The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a massive surge in supplement use across the United States, according to data from a new Harris Poll sponsored by the Samueli Foundation.
The survey gathered responses from 2,053 US women and men, representing a broad range of ages, ethnicities, and geographical locations. Over three quarters of the respondents (76%) are currently taking supplements, and 29% report that they are taking more supplements since the COVID pandemic emerged.
Of those now taking more supplements, 36% said they increased their use specifically to protect themselves against COVID. Ten percent of the total cohort takes five or more supplements per day. Among those over age 55, that number is 13%.
The top five reasons cited for increasing supplement use were:
- A desire to enhance overall immunity (57%)
- Protection from COVID-19 (36%)
- Take health into their own hands (42%)
- Improve their sleep (41%)
- Improve their mental health (34%)
The majority of respondents are using supplements in a self-care context, without guidance from physicians or other healthcare professionals. Only 47% indicated that they consulted with a medical professional about their supplement use. That’s despite the fact that 80% expressed the believe that it is important to tell practitioners about the supplements they’re taking.
Practitioners’ negative attitudes toward supplements—real or imagined—may play a role in perpetuating this gap. More than one third of the respondents (35%) say they do not believe their practitioners are interested in whether or not they use supplements, and 26% say they worry that their practitioners will judge them negatively for taking these products.
While 62% of the participants recognize that some supplements have the potential to interact adversely with prescription drugs, only 54% of those currently taking prescription meds had discussions with practitioners about supplement-pharmaceutical interactions. Notably, 55% of the cohort believes that in general supplements are safer than prescription drugs.
The Samueli Foundation is a non-profit organization established by Susan and Henry Samueli, who for decades have been among the strongest and most consistent philanthropists in the field of holistic medicine. The Foundation’s executive director for Integrative Health Programs is Wayne Jonas, MD, who was formerly the director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1995-1999 (which became the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine), and the director of the Medical Research Fellowship at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.