According to the program it was advised that elderly low income group North Carolinians were provided with five short classes regarding managing their dietary supplements.
Participants in the program took more multivitamins and calcium supplements and were more likely to read the labels on dietary supplements than adults who did not take the classes. The program also persuaded more people to carry a list of their medications and discuss supplement use with their doctors. Although the overall effects seem small, study authors Roger Mitchell, Ph.D. and colleagues at North Carolina State University 'view the results as encouraging,' Mitchell said.
The number of people who said they talked to their doctors about supplement use increased by 12 percent in the group taking the classes, compared with 3 percent in the group who did not get the educational program. The report appears in the journal Health Education & Behavior. 'The program also worked for those older adults who might be in greatest need of change,' Mitchell said. For example, 19 percent of people who did not use calcium supplements at the beginning of study said they took the supplements 'often' or 'almost always' after participating in the classes. Only 7 percent of people in the comparison group made a similar change.
The study included 703 low-income, older women and men residents who ate communal meals as part of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension program. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group participated in the supplement education classes dubbed 'Pills, Potions and Powders' while the other group attended sessions about weight management and exercise. The extension program offered the supplement program because calcium and vitamin deficiencies are common among older adults who might participate in the communal meals.
Older adults who are less educated and have lower incomes than some of their peers are less likely to use dietary supplements, Mitchell and colleagues say. However herbal supplements are widely used by the elderly, even those with low incomes, the researchers say. 'As people get older and have a number of ailments, medication doesn't always help and people resort to trying out herbal supplements. There is the notion that anything herbal is natural and cannot be harmful,' said Nadine Sahyoun, Ph.D., an expert in elder nutrition at the University of Maryland. Sahyoun said that older people with higher incomes tend to use herbal supplements as preventive medicine, while poorer adults may use them as a substitute for traditional medicines.
Mitchell said the education programs like the one studied could help older adults become savvier about herbal supplements. 'Given the small amount of discretionary funds that low-income older adults have, the savings provided by a reduced use of suspect products may be significant,' he said.