As more Americans struggle with their diets, many are turning to dietary supplements in an effort to fill the gaps. Whether it’s vitamin D, fish oil, probiotics or melatonin, supplements are big business, with consumers spending billions on them each year. Yet the health benefits of supplementation remain unclear for many.
Registered dietitians (RDs) are uniquely qualified to help people navigate the supplemental landscape. They are educated in the science behind each type of nutrient, how to incorporate them into healthy eating patterns and can offer guidance on how to make supplements work best for their clients. But with more than 80,000 different products out there, the choice can be overwhelming. That’s why the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, has partnered with Ipsos Public Affairs to conduct this survey on dietitians and their use of dietary supplements.
In the United States, more than half of adults take a dietary supplement. The majority take multivitamins, but the market also includes individual vitamins, minerals and herbals. These supplements come in a variety of forms including tablets, capsules and gummies as well as powders and drinks. And they are available in nearly every health food store and supermarket.
The vast majority of the dietitians surveyed reported being “regular users” of dietary supplements and said they recommended them to their clients. And while RDs consistently advocate for a “food first” approach to meeting nutrient needs, they recognize that supplements can play an important role in helping to achieve nutritional adequacy.
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The majority of the RDs surveyed were formally educated in the use of supplements while earning their degree and kept up with current research via continuing education, medical journals and colleagues. Most RDs recommend that their clients inspect supplement labels for one of the quality seals of certification, such as a Certificate of Analysis, NSF, USP or Banned Substances Control Group, which demonstrate adherence to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).
While the FDA doesn’t regulate or monitor all dietary supplements on the market, it will become involved when there are safety concerns. If a supplement is found to be potentially dangerous, the FDA can work with the manufacturer to bring it into compliance or remove it from the marketplace altogether. The agency monitors adverse event reports from both consumers and health care professionals as well as product complaints to identify potential hazards before they can reach the market.