Ask Your Doctor About Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplementation discussion during doctors visits rarely addressed risks and cost

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) If a medicine has certain risks, your doctor is likely to tell you about them. But for dietary supplement info, patients might have to dig deeper to know more.

A recently published study found that the costs, risks and effectiveness of dietary supplements are not discussed very often during patients' visits to the doctor.

The researchers said that more discussion might be needed to better inform patients about supplement use.

"Discuss dietary supplement concerns with your doctor."

Researchers led by Derjung Tarn, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, tracked dietary supplement discussions between doctors and their patients during doctors' visits.

This study included almost 1,500 transcribed audio recordings of visits to 102 primary care providers. The investigators recruited doctors to participate and then recruited those doctors' patients.

Patients were 50 years of age or older and had a new, worsening or uncontrolled condition.

Audio recordings were collected in Sacramento from 1998 to 1999, in Los Angeles from 2009 to 2010 and in other diverse practice settings across the US from 2004 to 2005.

Doctors and clinicians discussed 738 dietary supplements during 357 patient encounters.

In total, dietary supplement discussions were included in less than a quarter of all doctors' visits, the researchers found.

The researchers found five things discussed between doctors and patients during these visits.

The reason for taking dietary supplements and how to take the supplement was discussed about 47 percent and 28 percent of the time, respectively.

The potential risks and the effectiveness of the supplement were each discussed about 17 percent of the time, and the cost or affordability of the supplement was mentioned about 4 percent of the time.

More recent doctors' visits often addressed calcium, vitamin D and fish oil.

Though supplements in general were discussed more frequently in the recent visits, the researchers said that the number of topics discussed between doctors and patients on individual supplements was not significantly different.

"It may be unfair to expect physicians to convey complete information about dietary supplements," the researchers wrote in their report.

"The literature suggests that providers advise patients by asking why they are using dietary supplements, touching upon regulatory issues, and addressing available safety and efficacy data," they wrote.

The authors noted that they did not track how many dietary supplements the patients actually took, nor did they track patients' full medical history.

The collected data likely overestimated how often topics were discussed, and the researchers did not know if supplements were discussed during previous doctors' visits.

In addition, doctors and patients may have altered their discussions and behavior because they knew an audio recorder was in the room.

According to the study authors, future research should look into how discussions between patients and physicians affect shopping decisions about dietary supplements.

Other research should also see how effective these discussions are in reducing the number of adverse (harmful) events.

This study was published in the June issue of the journal Patient Education and Counseling.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines and the Office of Dietary Supplements funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 3, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013