British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Are those in need taking dietary supplements? A survey of 21 923 adults

R. A. Harrisona1a4 c1, D. Holta1, D. J. Pattisona3 and P. J. Eltona2

a1 Bolton Primary Care Trust, St Peter's House, Silverwell Street, Bolton BL1 1PP, UK

a2 Bury Primary Care Trust, Silver Street, Bury BL9 0EN, UK

a3 ARC Epidemiology Unit, Stopford Building, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK

a4 Evidence for Population Health Unit, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK


Many people take dietary supplements, but information on characteristics associated with their use is lacking. The relationship between lifestyle behaviours, morbidity and use of dietary supplements has not been examined and earlier studies have limited applicability to a general population. These issues were addressed in the current study. Information was obtained by postal questionnaire sent to a sample of the general population. The questionnaire was completed by 70·5% of the sample (15465 from a total sample of 21923), with at least one-third (35·5%) taking dietary supplements. In adjusted analyses, supplement users were more likely to be women, white, home-owners, non-smokers and physically active. Use of vitamin, mineral and/or antioxidant supplements was associated with eating more fruits and vegetables, and taking fish-oil supplements was associated with eating oil-rich fish. A history of CVD or risk factors for CVD reduced the risk of taking vitamins, minerals and/or antioxidants or fish-oil supplements. Those reporting musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis were more likely to take fish-oil supplements For the first time, we have shown that dietary supplement use is related to different types of morbidity. In particular, people at risk of primary or secondary CVD seem less likely to use dietary supplements, despite possible benefits shown in clinical trials. Public health organisations need to develop guidelines for the public and health professionals regarding the uncontrolled use of dietary supplements in the community.

(Received July 12 2003)

(Revised November 10 2003)

(Accepted November 21 2003)


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Roger Harrison, fax +44 1204 377008, email