Vitamins and Vitamin Supplements: Use Increases in America

VIDEO: Sharyn Alfonsi reports on the pros and cons of supplements.
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Do you take vitamins every morning? The numbers are growing. A new government study found that more than half of American adults take at least one dietary supplement. But despite their popularity, many experts remain skeptical of their effects.

"Although we were not surprised, it is interesting to note that not only did supplemental calcium use and vitamin D use increase for all women aged 60 and over from 1988 to 1994 to 1999 to 2002, but there was also an increase from [between] 1999 [and] 2002 to 2003 to 2006," said Jaime Gahche, a nutritional researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the study.

Supplements can contain high amounts of specific nutrients, and are often used to increase nutrition in a person's diet.

Because so many Americans use vitamin supplements, researchers hoped to assess people's use of them in order to get an accurate picture of the population's dietary intake.

The study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, found that more than 40 percent of Americans used supplements from 1988 to 1994, and more than one half took vitamins from 2003 to 2006. Multivitamins were found to be the most commonly used supplement.

Of particular interest to the researchers were vitamin D, calcium and folic acid supplements.

Too Much Hype?

ABC News contacted several experts on the subject. While none was surprised by the increased use of vitamins, nearly all of them agreed that a healthy diet is a better alternative to nutrients in pill form.

"People are looking for help with what they believe is a problem but trying to solve it the wrong way," said Dr. Darwin Deen, clinical professor in the department of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "Our diet contains too many processed foods that do not have the nutrients we need to keep us healthy -- soda and chips -- so people respond by taking vitamins."

Deen said he usually advises his patients to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables to boost their vitamin count, rather than take a pill.

"The pill is a nice idea, but we have no reason to think this one-size-fits-all dose makes any sense for each individual," said Deen.

Lead author Gahche said the report makes no recommendations on whether or not a person should or should not use dietary supplements. And if individuals are taking supplements, they should be sure to the tell their doctors what those are and why they're taking them.

"There probably is a perception among the population that taking a dietary supplement is an easy way to obtain necessary nutrients and improve health, but this isn't necessarily true," said Dr. Donald Hensrud, associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at Mayo Clinic. "For most dietary supplements there is not a lot of evidence they improve health, including multivitamins.

"There is also some data that, in general, the people who take dietary supplements are least likely to need them… they already have a good diet."

Vitamins and Supplements: Fruits and Vegetables Better

Doctors have studied the effects of vitamin D on a variety of health conditions, including cholesterol, heart disease, influenza, breast cancer and osteoporosis, just to name a few.

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