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Natural Products for the elderly

By Shaun Holt

As well as often taking a large number of pharmaceutical medicines, older people are also big users of natural products.

The reason why older people use natural products is that they offer gentler and safer approaches to addressing common health conditions, especially considering the frequent side effects that they experience from taking pharmaceutical medicines.

There are of course risks and herb-drug interactions are an important consideration. For example, ginkgo biloba, ginger and other popular herbs can have interactions with blood thinning medications.

However, on the positive side, the use of natural products can increase therapeutic options and promote patient empowerment. Some of the most important natural products that are frequently used by the elderly are:

Chondroitin and glucosamine

Around 50% of people who are 55 or older have chronic musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the hip/thigh, knee and ankle/foot areas. Many bodies such as the American College of Rheumatology Guidelines and the NHS in the UK do not recommend chondroitin and glucosamine. However, a major new study of 606 patients with moderate to severe knee pain, due to osteoarthritis, has just been published. They found that a combination of chondroitin & glucosamine was as effective as a commonly prescribed steroid in reducing pain, stiffness and joint swelling in patients with painful knee osteoarthritis.


Coenzyme Q10 is a potent antioxidant which is very effective in reducing high blood pressure (BP).

A review of eight published trials of CoQ10 in high BP patients found a decrease in systolic BP of 17 mmHg and in diastolic BP of 10 mmHg. The recommended dose of CoQ10 as a supplement for adults is 30 - 200 mg daily.

Although it is better known for its effect in reducing cholesterol, omega 3 fish oil can also lower BP. An analysis of 36 randomised trials found that it reduced systolic BP by 2.1 mmHg and diastolic BP by 1.6 mmHg. The reduction was larger in people 45 years and older.

Valerian and kava

Not sleeping well is a common complaint for senior people; however, it may not actually be a problem. We need less sleep as we get older and elderly people need as little as 6 hours. So what may be perceived as a problem may actually just be a result of normal physiology.

Valerian and kava are both effective for sleep and relaxation, but be aware of possible side effects/drug interactions. Milder natural products to help with sleep and relaxation include chamomile taken as a tea and lavender, inhaled as a vapour.

Vitamin D

A recent statement from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society stated that older patients need vitamin D to lower their risk of falls and fractures.

It said that “...dietary sources, sunlight, and supplements can all contribute to vitamin D levels of around 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L), which appears to protect against fall-related injuries.”

Vitamin D maintains muscle strength to prevent falls and bone strength to prevent fractures if a fall occurs.