Should You Be Taking Dietary Supplements?

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What do we know about supplement users? People who take dietary supplements tend to have healthier lifestyles.

If you take dietary supplements—like multiple vitamins or calcium or fish oil—there’s a good chance that you also exercise regularly, keep your weight under control and watch what you eat. That’s the message that came across loud and clear in a recent review article1, which reported on the health habits of Americans who regularly use supplements.

What made this article interesting is that it shined a bit of a spotlight on the healthy, active lifestyles of supplement users. It put focus on the fact that taking supplements is just one of the many things they do in their quest for better health.

Supplement Users Tend to Have Healthier Lifestyles

It’s been known for some time that supplement users do tend to make healthy lifestyle choices.

When reading about taking dietary supplements, there’s often the reminder that “supplements don’t make up for a poor diet.” This suggests that many people who take supplements do so for exactly that reason.

Of course, supplements don’t make up for a poor diet (that’s why they’re called “supplements” and not “substitutes”). As true as that statement may be, it appears that the majority of those who take supplements also eating well and practice other healthy habits. They’re watching their weight, avoiding tobacco, and staying active.

Use of Dietary Supplements in U.S.

The report gathered information from several large national surveys, noting that about half of all American adults take some form of dietary supplement. Most take multiple vitamins, with vitamin C supplements following close behind. Maintaining a healthy body weight is associated with supplement use. In one survey, 56% of normal weight people reported taking supplements, compared to less than half of those who were obese. It was also found that a higher percentage of people who engage in regular physical activity take supplements (59%) than those who are sedentary (43%).

According to the report, supplement users are also more likely to pay attention to their diets as well. Data from one survey indicated that those whose diets were high in fat, low in fiber or low in fruit were less likely to use supplements. This lead to the conclusion that a “health conscious attitude” prevails among those who do take dietary supplements.

Supplements Can Help Cover Dietary Shortfalls

Even among health-conscious individuals who try to meet nutrient needs primarily through foods, it can be a challenge to hit every nutrient target every single day. This is one reason why many people turn to supplements to provide one or more nutrients, which otherwise might be consumed in less than recommended amounts. And, as noted in the report, the diets of supplement users did have some nutritional deficits. But the supplements made important contributions in filling the gaps.

Health-conscious people know that they’re in charge of their own health, and they use a variety of tools to maintain and promote their well-being. Along with eating right, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight, taking dietary supplements may be another tool in their toolkit.

1Dickinson A & MacKay, D. Nutr J. 13:14, 2014.

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