Two recent surveys of university and high school students provide useful information about supplement use, and should be taken note of.
For example, among a technical vocational high school population, which the researchers indicate is not representative of the American high school population, although the sports offered is similar, they found that supplement use is common—74% of the students used either traditional or nontraditional supplements; vitamins and minerals were traditional, while ephedra and echi-nacea were nontraditional. Vitamin C was the most popular choice for colds, as students believed that it reduced their incidence and severity. Ginseng and golden seal were the most frequently used herbals, and 3% reported using ephedra even though banned. Both boys and girls in sports were more likely to use supplements, and they took them for general good health—36% of the teens used supplements to increase energy. They obtained their information about supplements from family and physicians, but were not generally aware of potential ill effects of use and overuse .
A survey of students at Rutgers University was conducted by health professionals at the University Health Center, Newark, NJ. With five campuses and
50,000 students, they sent a mass mailing to all University Professors requesting voluntary distribution of the survey to their students. From their 3.5% response (1754 students), they found that more women than men used herbals. Ethnicity did not appear to be a factor. The students using herbals believed them to be safer than prescription drugs, but interestingly enough, were uncertain that herbals were more effective than prescription drugs.
The top five herbals used were, in order of preference, echinacea, ginseng, St. John's Wort, chamomile (a tea), and ginkgo biloba. For the most part their knowledge of supplements came from friends, family, and self. Over 50% of the students who defined themselves as healthy used supplements. The survey authors inform us that because university students are in a period experimentation, and seeking information, and they may be pregnant, and/or may use prescribed, over-the-counter, or recreational drugs, it is necessary that health center personnel be vigilant about their patients' use of supplements and supplement toxicity, and be able to educate their patients about these issues . I can only agree, but it is unfortunate that their survey had so meager a response, as it prevented generalizable statements about supplement use by the huge student body. The small sample may will be unrepresentative. Or it may just be the tip of the iceberg.
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