Nearly half of all women 65 and older now use herbal products to feel better, but don't tell their doctors

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Nearly half of all women over 65 now use herbal therapies to prevent or treat health problems, but they rarely inform their health-care providers, according to a new University of Florida study.

Because many of these women also take prescription and over-the-counter medications, they are putting themselves at risk for dangerous drug interactions, nurse researchers say. "People may think herbal remedies are safe because they are natural and take them even though they don't know if the product is effective," said Saun-Joo Yoon, a visiting assistant professor and graduate of the UF College of Nursing. "But these products can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines that may result either in serious complications or ineffective treatment for serious health conditions."

In a study of 86 senior women reported in the January issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, UF nurse researchers found 45 percent had used an average of 2.5 herbal products in the previous year. The women reported 85 percent of the remedies were used on a continual basis and had been used on average for nearly three years.

In the first study to specifically target herbal product use among older women, participants also reported taking an average of 3.2 prescribed medicines and 3.8 over-the-counter medicines, such as aspirin, vitamins and calcium, said Yoon, who also is associated with the UF Institute on Aging.

Previous studies by other researchers have looked at herbal remedies as only one of many different alternative therapies or at younger users of herbal products. In the current study, research participants were selected from a pool of 8,344 women 65 and older in North Central Florida. In face-to-face interviews in 1998, the participants reported they had used a total of 98 herbal products in the previous year.

The most frequently reported herbal products were ginkgo biloba (alone or in combination with other herbs), garlic tablet

Contact: Catherine Clay-Antoine
University of Florida

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