietary and physical activity assessment,” ​the researchers put forth. 

Study details

A total of 98 college students recruited on campus participated in the study. Of these, 70% were female and 87% identified as non-Hispanic – a sample size and group composition that the researchers noted as potential limitation.

Participants completed diet, physical activity and other lifestyle habits questionnaires, underwent body composition assessments and reported dietary supplement intake. Blood samples were collected, and statistical analysis was performed.

“We found that 91% of participants surveyed consumed at least one dietary supplement in the last six months, with 30% of participants taking five or more,”​ the study stated. 

In addition, 50% of the participants reported taking at least one protein supplement, 62% at least one sport nutrition supplement, 18% at least one herbal supplement and 28% at least one other supplement once per week. 

In comparing impacts of supplement intake, analysis of blood biomarkers observed no differences in insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels – clinical markers associated with blood glucose levels and lipid synthesis, body fat and physical activity, and liver function and toxicity, respectfully. Researchers also found no effects of supplementation on diet quality as assessed through Healthy Eating Index measures (HEI-2015).  

“Although there were no differences in HEI-2015 score among the groups, those who consumed five or more supplements met a higher percentage of the recommended intake for fruits, performed aerobic exercise for longer duration and had lower body fat percentage compared to participants who consumed two or less supplements at least once per week,” ​the study found.

The researchers suggest that future studies should employ mixed methodology to examine the reasons college students consume dietary supplements and to assess perceived and direct health benefits associated with consumption. 

Source: Journal of Dietary Supplements
“Dietary Supplement Intake is Associated with Healthier Lifestyle Behaviors in College Students Attending a Regional University in the Southeast: A Cross-Sectional Study “
doi: 10.1080/19390211.2022.2134532
Authors: Andrea Y. Arikawa et al.

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