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Misperceptions about herbal and dietary supplements among older Americans

It’s especially important considering that these product routinely have poor quality control and mislabeling problems, as noted here, here, here, and here.

Now, survey results from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine document just how confused older Americans are about supplements.

Here are the details.

  • 267 elderly residents living in the Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan area were interviewed.
  • Researchers documented use patterns, attitudes, and knowledge of herbal products and dietary supplements.

And the results.

  • 21% of respondents reported taking at least one of these products.
  • 90 different herbs or supplements were used.
  • Reasons for using them included to improve general wellness, manage arthritis, prevent or manage colds, or improve memory.

Most importantly, there was wide gap between their perceptions and reality. The most common misperceptions included the following.

  • 66% believed these products “pose no risk to the general population.”
  • 60% were under the misconception that the FDA “regulates herbal products.”
  • 70% incorrectly believed that the FDA routinely tests these products.
  • Only 27% knew that the purity of these products is questionable.
  • Fewer than half (45%) knew that product contents were not standardized among manufacturers.

The article also presents a list of disturbing real life risks that these patients were exposing themselves to by taking supplements that interact with their prescription medications.

What to do?
Revise the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) to permit the FDA to have greater oversight of the supplement market.

4/15/07 1:26 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.