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April 15, 2011

More Than Half of Americans Take Dietary Supplements

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/more_than_half_of_americans_take_dietary_supplements/

Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control has something called the National Nutrition Monitoring System? And apparently it’s a good thing too, since who else would monitor the nation’s nutrition?

This week the intrepid bunch at the National Nutrition Monitoring System released a report detailing how many of us use dietary supplements and which ones we use. (The link to the report is below, but be warned. It’s not scintillating.) The report’s major finding is that for the first time over half of US adults are now using nutritional supplements. Since nutritional supplements are a bazillion dollar industry, this generated much press coverage (some of which I link to below).

There is some good news and some bad news lurking in the report. The good news is that more people may be taking supplements that are actually helpful. For example, the number of people taking calcium supplements and vitamin D supplements is increasing, and there is evidence that some people benefit from these supplements.

Folic acid is critical in women of child-bearing age to prevent birth defects, but the use of folic acid has not changed.

(If you’re wondering whether you should be taking calcium or vitamin D or folic acid, see the links to my reviews below.)

The bad news is that the most common supplement taken by Americans is a multivitamin, which is defined to mean a supplement with at least three components. Virtually no one benefits from multivitamins in North America. The indigent in the US are overwhelmingly overweight, not vitamin deficient. And a person with a reasonable diet is getting all the vitamins and minerals she needs in her food.

So the increasing rate of use of multivitamins will occur without any increase in any marker of health. If you should be taking a specific vitamin or mineral for a specific indication, take it. But it’s safe to skip the multivitamins. If we all stopped, I’m confident the resourceful staff at the National Nutrition Monitoring System could find something else to count.

Learn more:

LA Times Booster Shots: Vitamin supplements are on the rise as most adults take them now

NPR Health Blog article: More Than Half Of Americans Take Dietary Supplements

Centers for Disease Control report: Dietary Supplement Use Among U.S. Adults Has Increased Since NHANES III (1988–1994)

My reviews of some supplements:

Rethinking Calcium Supplements

The Most Recent Celebrity Vitamin: D

Folic Acid: Fabulous for Fertile Females, Feckless for Fellows

Tangential Miscellany

Posting will be on hiatus next week and will resume in two weeks. I wish all my readers a happy Easter and happy Passover.

Important legal mumbo jumbo:
Anything you read on the web should be used to supplement, not replace, your doctor’s advice.  Anything that I write is no exception.  I’m a doctor, but I’m not your doctor despite the fact that you read or comment on my posts.

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