toplines: The Old and the Restless

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Something's Missing Consumers hope nutritional supplements will cure what ails them.

Want to know the key to good health? Call your guru. An astounding 61 percent of adults surveyed by Wirthlin Worldwide say emotional well-being has the greatest impact on overall health, more than exercise and food combined. Yet on the off chance that emotional well-being isn't the be-all, end-all to good health, Americans are still taking their vitamins - and herbal remedies, plant treatments, and other nutritional supplements.

More than half of adults (53 percent) are currently taking vitamin or mineral supplements, according to Wirthlin. Fifteen percent are taking herbal or plant-based products, and 14 percent are ingesting other types of nutritional supplements. Women are 13 percent more likely to take vitamins or minerals and 17 percent more likely to try an herbal remedy than the national average, according to Simmons Market Research Bureau. Vitamin and mineral use also increases with age: Adults aged 65 and older, are 27 percent more likely than average to give themselves a vitamin boost, whereas those aged 18 to 24, are 35 percent less likely to do so. As expected, those who exercise at least once a week are 11 percent more likely to take their vitamins and 26 percent more likely to take an herbal supplement.

Respondents to the Wirthlin survey say that they are most likely to take nutritional supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease (77 percent say they are likely to do so), and least likely to use such products to treat symptoms of menopause (only 54 percent of women would).

Still, concerns over the safety and side effects of nutritional supplements loom large, in part because - due to lack of FDA regulation - manufacturers and marketers of supplements may not make direct medical or health claims on their packaging. The mandated label that denotes certain product ingredients as non-FDA approved or endorsed also causes some wariness among respondents. Indeed, 78 percent say they are concerned about the accuracy of ingredient labeling on nutritional supplements and 71 percent are concerned that the products will not deliver what the manufacturer claims. Yet another battle facing the supplement market is the fact that 3 in 4 (78 percent) are troubled over ingredient safety and 76 percent worry about possible side effects. But you know what they say: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

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