Many seniors today are interested in natural medicine options. In this article, we discuss the issues of particular importance to this age group.

Natural Treatments Advocated for Seniors in General

Marginal nutritional deficiencies occur more often in older people than in most other age groups. For this reason, many seniors could benefit from enhancing nutrition. For information on this topic, see general nutritional support .

Some proponents of alternative medicine advocate products and treatments for the purpose of life extension. However, despite some promising results in test tube and other preliminary studies, there is no meaningful evidence that any alternative treatment can prolong life.

Numerous natural supplements have been promoted as fountains-of-youth for seniors, said to enhance life in multiple ways, including restoring youthful levels of energy, well-being, and mental function. However, there is again no evidence to indicate that any of these are effective. One such hormone, the widely hyped DHEA , has actually been fairly convincingly shown ineffective for this purpose. 1–7,14,15

A study published in 1990 created hopes that the human growth hormone (somatotropin or HGH) could increase strength and reverse many symptoms of aging in men. 8 However, subsequent evidence suggests that HGH is not useful for this purpose. 9 In any case, despite widespread marketing, HGH cannot be successfully used as an oral supplement because it is destroyed by stomach acid. (In the positive trial just described, it was administered intravenously.) Various amino acids and other supplements are marketed as HGH-releasers on the premise that they cause the body to increase HGH production. However, there is no reliable evidence that they actually do so to any meaningful extent; in any case, since HGH itself is no fountain-of-youth, this potential effect is of little significance.

Anabolic hormones have also failed to prove useful for enhancing strength in older people. The supplements creatine10–12 and HMB (hydroxymethyl butyrate)13 have shown a bit of promise for this purpose, but the evidence for benefit remains weak.

Note that there is one natural approach guaranteed to enhance strength in seniors: exercise. There is little doubt that increasing exercise is one of the most health-positive steps available for people of any age.

Finally, some evidence suggests that vitamin D supplements may improve balance (technically, reduce body sway) in frail seniors, and thereby help prevent falls. 16,17 However, not all studies have found benefits. 18

Safety Concerns

Many people implicitly believe that “natural” means “safe.” However, there is no scientific reason to believe that this should be the case. Many of today’s drugs are highly safe, while some herbs and supplements present real safety risks. For information any on issues relevant to any particular substance, see it's entry in the Herbs & Supplements .

Perhaps the biggest issue of concern is interactions between natural supplements and medications. For more information on possible interactions with medications you are taking, see the Drug Interactions section.