I have often remarked on the fact that, in alternative medicine, more surveys get published than in any other medical field. Typically these surveys are not just useless but overtly counter-productive:
- they tend to be of very poor quality;
- their results are not generalizable and thus meaningless;
- they show that a sizable proportion of the population uses alternative therapies, pay out of their own pocket for them, and are satisfied with them;
- the authors then state that it must be unfair that only the affluent can benefit from alternative medicine;
- eventually, the conclusion is reached that alternative medicine should be paid for by the healthcare system and be free for all at the point of usage.
Therefore, I find that it is a waste of time to even read surveys of alternative medicine usage. But every now and then, one does come along that is worth discussing – like this one, for instance.
The survey evaluated dietary supplements (DS) usage by US adults aged ≥60 y to characterize the use of DSs, determine the motivations for use, and examine the associations between the use of DSs and selected demographic, lifestyle, and health characteristics. Data from 3469 older adults aged ≥60 y from the 2011-2014 NHANES were analyzed. DSs used in the past 30 d were ascertained via an interviewer-administered questionnaire in participants’ homes. The prevalence of overall DS use and specific types of DSs were estimated. The number of DSs reported and the frequency, duration, and motivation(s) for use were assessed. Logistic regression models were constructed to examine the association between DS use and selected characteristics.
Seventy percent of older adults reported using ≥1 DS in the past 30 d; 54% of users took 1 or 2 products, and 29% reported taking ≥4 products. The most frequently reported products were multivitamin or mineral (MVM) (39%), vitamin D only (26%), and omega-3 fatty acids (22%). Women used DSs almost twice as often as men. Those not reporting prescription medications were less likely to take a DS than those reporting ≥3 prescription medications. The most frequently reported motivation for DS use was to improve overall health (41%).
The authors concluded that the use of DSs among older adults continues to be high in the United States, with 29% of users regularly taking ≥4 DSs, and there is a high concurrent usage of them with prescription medications.
I find these data impressive – but not in a positive sense, I hasten to add.
The level of DS use in the US is staggering. Considering that 90% (my estimate) of the supplements are completely useless, the amount of money that is being wasted is huge. Even more concerning is the frequency of drug interactions that are being provoked by DS-intake.
And what’s the solution?
Obviously, it is better information for consumers (which is easier said than done – but I am trying my best!).