Healthy Diet May Predict Supplement Intake

Patients with healthy diets may be more likely to use supplements.

Eating healthy is the best way to consume enough vitamins and minerals. Nevertheless, some patients prefer to take vitamins and supplements, with those who prescribe to the “more is better” school of thought popping vitamins and drinking supplement-infused drinks with abandon.

Researchers report that patients who need vitamins the most may be less likely to take nutritional supplements, such as multivitamins, while those with higher-quality diets are more likely to use them.

These researchers published a study in Nutrients that enrolled 1306 students taking an entry-level food and nutrition college course in Australia. The mean age of the study population was 20.5 years old, 79% was female, and mean BMI was 22. Only 2% of study participants were obese, and 14% were overweight.

More than half of the study population (56%) took supplements at least once per month. These supplement users were found to not only have healthy diets, but also self-rate their diet as “healthy” or “very healthy.” Among supplement users, 91% had not received a recommendation from a health care professional about supplements, and most did not have vegetarian, low-fat, low-sugar, diabetic, yeast-free, lactose-free, or gluten-free diets.

How do these findings compare to the United States? Of note, this study’s college demographics compromise external validity because they are vastly different from the general populations of Australia and the United States.

The 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that 33% of the US population used supplements, though the 2011-2012 NHANES indicated that this number had increased to 90%. NHANES found that college-educated patients were significantly more likely to consume supplements. The survey did not determine any medical need for supplementation, such as pregnancy, or vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplement use.

Although the current study population should be lauded for having a healthy diet, its unnecessary use of supplements should be investigated. Pharmacists have an opportunity to educate patients on supplement use and obtaining micronutrients from dietary sources.