College Students More Likely to Use Dietary Supplements

Although the use of dietary supplements is growing, exact data describing who takes what are difficult to find.

Although the use of dietary supplements is growing, exact data describing who takes what are difficult to find.

A team of geographically diverse researchers from across the United States has published a study that looks at dietary supplement use among college students—a population that tends to have a higher socioeconomic status and who are at an age where lifetime patterns are often established.

The researchers report that college students surveyed (n = 1248) were more likely to use dietary supplements than the general population, with 66% stating they take supplements at least weekly, compared with general findings that have documented that roughly half of American adults and about one-third of children take supplements.

Of students in the study, 42% took multivitamins or multi-mineral products. Approximately 29% took individual vitamin products, 9% took herbal supplements, 8% took fish oil, and 5% were echinacea users.

“Provide more energy” was the second most common reason given for dietary supplement use (29%) after “general health” (73%). Although the term “more energy” was undefined, the researchers suggest students interpreted it as increased alertness and athleticism. A full 17% took amino acid powders, products used to build muscle and often taken with steroids, and 16% used caffeine supplements. Caffeine is the only supplement well-proven to increase alertness; however, caffeine can cause unwanted effects such as heart palpitations.

In the past, patients have taken more supplements as they age; however, current college students are now roughly as likely to take supplements as elderly Americans.

The study’s authors suggest a longitudinal study should be started to track supplement use in current college students over their lifetimes. The complete study was published ahead of print online on November 6, 2014, in Clinical Nutrition.