Four in 10 American adults are more likely to try treating themselves for a medical problem before seeing a doctor than they were 12 months ago, according to a survey by Rodale, a publisher based in Emmaus, Pa.
Presented at a recent meeting sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the survey showed that Americans regularly treat themselves for serious, even potentially life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The random national survey of 2,000 adults, conducted in the spring of 1999 for Rodale by Princeton Survey Research Associates, also found that:
* Fifty-seven percent of adults, or roughly 106 million Americans, take dietary supplements daily.
* The most popular single supplement was vitamin C, taken by 24% of the adults polled. The least popular were selenium, chromium and niacin, each taken by just 4% of those in the survey.
* Nearly all dietary supplement users take multiple products. Only 11% reported limiting supplement use to only a multivitamin.
* Forty-nine percent have tried an herbal remedy and 24% use them regularly. The most popular herbal supplement is garlic, taken by 24% of herbal users in the last 12 months; ginseng, taken by 23%; and ginkgo, taken by 17%. The least popular is red yeast, used by just 1% of those surveyed.
* More than a third of those who take herbal medicines do so in place of prescription drugs, and nearly half take them in place of more traditional nonprescription medications. The survey, however, did not determine which herbals replaced which traditional drugs.
* Many people who use supplements run the risk of dangerous drug interactions: 31% of herbal drug users take them in conjunction with prescription medications; 30% take them along with over-the-counter drugs.
* These people's habits also hold the potential for misinformation. More than half of those who self-prescribe dietary supplements are most likely to turn to family and friends first for information on vitamins, minerals and herbals. Doctors are consulted by 44% of those who take vitamins and minerals and by only 28% of those who use herbals. Pharmacists are consulted by 32% of those taking vitamin and mineral supplements and 23% of those using herbals.
* Popular media--magazine and books--were consulted more often for information about dietary supplements than were health professionals. Nearly half of those taking vitamins and minerals turned to magazines for information compared with 43% of those taking herbals. Some 38% of those taking herbals said they consulted books for information versus 43% of those taking other vitamin and mineral supplements.
* Only 13% of those surveyed turned to the Internet for dietary supplement information; less than 1% said that they bought vitamins, minerals or herbals on the Web.