Multivitamin use drops, use of other supplements rises

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Slightly more than half of Americans take at least one dietary supplement, according to a study that found use has remained stable overall. That's even though benefits are unproven with many supplements. Some are up while others are down in popularity.

Multivitamins aren't quite the mainstay of the medicine cabinet that they once were. The study found use dropped six points to 31 percent of Americans between 1999 and 2012.

Dr. Cydney McQueen of the UMKC School of Pharmacy says it appears that more Americans are choosing individual supplements instead. Her recommendation? Take a multivitamins if you take prescription medicines because many of them can deplete nutrients from the body.

"Most of the time just taking a multivitamin is going to be enough to offset that," Dr. McQueen said.

The study found use of vitamin D supplements rose from five percent to 19 percent. That's likely because of increased awareness of how common sunshine vitamin deficiency is. It's been linked to not only a higher risk of broken bones, but also other problems including muscle weakness and cardiovascular disease.

"The message right now is let's get those vitamin D levels back up to what now is a normal level. Not too high, not too low," said Dr. McQueen.

Fish oil use also saw a jump from one percent to 12 percent of Americans although some research is casting doubt on the supplement's cardiovascular benefits.

"Does taking fish oil really prevent heart attacks? Does it prevent strokes? We're not able to say strongly yes, there is a benefit, or no, there isn't," said Dr. McQueen.

But she thinks people who don't eat much fish should go ahead and take the supplement.

Dr. McQueen says whenever you buy a supplement, look for the USP symbol. That means it's been verified independently for quality, purity and potency.

The report on supplement use is in the Journal of the American Medical Association.