Three in ten Americans increased supplement use during pandemic

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Twenty-nine percent of Americans are taking more supplements today than they were before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, bringing the percentage of U.S. supplement-takers to 76 percent, according to a new survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Samueli Foundation.

Nearly two-thirds of those who increased supplement use (65 percent) cited a desire to enhance their overall immunity (57 percent) or protection from COVID-19 (36 percent) as reasons for the increase. Other common reasons for increasing supplement use were to take their health into their own hands (42 percent), improve their sleep (41 percent), and improve their mental health (34 percent).

More than half of Americans taking supplements (52 percent) mistakenly believe that most dietary supplements available for purchase have been deemed safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the June 2021 online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults. Nearly one-third of supplement-takers (32 percent) believe that if a supplement could be dangerous, it would not be allowed to be sold in the U.S.

Fewer than half of Americans who use supplements (47 percent) say they consulted with their healthcare provider before use, despite national guidelines that strongly recommend doing so. Further, 46 percent of Americans currently taking prescription medications say they have not discussed with their health provider the potential interactions that supplements could have with their prescriptions. But the desire to speak to their physicians is there.

Four in five Americans said they would feel comfortable sharing which supplements they take with their healthcare provider (81 percent) and say it is important to tell their healthcare provider whether they are taking supplements (80 percent).

The survey also identified various barriers to discussing supplements with their healthcare providers. For example, 41 percent of those currently taking supplements said that it hasn't occurred to them to discuss their supplement use with their healthcare provider, including half of those ages 18-34 (49 percent). Additionally, 35 percent of all Americans said they don't think their healthcare provider is interested in whether they are taking supplements, 32 percent of Americans don't think their healthcare provider knows enough about supplements to advise them properly, and 26 percent of those currently taking supplements are worried that their healthcare provider will judge them based on the supplements they are taking.

Other findings from the survey showed further differences based on race and ethnicity. For example, 86 percent of White non-Hispanic Americans said they would be comfortable sharing which supplements they take with their healthcare provider, compared to only 67 percent of Hispanics and 75 percent of Blacks. Black (49 percent) and Hispanic (50 percent) supplement users were more likely than Whites (36 percent) to say that it hasn't occurred to them to discuss their supplement use with their healthcare provider. Additionally, more than 1 in 3 Hispanic adults (35 percent) said they worry that their healthcare provider will judge them based on the supplements they take, and 46 percent said they don't think their healthcare provider is interested compared to 31 percent of White adults.

"As more people begin taking supplements, we need to be sure that they have the information needed to make informed and healthy decisions," said Wayne Jonas, MD, executive director of Integrative Health Programs at Samueli Foundation, in a statement. "My obligation, as a physician, is to help patients understand which supplements can play a safe and effective part of their overall health and wellbeing goals. The good news is that patients are willing to discuss this topic, but it is up to providers to ask."

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.