Six out of 10 chronic patients who take health supplements regularly do not consult doctors and roughly a third say they rely on treatment recommendations from relatives or friends, according to a new survey.
The Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation survey, conducted between July and September, showed taking health supplements was popular among chronic patients although many did not understand their effectiveness or possible side-effects.
Twenty-nine per cent could not identify whether the supplements they were taking were genuine or fake.
The survey interviewed 815 clients suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and rheumatism, who sought service at the society.
It found that about 80 per cent of the respondents were taking one or two health supplements regularly, with 9 per cent taking four or more health supplements at the same time. Among the popular health supplements they consumed were vitamin pills, fish oil and Chinese medicine pills.
However, 60 per cent did not consult their doctors before taking the supplements. Slightly more than 25 per cent said they would choose a supplement according to their own knowledge of it, while 32 per cent said they would listen to relatives or friends. And 16 per cent said they learned about the effectiveness of supplements from advertisements.
The most important factors affecting patients' choice of health supplements were 'effectiveness as claimed in research cited', 'price', 'reputation of the brand name', and 'information contained in promotional material'.
Daisy Lam Po-yu, associate director of the Drug Education Resources Centre, warned that taking health supplements without medical guidance could do more harm than good.
Lam, a pharmacist, cited a case in which a 46-year-old patient with diabetes and metabolic arthritis saw her blood-sugar level rise significantly two weeks after she took mulberry juice, which was said to be able to ease metabolic arthritis.
Health foods have become more popular in Hong Kong because many people, especially those who miss meals because of a hectic schedule, believe taking food supplements can help them to maintain good health.
Leung Kam-tao, senior manager of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, urged people to develop healthy living habits, which, he said, was more important and effective than taking health supplements.