Determining the practices and beliefs regarding nutritional supplement use in an urban adult population attending a medical centre in Rondebosch East, Cape Town

Frost, Anna (2015-03)

Thesis (MMed)-- Stellenbosch University, 2015.


Background Empirical research on how and why nutritional supplements (including vitamin/mineral supplements and herbal supplements) are being taken by middle-income populations in South Africa is lacking. This study quantifies the types of nutritional supplements being taken. It unpacks beliefs regarding benefits and risks. This information is useful for healthcare practitioners in similar settings as it could affect their practice of history taking and alert practitioners to the need to know more about nutritional supplement benefits and risks. The information could be used to influence policy regarding advertising and labelling of nutritional supplements. Method The study was a cross-sectional survey. An anonymous self-completed structured questionnaire was completed by 123 participants attending a medical centre during the data collection period. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted on 16 participants to gather qualitative information. Results Nutritional supplements were widely taken in this questionnaire sample (59%). Consumption was not related to age, language, ethnic group, education and smoking, but nutritional supplements were more commonly used by women and higher income groups. Women who felt they had fair/poor health, women with chronic medical conditions, especially those with depression or women on chronic prescription medication were more likely to take nutritional supplements than those without these characteristics. Wellness, treating tiredness and short-term disease prevention were the most common reasons for taking the supplements, although research proving these benefits is lacking. Chronic disease prevention was an uncommon reason for consumption. Participants were mostly unaware of possible drug interactions and side-effects and therefore felt it unnecessary to inform their practitioner of consumption habits. Conclusion Healthcare professionals should include a nutritional supplement question in their routine history taking, especially when prescribing chronic medication and in the presence of chronic conditions. They should be knowledgeable regarding efficacy, safety, possible side-effects and drug interactions of commonly consumed nutritional supplements in order to advise patients appropriately. Further empirical research is needed into proven benefits of nutritional supplements.

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