A recent survey of healthcare professionals, administered under the direction of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), has found that the majority of US physicians and nurses both use dietary supplements and recommend such products to their patients.1 This survey represents the first consumer research project of CRN's "Life . . . supplemented" consumer wellness campaign, which was launched in September of 2007.
Of the 1,177 healthcare professionals who completed the online survey, 79% of physicians and 82% of nurses claimed that they recom-mend dietary supplements to their patients. Moreover, 72% of physicians and 89% of nurses claimed to personally use supplements either regularly, occasionally, or seasonally.
"This survey, which is a first for our industry, shows that healthcare professionals believe that dietary supplements are part of a healthy lifestyle," said CRN President and CEO Steve Mister, in a CRN press release.1 "Not only are they taking supplements for their own benefit, but they're also recommending them to their patients. The approval of our products from reputable, respectable healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, should be encouraging to consumers who already incorporate supplements into their wellness routine, and a wake-up call to those who haven't yet started to do so."
Of the 72% of physicians who claimed to use supplements, 85% stated that they also recommend them to their patients. Interest-ingly, of the 28% who stated that they do not use supplements, 62% still claimed to recommend them to patients. The survey found that obstetricians/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) are the most likely physicians to recommend supplements (91%), followed by primary care physicians (84%). The majority of respondents (72% physicians and 87% nurses) claimed that they personally ask their patients about supplement use.
"The fact that physicians and nurses are clearly using supplements should demonstrate to consumers that they can talk to their physi-cians about using supplements," said Judy Blatman, CRN's vice president of communications (oral communication, December 5, 2007). However, she added that the survey's results show that female physicians are more likely to recommend supplements than their male counterparts (85% vs. 77%) and that female physicians are more likely to personally inquire about their patients' use of supplements (81% vs. 71%). Blatman stated that it is important that all healthcare professionals recognize that supplements are becoming more main-stream, and it is imperative that healthcare professionals be open to dialoguing with their patients about supplement use. "This needs to be done in a non-judgmental way so that patients can feel comfortable asking questions," she added.
Nearly half of the physicians and nurses who reported taking supplements indicated that they primarily do so for "overall health/well-ness benefits." Primary care physicians, OB/GYNs, and nurses appear to recommend supplements for "general well-being/prevention" as often as for particular conditions, whereas other medical specialists seem more likely to recommend supplements for specific conditions. The results that have been released from the survey do not specify the type of supplements (i.e., herbal, conventional nutritional, etc.) most commonly used and/or recommended by physicians and nurses, although the results do show that 72% of physicians and 88% of nurses say it is a good idea for patients to take a multivitamin.
Blatman stated that the survey's results seem to indicate that healthcare professionals may not regard individual clinical trials that denounce the benefits of herbs or supplements as definitive studies. She explained that several arguably negative studies regarding dietary supplement efficacy have been published in medical journals in recent years and that healthcare professionals are typically known for relying upon published data in their clinical practices. The continued use and recommendation of supplements by healthcare profession-als, however, implies that such practitioners may recognize that one trial with negative outcomes does not necessarily override the totality of evidence supporting a particular supplement's benefit.
Additionally, Blatman argued that the survey's results indicate that more research money and efforts should be directed towards supporting the science behind dietary supplements and educating healthcare professionals about such products. "[Healthcare profession-als have] indicated that they're interested in supplements and interested in learning more about supplements, and the supplement industry should play more of a role in those efforts," said Blatman.
Further data about the healthy lifestyle choices of nurses and doctors obtained through the survey was released by CRN in April 2008.
1. Study finds physicians and nurses both take and recommend dietary supplements [press release]. Washington DC: Council for Responsible Nutri-tion; November 13, 2007.