Researchers from King Saud University in Riyadh enrolled 534 female participants aged 19 and above to complete a questionnaire that covered sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics, perceived health status, dietary supplement use, general awareness, attitudes and behaviour.
It revealed that all the overall prevalence of dietary supplement use was 76.6%; and the prevalence increased when adjusted for high education level and regular exercise.
The most popular supplements in the 'when needed' category were beta-carotene, chamomile (54.2% respectively) and glucosamine (53.8%).
In addition, cod liver oil (71.3%), omega-3 (68.3%), multivitamins (61.5%), ginseng (60%) and vitamin A (60%) were most often used 'from time to time'.
When it came to daily use, multi-minerals were the most popular choice (34.4%).
The main reasons the participants stated for using the aforementioned supplements were to "maintain healthy hair", and to treat / prevent injury and illness (26.2% respectively).
Consultation before consumption?
While over 70% of the participants were aware of dietary supplements prescribed by medical professionals, the researchers found that they lacked accurate information and basic knowledge about possible side effects, as well as the importance of doctors' prescriptions and reliable information sources.
They hypothesised that this could be due to insufficient counselling and recommendations from doctors and other experts regarding a healthy diet.
In terms of whether or not a medical professional should be consulted prior to supplement consumption, 38.4% were unaware of the differences between doing so and not doing so, while 30.3% had differing opinions on the topic.
Approximately 36.7% were ill-informed about the possible side effects supplements can cause, and 35% were completely unaware of such effects.
Limitations and future indications
However, they also acknowledged that the small sample size of their study was "not representative of the overall female population in Saudi Arabia", and that the study's cross-sectional design meant that "the reported associations, particularly with respect to sociodemographic / lifestyle characteristics and health outcomes could not establish causality".
They added that the study presented new insight into the high prevalence of dietary supplement consumption among women in Saudi Arabia, having found a "significant direct association" between dietary supplement use and higher education and physical activity levels.
The researchers concluded: "The study emphasises the need for increased awareness and basic knowledge related to side effects, and source(s) of reliable information for the use of dietary supplements.
"Finally, the present study highlights the need to have expert healthcare practitioners in the related field for proper and timely guidance in (the) general population."
Source: BMC Women's Health
"Prevalence of dietary supplement use and associated factors among female college students in Saudi Arabia"
Authors: Hanan Alfawaz, et al.