Survey Reveals Top Five Reasons Physicians Recommend Dietary Supplements to Their Patients

The majority of physicians—79 percent—recommend supplements to their patients, according to the “Life…supplemented” Healthcare Professionals (HCP) Impact Study. What are the primary health reasons physicians recommend supplements?

The top five health reasons physicians recommend supplements to their patients are*:

1. Bone Health 33%

2. Overall health and wellness 32%

3. Joint health 29%

4. Heart health 26%

5.Maintain healthy cholesterol 22%

*From the 2007 “Life…supplemented” HCP Impact Study

While the survey did not ask physicians to specify which supplements they might recommend for each condition, some supplements are recognized to help maintain optimal health in each of these areas. Annette Dickinson, Ph.D., consultant to the “Life…supplemented” consumer wellness campaign, suggests some supplements to consider taking to improve health in these five areas:

1. Bone health. When your mom told you to finish your milk so that you would “grow up to have strong bones,” you may have rolled your eyes, but she was right. Calcium is essential for bone health, and research consistently shows that Americans don’t get enough of it in their diet. Attention to bone health is vital at all stages of life—during the growing years (childhood and teens) when the body is building bone, during the middle years when the body needs to maintain bone mass, and in the aging years when the body is slowly losing bone. With advancing years, the risk for osteoporosis—a chronic condition characterized by loss of bone mineral density—increases. Bones can become so frail that they break—and not just in women. Men also suffer bone loss, and can fall victim to fractures.

Supplements to consider: Calcium and vitamin D are the most recognized key nutrients for strengthening bones, but magnesium is also a key component of bone. Vitamin K is involved in bone formation, and vitamin C is essential for making collagen, a structural protein found in bones.

2. Overall health and wellness benefits. To help your body be as healthy as it can be, the best place to start is with a healthy diet and plenty of physical activity, and dietary supplements should be included as part of the recipe for good health. In particular, the demands of everyday life may prevent us from eating exactly as we should, and that is one reason that healthcare professionals may recommend nutritional supplements—to “fill the gaps” in those areas where our diet may fall short. Also, researchers are finding that some important vitamins and minerals may help protect against certain chronic diseases, in amounts that are difficult or impossible to obtain through diet alone.

Supplements to consider: When it comes to filling nutrient gaps, a good multivitamin with minerals is king. In fact, this survey also found that almost three quarters of physicians (72 percent) said it is a good idea for patients to take a multivitamin. Think of it as an inexpensive, reliable insurance policy for good health. But other supplements can play a role too, including omega-3 from fish oils, extra vitamin D, and antioxidant products such as green tea and Coenzyme Q-10. To find out which supplements may be in order based on your life stage/lifestyle, take My Wellness Scorecard for an initial health assessment.

3. Joint health. About 21 million adults have osteoarthritis—a degenerative joint condition resulting in the loss of cartilage that covers and cushions the joints. This leads to achy joints and could ultimately require a corrective surgical procedure, such as hip or knee replacement. Though joint pain and discomfort are typically associated with people of advancing years, athletes involved in high impact training, such as runners, are also affected and are at high risk for osteoarthritis later in life. The condition also appears to have a hereditary component so even the weekend warrior and the couch potato could be affected by joint pain and discomfort.

Supplements to consider: Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are important contributors to joint health. There is a strong body of human clinical trials that supports the safe use of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or their combination for significant and long-lasting decreases in joint pain and improvements in mobility.

4. Heart Health. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Much of what we do in our 20s and 30s can greatly affect our heart later on in life, meaning that attempts to protect against cardiovascular disease are far more effective when preventative measures are adopted as lifelong habits—the earlier the better. These measures include eating well, taking supplements, getting plenty of exercise, and managing stress levels.

Supplements to consider: Omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in “fatty” fish (like salmon) and some fish oil supplements are known to affect more than a dozen characteristics that contribute to a healthy heart. They reduce inflammation, reduce the tendency to form clots, decrease the likelihood of developing cardiac arrhythmia, and at high levels lower triglyceride levels. Observational studies suggest that individuals consuming large amounts of fish and/or who have high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have a greatly reduced risk of sudden death from heart attack. Clinical trials indicate that even people who already have heart disease are less likely to suffer a second cardiac event if they are given fish oils containing EPA and DHA. Most Americans eat very little fish and therefore have low intakes of omega-3 fatty acids, which are “good” fats. Supplements in the form of fish oils can help fill that gap. Other supplements to consider for heart health include vitamin E and the B vitamins. Observational studies suggest benefits for heart health from taking at least 200 IU of vitamin E per day—an amount impossible to obtain from diet alone. And observational studies have shown that generous amounts of B vitamins, such as folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12, can lower homocysteine, which may help prevent heart attacks, although that has not been borne out by recent clinical trials.

5. Maintain healthy cholesterol. Another component to a healthy heart is maintaining a healthy cholesterol level. Many factors that you can’t control, such as age and genetic make-up, impact your cholesterol levels, but there are things you can do to keep cholesterol levels from getting too high, starting with a healthy diet. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, using olive oil instead of other fats, and including plenty of fish would all be excellent components of a healthy diet.

Supplements to consider: Soluble fiber is recognized for its cholesterol-lowering effects and fiber supplements are available if you do not already include plenty of fiber in your diet. Soy protein, phytosterols, and stanol or sterol esters also have a cholesterol-lowering effect.

Now that you know the top five reasons physicians are recommending supplements, take a look at the top supplements used by the 72 percent of physicians who say they use dietary supplements:

Dietary Supplement Percentage Taking

Multivitamin 87%

Vitamin C 78%

B vitamins 63%

Vitamin D 59%

Vitamin E 58%

Calcium 58%

Curious about what nurses are taking and recommending to their patients? To find out, visit

Methodology: The “Life…supplemented” HCP Impact Study of 1,177 healthcare professionals (300 primary care physicians, 301 OB/GYNs, 299 other physician specialists and 277 registered nurses and nurse practitioners) was conducted online, October 3-11, 2007 by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Margins of sampling error at a 95 percent confidence level range from +5.6 percent to +5.9 percent for each of the four groups of healthcare professionals surveyed. A nominal honorarium was given to each healthcare professional completing the survey.

About the “Life…supplemented” HCP Impact Study: The study is part of the “Life… supplemented” consumer wellness campaign, which is dedicated to driving awareness about the mainstream use of dietary supplements as an integral part of a proactive personal wellness regimen that combines healthy diet, supplements and exercise. The study was undertaken following a search of the current medical literature that revealed disparities among definitions of dietary supplements, instruments and populations surveyed that raised more questions than answered, specifically whether the personal use of supplements by healthcare professionals correlates to their recommendations to patients. The “Life…supplemented” campaign is managed by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the leading trade association for the dietary supplement industry. For more information:

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