(HealthDay News) – More seniors than ever are taking supplements alongside their medications, a practice that puts them at risk for dangerous drug interactions, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Dima Qato, PharmD, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacy systems at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues first interviewed 2351 older adults (age 62 to 85) about their medication/supplement use in 2005, and then they surveyed another 2206 seniors in 2011.

The investigators found that the number of patients taking at least 5 prescription drugs rose from 30.6% to 35.8% during the study period. In addition, the number of seniors taking 5 or more medications or supplements increased from 53.4% to 67.1%. Over the same period, the use of over-the-counter medications dropped from 44.4% to 37.9%, while the use of dietary supplements rose from 51.8% to 63.7%. The most common supplements used were multivitamins or mineral supplements and calcium.

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In a second study in the same journal, Judy Jou, from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Pamela Jo Johnson, MPH, PhD, from the Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota, analyzed survey data for 7493 adults. Of these, 42.3% did not tell their doctor about the supplements they were taking or alternative treatments they were trying.


  1.  Qato DM, Wilder J, Schumm P, Gillet V, Alexander C. Changes in Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medication and Dietary Supplement Use Among Older Adults in the United States, 2005 vs 2011. JAMA Intern Med. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.8581.
  2. Jou J, Johnson PJ. Nondisclosure of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use to Primary Care Physicians: Findings From the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. JAMA Intern Med. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.8593.
  3. Steinman MA. Polypharmacy–Time to Get Beyond Numbers. JAMA Intern Med. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.8597.