Photo of vitamins in foreground and fresh fruit in the background
For suplement users vitamins form only one facet of a range of healthy behaviours

Supplements just part of a healthy approach to life for most users

13 February, 2014

Natural Health News — The sceptical caricature of supplement users as desperate individuals putting their faith in ‘magic bullets’ to keep them healthy has taken a bit of a bashing.

A review published in the journal Nutrition Journal found that use of dietary supplements is just one piece of the puzzle for those making an effort to develop a healthy lifestyle.

The review,  co-authored by experts from the US Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) examined data from 20 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and concluded that, “overall, the evidence suggests that users of dietary supplements are seeking wellness and are consciously adopting a variety of lifestyle habits that they consider to contribute to healthy living.”

“Compiling the available data on the health habits of dietary supplement users, we gained a sharper insight into the positive lifestyle choices of this large segment – one half to two-thirds – of the American population that takes supplements,” co-author and CRN consultant Annette Dickinson, PhD said.

“Evidence from numerous surveys shows that dietary supplement users are more likely than non-users to adopt a number of positive health-related habits such as consuming healthier diets, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding tobacco products.”

A long-term commitment

The review indicated that Americans who take dietary supplements are focused on wellness for the long term.

Dr. Duffy MacKay, CRN’s senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs observed, “Dietary supplement users typically make healthful habits part of each day, and many stick with their supplement regimen for years. Their supplement use doesn’t appear to be something trendy, but more of a planned strategy they maintain for the long haul.”

The results of this review counter concerns that dietary supplement users are operating under a “halo effect” or are somehow short-changing themselves, eating poorly, using the remote control for exercise, and relying on a supplement alone for good health.

The data indicates that, in fact, dietary supplement users make better food choices in addition to taking supplements.

But deficiencies still a problem

For example, a report on the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) calculated nutrient intakes of dietary supplement users as compared to non-users and found that people who used dietary supplements had somewhat higher intakes of most nutrients from food alone (not counting the nutrients in dietary supplements) than people who were not supplement users.

On the flip side, contrary to assertions that supplement users are eating better already and therefore don’t need the supplements they take, the NHANES data shows many Americans failed to consume the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR, the absolute minimum a body needs  to stave off deficiency) for many nutrients when only naturally-occurring nutrients in foods were considered.

Enrichment and fortification of foods, say the authors, helped decrease the number of people whose intakes fell below the EAR, and the use of dietary supplements further decreased shortfalls.

For example, for vitamin A and calcium, more than half of NHANES respondents fell short. Food fortification lowered the prevalence of shortfalls to 50% for these nutrients. Supplementation drove the prevalence of shortfalls down even further, but 33% of the respondents still fell short.

“It’s important to give dietary supplement users credit for their efforts to improve their overall wellness profile with thoughtful choices,” said Dr. MacKay,

“The scientific evidence indicates that they tend to incorporate these products into their lifestyles as part of a broader focus on healthy living, with supplement use just one of a constellation of smart, healthy habits.”