Half of hospital patients fail to disclose dietary supplement use

Doctors often uninformed that patients use dietary supplements, which exposes consumers to adverse reactions when taking medicines. Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

A study in Singapore has found that over half of hospital patients do not disclose they are taking dietary supplements, which the authors say could put them at risk of adverse drug reactions.

The study published in the journal PharmaNutrition by the Singapore’s General Hospital’s Department of Dietetics found that while patients using dietary health supplements, such as vitamins or omega-3 tablets, had healthier lifestyles than non-supplement uses, the majority did not disclose their supplementation to doctors - putting them at risk.

Adverse reactions with medicines

“The use of dietary health supplement has increased considerably over the last decade in the general population. This phenomenon is even more worrisome in hospitalized patients due to their multiple co-morbidities and the potential interaction with medications,” said the researchers.

The American Dietetic Association (now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) said in a 2005 position paper that there was a greater risk of toxicity, drug or nutrient interaction with concentrated nutrients in supplements compared to nutrients in whole foods.

The Singaporean researchers found that out of 100 patients surveyed, 42% were dietary supplement users. Most took more than one supplement with fish oil, calcium, glucosamine and vitamin C the most popular options.

Consumers unaware they had to tell doctors

Over half did not disclose they were taking supplements, mainly because they were not asked or because they didn’t know they had to, the researchers said.

The European Commission’s 2002 directive on supplement labelling does not  oblige manufacturers to carry an on-pack warnings for consumers to inform their doctor they are using supplements. It also does not force manufactures to warn consumers not to take supplements when on medication.

Some report using supplements for disease treatment

In the Singaporean study, patients said they used supplements for general well-being, but some said they did so for disease prevention and treatment.

In the EU, labelling, presentation and advertising of food supplements must not purport to prevent, treat or cure a human disease. (Art 6 of Directive 2002/46/EC).

Over half of supplement users in the Singaporean study said they felt better after taking supplements. Supplement users were also found to eat more fruit, milk and wholegrain bread and were less likely to smoke than non-supplement users.

PharmaNutrition 2 (2014) 135–140
‘Consumption of dietary health supplements among hospitalized patients at an acute tertiary Hospital’
Authors: Pay Wen Yong, Lee Boo Tan and Yet Hua Loh

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