A report published in the August, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association concluded that individuals who use dietary supplements have different attitudes concerning nutrition, are less likely to have an inadequate intake of a number of vitamins and minerals, and are more likely to recognize the importance of following a healthful diet than those that do not use supplements.
For the current research, Rhonda S. Sebastian and her associates at the United States Department of Agriculture examined data obtained between 1994 and 1996 in the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and Diet and Health Knowledge Survey of 4,384 men and women aged 51 and older. Results of 24 hour dietary recall questionnaires completed by the participants were used to divide the subjects into 1,777 daily nutritional supplement users, 428 infrequent users, and 2,179 nonusers.
The team found that nonusers of supplements were less likely to meet the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) from food alone for vitamins A, B6, and C, folate, zinc, and magnesium, and only half of both users and nonusers of supplements met the requirements of folate, vitamin E and magnesium from food. Regular supplement use reduced the percentage of participants with inadequate intakes of most nutrients by at least 75 percent. When dietary intake combined with supplement use of specific nutrients was examined, at least 80 percent of men and women who used supplements met the Estimated Average Requirement for vitamins A, B6, B12, C and E, folate, iron and zinc. Supplements particularly improved vitamin E and folate status. Supplement users’ intake of vitamin E and folate from food was inadequate for 96 and 57 percent of this group, yet supplement use reduced these inadequacies to 17 and 6 percent.
While increased age and education were better predictors of supplement use among men, Caucasian race, residence in the western region of the United States and nonsmoking status emerged as stronger predictive factors for women. The only factor found to be a significant predictor of supplement use for both genders was a belief in the personal importance of consuming a diet consistent with Dietary Guidelines recommendations.
"A large proportion of older adults do not consume sufficient amounts of many nutrients from foods alone," the authors conclude. "Supplements compensate to some extent, but only an estimated half of this population uses them daily. These widespread inadequacies should be considered when developing recommendations for supplement use for clients in this age group. Modifying dietary attitudes may result in a higher rate of supplement use in this at-risk population."
Related Health Concern: Prevention
For the greater part of the 20th century, mainstream medicine was openly hostile to the idea of healthy people taking vitamin supplements. This antivitamin position began to change in the 1990s as irrefutable evidence emerged that supplements could reduce the risk of age-related disease without inducing toxicity.
In the April 9, 1998, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, an editorial was entitled "Eat Right and Take a Multi-Vitamin." This article was based on studies indicating that certain supplements could reduce homocysteine serum levels and therefore lower heart attack and stroke risk. This was the first time this prestigious medical journal recommended vitamin supplements (Oakley 1998).
An even stronger endorsement for the use of vitamin supplements was in the June 19, 2002, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
According to the Harvard University doctors who wrote the JAMA guidelines, it now appears that people who get enough vitamins may be able to prevent such common illnesses as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. The Harvard researchers concluded that suboptimal levels of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are a risk factor for heart disease and colon and breast cancers; low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteoporosis; and inadequate levels of the antioxidant vitamins A, E, and C may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease (Fairfield et al. 2002).