1 in 6 Seniors Takes Dangerous Combos of Meds, Supplements: Study

More seniors than ever are taking supplements alongside their medications, a practice that puts them at risk for dangerous drug interactions, researchers report.

More than 15 percent of older Americans took potentially life-threatening combinations of prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements in 2011, the study showed. That was almost a twofold increase from 2005, when 8.4 percent of seniors did so.

“Alongside the growing use of multiple medications, there is also a hidden, and increasing, risk of potentially deadly drug interactions in older adults,” said lead researcher Dr. Dima Qato. She is an assistant professor of pharmacy systems at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Many of these interactions involved heart drugs and supplements, such as omega-3 fish oil supplements, which are more commonly used now than they were five years ago, Qato said.

To be on the safe side, patients should always tell their doctor and pharmacist about all of the drugs and supplements they are taking, or plan to take, including over-the-counter medications, she said.

“A medication or supplement may be safe and beneficial when you use it alone, but when you mix it with other medications or supplements, it can be very dangerous,” Qato explained.

The report was published online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Qato’s team first interviewed more than 2,300 older adults about their medication/supplement use in 2005, and then they surveyed another 2,200 seniors in 2011. Participants were aged 62 to 85.

The investigators found that the number of people taking at least five prescription drugs rose from over 30 percent to almost 36 percent during the study period. In addition, the number of seniors taking five or more medications or supplements increased from over 53 percent to slightly over 67 percent.

Over the same period, the use of over-the-counter medications dropped from slightly over 44 percent to almost 38 percent, while the use of dietary supplements rose from close to 52 percent to almost 64 percent, the researchers found.

The most common supplements used were multivitamins or mineral supplements and calcium, the study authors noted.

It’s not enough to know the number of medications and supplements patients are taking, because it doesn’t tell which are helping and which are hurting, said Dr. Michael Steinman, author of an accompanying journal editorial. Steinman is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We need to identify what the problems are and devise ways to help people avoid these problems,” he said.

For example, St. John’s wort, which is often taken for depression, can affect how other drugs work. These drugs include immunosuppressants, some HIV/AIDS drugs, birth control pills, the blood thinner warfarin, the heart drug digoxin and some tranquilizers (such as Xanax), according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Another study in the same journal found that doctors are often remiss in asking their patients about their use of complementary and alternative medicines.

On the flip side, many patients are often afraid to tell their doctor about the supplements they are taking, the researchers said.

For the study, Judy Jou, from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, analyzed survey data for nearly 7,500 adults. Of these, just over 42 percent did not tell their doctor about the supplements they were taking or alternative treatments they were trying.

“Not telling primary care providers about using complementary and alternative medicines can be dangerous, especially if the type being used creates adverse interactions with any medical treatments that a patient might be undergoing concurrently,” Jou said.

Examples of this include the use of herbs and supplements that interact negatively with prescription drugs or movement-based therapies, such as yoga, that counteract prescribed physical therapy, she explained.

The study participants who were least likely to report alternative therapies were those who did yoga, tai chi or qi gong, and those who practiced meditation or mindfulness. Adults who used herbs or supplements and who had acupuncture were more likely to disclose, the researchers found.

When patients didn’t tell their doctor about these practices, it was most often because their doctor didn’t ask or patients felt the doctor didn’t need to know, Jou said.

“Encouraging discussion of complementary and alternative medicine use can help prevent medical complications that may arise from simultaneous use of conventional and complementary and alternative medicines and treatments, as well as improving communication and trust between patients and providers,” she said.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

In Pictures: Sandwiches of Cafe in Japan

School Breakfasts Contribute to Healthy Weight, Study Finds

Michael Greenwood wrote . . . . .

Middle school students who eat breakfast at school — even if they have already had breakfast at home — are less likely to be overweight or obese than students who skip breakfast, says a new study by the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) at the Yale School of Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

The findings, published today in the journal Pediatric Obesity, bring new evidence to the ongoing debate over policy efforts to increase daily school breakfast consumption. Previous research has shown that eating breakfast is associated with improved academic performance, better health, and healthy body weight for students. But there have been concerns that a second breakfast at school following breakfast at home could increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain.

“Our study does not support those concerns,” said Jeannette Ickovics, the paper’s senior author, director of CARE, and a professor at Yale School of Public Health. “Providing a healthy breakfast to students at school helps alleviate food insecurity and is associated with students maintaining a healthy weight.”

The study involved 584 middle school students from 12 schools in an urban school district where breakfast and lunch are provided to all students at no cost. Researchers tracked the students’ breakfast-eating locations and patterns, and their weight over a two-year period from 5th grade in 2011-2012 to 7th grade in 2013-2014.

Specifically, the study found that:

  • Students who skipped or ate breakfast inconsistently were more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared with students who ate double breakfasts.
  • The weight changes from 5th to 7th grade for the students who ate double breakfasts was no different than the weight changes measured for all of the other students.

“When it comes to the relationship between school breakfast and body weight, our study suggests that two breakfasts are better than none,” said Marlene Schwartz, a study author and director of the Rudd Center.

The study holds implications for advocates and policy makers working to reverse the nation’s childhood obesity problem. Approximately one-third of American children between the ages of 6 and 11 are overweight or obese, with higher rates among black and Hispanic children than white children. School breakfast promotion initiatives have begun, but evidence is needed to ensure these efforts do not lead to the consumption of excess calories among children at risk for obesity.

Source: Yale University

Curry Beef Bread


4 slices white bread, crust removed
100 g ground beef
1 tbsp carrot dices
1/4 onion, diced
1 tbsp corn kernel
1/2 tbsp OK sauce
1/2 tbsp ketchup
1 to 2 tbsp Japanese curry paste
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp wheat flour
1 beaten egg
breadcrumb for coating
ketchup and mayonnaise for garnish


  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Stir-fry beef, onion, corn and carrot. Add water and cook until soft.
  2. Add curry, ketchup and OK sauce. Mix and cook for a while. Add wheat flower and cook until thickened. Remove and set aside.
  3. Press the bread thinner with a rolling pin. Cut into oval shapes.
  4. Spoon the beef stuffing on the bread. Brush the edge of the bread with beaten egg.
  5. Cover with another piece of bread and press the edges of the breads together.
  6. Dip the bread in the beaten egg and then coat it with breadcrumb.
  7. Fry the bread in hot oil until golden brown and remove.
  8. Garnish with ketchup and mayonnaise before serving.

Source: Hong Kong magazine

In Pictures: Home-cooked Chinese Breakfasts

Today’s Comic