Three out of Four Physicians, Nurses Take And Recommend Supplements

May 19, 2008

The “Life…supplemented” Healthcare Professionals (HCP) Impact Study found that 79% of physicians and 82% of nurses recommend dietary supplements to their patients. The study also showed that 72% of physicians and 89% of nurses personally use vitamin, mineral, herbal and other supplements either regularly, occasionally or seasonally. In comparison, 68% of adults regularly take nutritional or dietary supplements.

The “Life…supplemented” Healthcare Professionals (HCP) Impact Study found that 79% of physicians and 82% of nurses recommend dietary supplements to their patients. The study also showed that 72% of physicians and 89% of nurses personally use vitamin, mineral, herbal and other supplements either regularly, occasionally or seasonally. In comparison, 68% of adults regularly take nutritional or dietary supplements.

The 2007 “Life…supplemented” HCP Impact Study on dietary supplements was designed to evaluate the personal attitudes and use of dietary supplements by physicians and nurses and to determine if those factors impact whether they recommend supplements for their patients. The study was sponsored by the “Life…supplemented” consumer wellness campaign, which is managed by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).

“This survey, which is a first for our industry, shows that healthcare professionals believe that dietary supplements are part of a healthy lifestyle,” said Steve Mister, president and CEO, CRN. “Not only are they taking supplements for their own benefit, but they’re also recommending them to their patients. The approval of our products from reputable, respectable healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, should be encouraging to consumers who already incorporate supplements into their wellness routine, and a wake-up call to those who haven’t yet started to do so.”

Of the 72% of physicians who use supplements, 85% also recommend them to their patients. Of the 28% of physicians who do not use supplements, three out of five (62%) still recommend them.

“It is common sense that physicians who personally take supplements also recommend them to their patients,” said Donnica Moore, M.D., president of the Sapphire Women’s Health Group and a member of the study’s physician advisor team. “It’s interesting that the majority of physicians who don’t use supplements still recognize their patients may benefit from them. Although the study doesn’t provide an explanation, it may simply be that physicians recommend supplements to their patients for specific conditions that don’t apply to the physician’s own personal health.”

The number of physicians recommending dietary supplements to their patients is highest among obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) (91%), followed by primary care physicians (84%). In addition, the study shows that almost three quarters of physicians (72%) and more than three quarters of nurses (88%) say it is a good idea for patients to take a multivitamin.

The study found that almost half of physicians and nurses who take supplements most often do so for “overall health/wellness benefits,” while 41% of physicians and 62% of nurses who recommend supplements most often do so for the same reasons. Primary care physicians, OB/GYNs and nurses recommend supplements as often for “general well-being/prevention” as they do for special conditions, while other specialists recommend supplements more often for special conditions.

According to Dr. Moore, “It makes sense to me that OB/GYNs are the group most likely to recommend supplements, although I am concerned that not all OB/GYNs reported they recommend them for their prenatal patients, given that women’s health-especially prenatal-is one arena where the data supporting supplement use is overwhelmingly positive.”

Among the physicians surveyed, 51% use dietary supplements regularly, 19% use them occasionally and two% use them seasonally. Among nurses, 59% use them regularly, 27% use them occasionally and 3% use them seasonally.

"Given the current state of the science, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of healthcare professionals are incorporating dietary supplements into their personal health routines. However, the fact that only 25% of physicians actively counsel patients regarding their dietary supplement use demonstrates an on-going and concerning problem that requires more outreach and education,” said Tieraona Low Dog, M.D, director of education, Program in Integrative Medicine, and clinical assistant professor, Department of Medicine, University of Arizona Health Sciences.

Paula Gardiner, M.D., an assistant professor at Boston University Medical Center, who has conducted several surveys on the use of dietary supplements by physicians and is a member of the study’s physician advisor team, cites the need for additional research, saying: “It is critical to better understand how healthcare professionals recommend dietary supplements to their patients and how we can support educational initiatives to encourage dialogue between HCPs and their patients about the proper use of dietary supplements.”

Almost three quarters of physicians (72%) and even more nurses (87%) reported they personally ask their patients about their use of dietary supplements. Also, 40% of physicians and 43% of nurses report that when discussing supplements with their patients, they, not their patients, are the ones who bring up the subject most often. Only 13% of physicians and one% of nurses agreed with the statement that “no one in my practice inquires about which dietary supplements patients are taking.”

“Our industry needs to continue this type of research,” said Judy Blatman, vice president, communications, CRN. “It’s important that we use this as benchmark data, continuing to do these types of surveys to see what trends develop in the upcoming years. But in order to do that, we need more companies to step up and support the ‘Life…supplemented’ program. Healthcare professionals are an important audience for our industry and for our consumers and we must continue to be proactive in this area.”

For more information, visit www.lifesupplemented.org.