Approximately 77% of Americans take at least one dietary supplement—a record high, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition. The number is even higher—81%—in adults aged 35–54 years.
In a survey of nearly 9,800 people who regularly use dietary supplements (with the majority taking at least four different supplements daily), the most popular supplements in 2020 were vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil, according to ConsumerLab.com, a company that independently tests health and nutrition products for quality approval.
The supplements that were the biggest movers and shakers in the past year were collagen (which increased by 4.1% among respondents), magnesium (up 2.3%), and cannabidiol (up 2.6%). Among those that dropped in demand were curcumin/turmeric (down 9.9%), cinnamon (down 9%), CoQ10 (down 4.4%), and coconut oil (down 4.3%).
The survey—ConsumerLab.com Survey of Vitamin and Supplement Users—assessed the popularity of 169 types of supplements and analyzed their popularity by respondents’ age, sex, and frequency of supplement use. Here are the 20 supplements that were the most popular among respondents.
1. Vitamin D
Although vitamin D slipped just a little in the rankings since last year (down 0.4 percentage points), it’s still the most popular supplement, purchased by two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents.
Why is vitamin D so widely used? Studies show that vitamin D improves a range of ailments and conditions, including poor bone health, type 1 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, tuberculosis, breast cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and on and on. Unfortunately, people taking vitamin D supplements may want to simply get more sunshine—numerous interventional studies have shown that vitamin D supplements generally don’t improve serum levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D).
You might expect that the second-most popular supplement would be, say, vitamin C or calcium. Nope, it’s magnesium. Why? Magnesium has been recently touted for its ability to reduce the frequency and symptoms of migraine headache, as well as for improving sleep. Plus, nearly half of Americans don’t get enough magnesium, according to the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Accordingly, more than half (53.5%) of respondents bought magnesium supplements, an uptick of 2.3% in the past year.
3. Fish oil
This supplement category, which encompasses fish oil and other omega-3 supplements, declined 3.9% since 2019. Nevertheless, it ranks in third place in this year’s survey, purchased by 52.5% of respondents. So, it’s still popular for its “wide range of potential benefits for mental health, treating inflammatory disease, maintaining muscle, and even cancer prevention,” ConsumerLab.com says.
It sounds like a Star Wars droid, but CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) is a nutrient that helps convert food into energy. It’s also a potent antioxidant that has beneficial effects on heart health, such as increasing HDL cholesterol, reducing inflammatory biomarkers, and decreasing mortality from heart failure. But perhaps the reason why so many people (45.7% in this survey) take CoQ10 supplements is that it’s been shown to significantly reduce the common symptom of muscle pain caused by taking statins.
About 42% of respondents reported taking a multivitamin. Multivitamins have been around for a long time, although recent studies have shown that they don’t really do much for the majority of the population. Their popularity slipped by 1.3 percentage points since 2019, according to the survey.
“For those who eat a healthful diet, a multivitamin may have little or no benefit,” according to information from the Harvard School of Public Health. “But not everyone manages to eat a healthful diet…For example, more than 90% of Americans get less than the Estimated Average Requirement for vitamin D and vitamin E from food sources alone.”
Otherwise, “some consider use of [a multivitamin] as a form of dietary or nutritional ‘insurance,’ a concept first introduced by Miles Laboratories in marketing its One-A-Day® line of nutrient supplements,” noted the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Probiotics also decreased in popularity, down 2.7% since 2019. Still, 38.9% of respondents reported they purchased probiotics in the past year. Probiotics are found not only in supplements but have cropped up as food additives in cereals, snacks, and smoothies. Unfortunately, recent research has indicated that these bacteria don’t do much to alleviate gastrointestinal disorders and has cast doubt on their possible health benefits.
Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric, a spice frequently used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. Curcumin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and is reportedly beneficial for arthritis, indigestion, ulcerative colitis, seasonal allergies, and depression. About one-third (34.8%) of respondents reported using this compound; however, it suffered the biggest one-year drop in usage—9.9 points—out of all the supplements in the survey.
8. Vitamin C
According to the survey, 34.5% of respondents use vitamin C, only 1% less than last year. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that also plays a role in immune function. As such, researchers have investigated whether vitamin C can lower the risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and the common cold. But studies have shown mixed results.
However, a daily dose of 200 mg (or more) of vitamin C taken preventatively has been shown to slightly shorten the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children (although it won’t prevent colds).
The survey found that 31.2% of respondents bought vitamin B-complex supplements in the past year.
A B-complex supplement contains all eight essential B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12), often at 100% of the RDA for each one. B vitamins convert food into energy and are essential for a range of other processes including blood cell production, neurological function, cellular signaling, DNA production and repair, metabolizing amino acids, and more. B vitamins may also help reduce stress, anxiety, memory loss, migraine, and heart disease risk. In particular, pregnant women and older adults can benefit from supplementary B vitamins.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is necessary for red blood cell formation, neurological function, DNA synthesis, and many other important processes. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common, occurring in up to 15% of Americans, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Treatment for this deficiency is usually B12 injections, although high-dose oral vitamin B12 may also be effective.
Among respondents, 30.3% buy vitamin B12 supplements—a rise of 2.2% since 2019.
The rest of the top 20
Here are the remaining supplements on the top 20 list for 2020, along with the percentage of respondents who use them.
11. Calcium – 27%
12. Melatonin – 23.6%
13. Zinc – 22.2%
14. Vitamin K – 21.8%
15. Apple cider vinegar – 21.3%
16. Green tea – 20.9%
17. Collagen – 20%
18. Cocoa/dark chocolate – 19.5%
19. Protein powder – 19.5%
20. Coconut oil – 19.1%