5 Questions to Ponder Before Recommending Supplements

FEBRUARY 01, 2016
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Pharmacists should ponder the reasons why patients are pursuing supplements before recommending the purchase.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 50% of Americans take 1 or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. These products are extremely accessible and do not require a prescription. Many supplements are also available in several forms, including pill, liquid, and powder.
Patients should always consult a pharmacists or another health care provider before beginning a supplement regimen. Here are some questions that pharmacists can ponder before recommending supplements to patients:
1. Can the patient get his or her desired nutrients from food?
Taking a supplement to get more of a specific nutrient to ward off chronic diseases may not be effective, as there is no evidence supporting the claim that supplements can effectively fight chronic diseases.
In fact, FDA regulations do not allow supplement manufacturers to claim that their product can cure, treat, or prevent a disease.
On the other hand, following government recommendations with respect to food—including those detailed in the recently published 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans— can help prevent chronic diseases linked with poor eating habits. 
“It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take one,” said Carol Haggans, a registered dietician and consultant to NIH, in an NIH “News in Health” feature. “But supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet.”
Patients with certain dietary constrictions or habits may choose to use supplements in place of certain foods. Vegans, for instance, may want to rely on vitamin B12 supplements to help support their nerve and blood cell health, as vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, and dairy foods that they avoid.