Additional Guidance Needed from Doctors on Nutritional Supplements

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I’m often in awe while walking around the dietary supplement aisle at my local grocery store. So many choices! So many possibilities to improve my health! And so many possibilities for bad interactions to happen with prescribed medications.


    But shouldn’t the doctor be able to give great advice about the supplements you’re taking? They should. But do they provide this information. Probably not.


    A new study out of the University of California, Los Angeles looked at whether doctors are adequately sharing important information about the risks of dietary vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements when taken with certain medications.

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    The study, which involved 1,477 patients and 102 primary care physicians who were involved in three different studies between 1998 and 2010, involved an analysis of the transcripts of audio recordings that were taken during office visits.  Researchers found that 357 of those  visits involved a discussion of dietary supplements. The overall total number of dietary supplements that were discussed was 738.  The researchers categorized these conversations info five specific areas:

    • Why the patient was taking the supplement.
    • The proper method of taking the supplement.
    • The potential risks of that particular supplement.
    • The effectiveness of the supplement.
    • The cost and affordability of the supplement.

    Using the Supplement Communications Index, the researchers identified the following findings:

    • On average, fewer than two of these five major topics were addressed during the office visits.
    • A comprehensive conversation that included each of the five areas was conducted for only six supplements out of the 738 total.
    • In the case of 271 supplements that were being taken, doctors di do not address any of the five areas mentioned above.

    "Future studies should examine the relationship between physician–patient discussions on patient decision-making about dietary supplements, and investigate whether discussions are effective for preventing adverse events and supplement–drug interactions," the researchers stated. "A better understanding about these relationships could inform future interventions to enhance physician–patient communication about dietary supplements."


    This study provides further evidence that it is important for you to be cautious in adding supplements to your pill box. Nutrition.gov recommends that you consider several questions prior to starting to take these supplements:

    • Do you really need to take the supplements? Experts recommend that most nutritional needs should be met by eating the proper diet. However, some supplements or fortified foods may be help provide nutrients that otherwise may not be adequately obtained from dietary sources. There are some recommendations regarding supplements from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These recommendations are for older and middle-aged adults, women of childbearing age and adolescent girls. These recommendations are on the Nutrition.gov website.
    • Older adults, people who have dark skin and people who do not get sufficient exposure to sunlight need to consume vitamin D-fortified foods and/or supplements.
    • Should you talk to the doctor about taking supplements? The short answer is yes. And if you are already taking them, do let your doctor know.
    • Where can you find scientifically sound information about supplements? The website recommends your doctor, pharmacists and registered dietitians, as well as the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, which has produced a series of Vitamin and Mineral Fact Sheets.
    • What if you suspect you are having a side-effect from a supplement? Nutrition.gov recommends stopping the supplement and then talking to your health care provider.

    Don’t assume that your doctor will bring up the various aspects of supplements you’re taking. It’s important to take the lead in guiding the conversation so that whatever supplements you’re taking provide the best support for your health and don’t interact with any medications you’re taking.


  • Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Nutrition.gov. (2013). Questions to ask before taking vitamin and mineral supplements.


    Rivero, E. (2013). Doctor-patient communication about dietary supplements could use a vitamin boost. UCLA Newsroom.

Published On: July 31, 2013