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A Snapshot of Why People Use Dietary Supplements

March 11, 2013
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine Briggs, M.D.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

View Dr. Briggs's biographical sketch

Dietary supplements such as herbs and botanicals are popular complementary health approaches. A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine, led by Regan Bailey, Ph.D., R.D., and her colleagues at the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to figure out why.

One of the things we learn from this ODS study is that three quarters (77 percent) of supplements are used without advice from a health care provider. This points to the continued need for patients and providers to openly discuss use of complementary approaches, especially for safety reasons such as herb-drug interactions (405KB PDF). NCCAM’s Time to Talk program offers free tools to help conduct those discussions, and you may also find our portal of supplement information helpful.

The authors note a need for increased scientific research efforts to better understand supplements’ efficacy and safety. At NIH, we are working to build this evidence base so that consumers and their providers can make informed decisions about complementary approaches to health care.

* Note: PDF files require a viewer such as the free Adobe Reader.


Comments are now closed for this post.

I was wondering if there was a breakdown by doctor - ie, which doctors (MD, DO etc) were more likely to recommend supplements. Any thoughts on this?

I was surprised to find the high percentage of people taking dietary supplements as a complementary health approach. Particularly when there was no medical advice involved. I guess it shows that the advertisers make these supplements so appealling that people take them based on trust in the various products.

Something that everybody needs to do is see a doctor before taking any of these supplements.  Many people don’t realize some of the stuff they are taking isn’t actually as advertised and is doing more harm then good.  I also post nutritional information and help people with weight loss at my website ….

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Wow this is some great information. I have to see my doctor because I recently started taking in some different supplements including Shakeology. Does that count as a supplement? I know the guy who was talking with me about it said it is healthy but after reading your post it worries me a bit. It mentions it is not FDA approved, so that is what raised the red flag for me in reading your post today.

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@John: Shakes would be considered supplements if they fit within the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act’s definition of a supplement. See the definition at the top of our “Dietary and Herbal Supplements” page at We encourage you to check with your health care provider about supplements to learn more about their safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with medications. Tips for talking with your provider are at

 Generally talk to with a doctor before using any herbs , vitamins  and health supplements , women who are pregnant or nursing should not take this or any other herb without first contacting their physician. 

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I’m into bodybuilding and regulary take supplements, most of the time i don’t consult doctors, because the supplements I take are wide spread and you can find tons of info from differnet people on the internet. And in cases when I need something that i’m not sure how and what is the effect I consult my doctor. But most of the bodybuilding supplements that I take are safe, also I plan to put some words for the supplements that I take, probably i’ll write on my site.

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I think generally talk to with a doctor before using any herbs, not take this or any other herb without first contacting  physician…Best RegardsMatthew

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Even for a woman who eats a perfect diet, it is nearly impossible to get some of the nutrients in the amounts needed during pregnancy, such as iron and folic acid, Bridget Swinney, MS, RD, author of Eating Expectantly, explains in an email interview. For women who don eat all their greens, prenatal vitamins are a kind of insurance policy, providing them with the nutrients they may be missing from diet alone.

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Which, if any, diet supplements are recommended? Ive seen so many that I dont know which one to choose. I am considering yacon syrup that I saw here ——— but I cant tell if its legit. Does anyone have any insight or recommendations for me?

Great article.

Thanks for your sharing this blog.I like it.

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