Demographic and health-related correlates of herbal and specialty supplement use

J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jan;104(1):27-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2003.10.009.


Background: By broadening the definition of a dietary supplement, the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act opened the market to many herbals, botanicals, and other food ingredients that would have otherwise needed safety testing before being sold. Information regarding patterns and correlates of herbal and specialty supplement use can help nutritionists understand which compounds are most commonly used, who are likely to use these supplements, and whether the choice of herbal supplements appears motivated by specific health concerns.

Methods: Data are from 61,587 participants, aged 50 to 76 years, who completed a self-administered mailed questionnaire in 2000-2002 on current dietary supplement use (20 herbal/specialty supplements, multivitamins, and 17 individual vitamins or minerals), demographic and lifestyle characteristics, and medical history.

Results: When compared with no supplement use, herbal/specialty supplement use was significantly higher among respondents who were older, female, educated, had a normal body mass index, were nonsmokers, engaged in exercise, and ate a diet lower in fat and higher in fruits and vegetables (all P<.001). Similar trends were observed when herbal/specialty supplement users were compared with vitamin/mineral users. For specific supplements and medical conditions, the strongest associations were cranberry pills and multiple bladder infections (odds ratio [OR], 4.66; 95% confidence interval [CI], 4.03-5.38), acidophilus pills and lactose intolerance (OR, 3.37; 95% CI, 2.96-3.84), and saw palmetto and enlarged prostate (OR, 3.33; 95% CI, 3.00-3.72).

Conclusions: Odds of supplement use are high for certain demographic and lifestyle characteristics. Additionally, persons with specific medical conditions are using supplements promoted to reduce risk for their particular conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Demography
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data*
  • Educational Status
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minerals / administration & dosage
  • Minerals / therapeutic use
  • Odds Ratio
  • Plant Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use


  • Minerals
  • Plant Preparations
  • Vitamins