In recent decades, the medical community has embraced the use of supplements as part of a normal, functioning health routine. In fact, up to 86% of American adults now take supplements and one survey showed that 25% did so because test results showed a specific deficiency—a clear example of how patients are increasingly willing to adopt supplement usage for healing.
But despite the ability to readily purchase supplements over the counter, it is important to always consult your physician before implementing supplement usage into your regimen—perhaps now more than ever.
With the continued spread of COVID-19, more and more products are being advertised as useful in preventing or treating “Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019.” As recently as last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products. To help alert potential buyers to this fraudulent tactic—which may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm—see part of that news release below.*
“The FDA reminds consumers to be cautious of websites and stores selling products that claim to prevent, mitigate, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19. Fraudulent COVID-19 products may come in many varieties, including dietary supplements and other foods, as well as products purporting to be drugs, medical devices or vaccines. Products that claim to cure, mitigate, treat, diagnose or prevent disease, but are not proven safe and effective for those purposes, defraud consumers of money and can place consumers at risk for serious harm. Using these products may lead to delays in getting proper diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 and other potentially serious diseases and conditions.”
Talking with patients about supplements is a key part of integrative health and whole-person care, and it is essential to ensure individuals use supplements properly. Today’s patients can choose from a vast array of dietary supplements, from nutritional powders and gummy vitamins to cannabidiol (CBD) products and herbs derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine. And it is the role of medical providers to educate and inform these decisions.
Half of the adults surveyed were taking supplements because their health care provider recommended them—a useful result in understanding that the supplement conversation is being had more frequently in doctors’ offices. To that effect, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) recently published a survey identifying the natural products most used by U.S. adults. The top five include:
- Fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and other fatty acids
- Glucosamine (with or without chondroitin)
- Probiotics and prebiotics
- Coenzyme Q10
As patients further continue accepting a more autonomous capacity in seeking out provider’s opinions on certain supplements, it is necessary to understand the evidence associated with supplement usage and its effects. Below is a list of supplements proven helpful for the associate condition outlined.
Vitamin supplementation, including fat-soluble and B vitamins. Mineral supplementation, including iron, calcium, zinc, and copper.
Celiac, Crohn, or another inflammatory bowel disease
B and D vitamins; iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Avocado-soybean oil, capsaicin, curcumin (in foods), ginger, glucosamine, melatonin, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin D.
Calcium, vitamin D (with vitamin K), possibly magnesium, strontium (if deficient), and boron (if deficient).
Age-related macular degeneration (“dry” form)
AREDS formulation of vitamins and minerals.
Finding quality supplements
As seen with the FDA and FTC warning, there is a market of supplements that are either unproven in their perceived effect or blatantly fraudulent in their advertisement. To combat this and ensure patients obtain the best quality supplements, consult your physician and consider the following tips:
- Look for products with the NSF International, USP, or Consumer Laboratories seal.
- Check the U.S. Pharmacopoeia information on dietary supplements and food.
- See the Dietary and Herbal Supplements guide at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
- A subscription to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database may be of value to those who want detailed information and up-to-date evidence on supplements.
To learn more about supplements and the strategies of practice to consider implementing, see the Provider’s Pocket Guide to Supplements.
*The FDA encourages health care professionals and consumers to report adverse events or quality problems experienced with the use of COVID-19 products to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.