More U.S. consumers are using dietary supplements during the pandemic, but fewer consult their healthcare practitioners about use, Harris Poll finds

The survey found that less than half of Americans surveyed who use supplements said they discussed their supplement use with their healthcare provider.

The Harris Poll’s new online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults—conducted in June 2021 on behalf of the organization the Samueli Foundation—found that 29% of Americans are taking more supplements today than they were prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, this means up to 76% of U.S. consumers now take supplements. The survey also determined, however, that many consumers are still not consulting their physicians about their supplement use.

According to the survey results, 65% of consumers who increased their supplement use in the past year said they did so to enhance their overall immunity (57%) or increase protection from COVID-19 (36%). [Editor’s note: Dietary supplements cannot treat, prevent, or cure a disease like COVID-19.] Others did so to “take their health into their own hands” (42%) and improve sleep (41%) and mental health (34%).

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for increased supplement use,” Wayne Jonas, MD, executive director of Integrative Health Programs at Samueli Foundation, said in a press release.

However, according to Jonas, many supplement users aren’t consulting their healthcare professionals regarding supplement protocols. “Supplements—when used under the guidance of healthcare professionals—can be beneficial for one’s health,” he said. “Unfortunately, however, many people are unaware of the risks and safety issues associated with their use.”

“There are benefits to one’s health from supplements but also risks, so I encourage anyone who is taking a supplement or thinking of taking one to discuss it with your healthcare provider first,” Jonas advised.

The survey found that less than half of Americans surveyed who use supplements said they discussed their supplement use with their healthcare provider prior, and 46% of survey respondents currently taking prescription medications had not discussed with their healthcare provider potential interactions between their supplements and prescriptions. However, four in five said they would be comfortable talking about their supplement use with their healthcare provider.

Survey respondents identified various barriers to discussing supplements with their healthcare providers:

  • 41% of those currently taking supplements said it hadn’t occurred to them to discuss their supplement use with their healthcare provider
  • 35% said they didn’t think their healthcare provider would be interested in their supplement usage
  • 32% didn’t think their healthcare provider would know enough about supplements to advise them properly
  • 26% were worried their healthcare provider would “judge them” based on the supplements they are taking

“As more people begin taking supplements, we need to be sure that they have the information needed to make informed and healthy decisions,” said Jonas. “My obligation, as a physician, is to help patients understand which supplements can play a safe and effective part of their overall health and well-being goals. The good news is that patients are willing to discuss this topic, but it is up to providers to ask.”