Companies that market supplements and functional foods predominantly to health care practitioners have unique interests and challenges that require specific support. How can these companies best serve and be in tune with health care practitioners who monitor and advise patients’ supplement use?
Trust between patients and their health care professionals is critical for providing quality care and supporting patient health. Data from CRN’s (Council of Responsible Nutrition) consumer survey reveals that more than eight in 10 (85 percent) supplement users believe their health care provider is knowledgeable about supplements—but communication is key. Physicians report most of their patients are taking supplements, often without full knowledge of what they are doing or what will work best for them. Integrative health care practitioners typically support their patients with dietary supplement guidance every step of the way.
Nearly three in 10 Americans have initiated or increased their use of supplements, according to a recent Harris Poll survey commissioned by the Samueli Foundation. The data aligns with the CRN 2020 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, which indicates that more than two in five (43 percent) dietary supplement users have changed their supplement routines since the start of the pandemic. Among those who altered their regimens due to COVID-19, 91 percent report increasing their supplement intake.
Additional survey data from New Hope Network and NEXT Data & Insights’ June 2021 Changing Consumer Survey shows U.S. consumer health satisfaction has declined from 67 percent (2017) to 54 percent (2021). Americans want to become healthier, and, along with diet and lifestyle, supplementation plays an important role in maintaining and supporting health and wellness. Health care providers have an important role to play in guiding patients in their use of dietary supplements.
How can supplement manufacturers that serve health care practitioners who interact with patients directly get the support they need? The CRN provides that support—a resource and home for companies in the dietary supplement industry that serve the practitioner marketplace. CRN’s recently-formed Health Care Practitioner Forum (HCPF) will convene in early October to address topics of interest to this growing category.
Marketers of branded products, distributors, contract manufacturers, suppliers of specialized ingredients and service providers (including consultants, media groups, law firms, and providers of specialized technologies) that support the practitioner channel would benefit from participating in the HCPF.
The first meeting of the HCPF on Oct. 6, 2021 will focus on the current legal status of N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) in relationship to the practitioner market with a presentation by Megan Olsen, vice president and associate general counsel at CRN. NAC is often used by integrative health care practitioners, and there are concerns about the regulatory status of the ingredient following a number of 2020 FDA warning letters about the ingredient’s use in supplements.
In 2020, FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) arbitrarily declared that NAC was not a legal dietary supplement ingredient because it was first approved as a drug, citing a section of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) that precludes supplement use if an ingredient was used first as a drug. NAC has been used safely in supplements for decades with no objection from FDA. Olsen will discuss the status of FDA’s 2020 determination, CRN’s citizen petition which argued FDA’s position to block NAC in supplements is legally invalid and called for the agency to rescind its position, congressional outreach on NAC, and actions some retailers are taking in regard to NAC.
The meeting will also include a discussion of the CRN Foundation’s Vitamin D & Me! online consumer education initiative on vitamin D and COVID-19 research. The website contains summaries of research studies, video interviews with experts and clinicians, breaking news, and educational content about vitamin D and COVID-19. The research page contains a growing body of study summaries on vitamin D and COVID-19, with more than 60 currently on the site. The site’s video interviews are with top vitamin D experts, including Vatsal Thakkar, MD; Carol Wagner, MD; and Bruce Hollis, PhD, with more interviews with high-profile researchers coming soon.
Lastly, the meeting will provide information on the Supplement Online Wellness Library (OWL), the industry-wide dietary supplement transparency initiative, and how it can be used by health care practitioners and their patients to find clear information about dietary supplements in the marketplace. The Supplement OWL includes dietary supplement labels and key information on current products in the market from manufacturers that demonstrate transparency to their stakeholders.
The HCPF will provide unique programming and networking that complements CRN’s Retailer Relations Forum, which caters to products primarily sold through traditional chain drug, grocery, mass and club channels. The group will provide opportunities for staff at CRN member companies to stay up-to-date on marketing, scientific, regulatory, legislative, sector developments and practitioner requirements and expectations that will impact their business, as well as issues specific to this channel.
The practitioner channel is a growing and important sector within the dietary supplement industry, projected to represent about 10 percent of supplement sales in the coming years. CRN acknowledges this trend and the importance of health care practitioners in dietary supplement guidance, which has led to the establishment of the HCPF.
If you are part of a dietary supplement company that serves the practitioner channel, you should make it a priority to join the CRN Health Care Practitioners Forum.
Luke Huber, ND, MBA is vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN.