Complementary Health Approaches

Talk With Your Health Care Providers

A 2010 survey by AARP and NIH found that 53 percent of people aged 50 and older have used complementary health approaches at some point in their lives. However, only 58 percent of those who had used complementary approaches had discussed them with their health care providers.

Why didn’t some people discuss complementary health approaches with their health care providers? The most common reason, according to the survey, was that the provider never asked. The second most common reason was that people didn’t know they should.

Why Tell Your Health Care Providers?

Giving your health care providers a full picture of what you do to manage your health helps you stay in control. Some complementary health approaches can have an effect on conventional health care. For example, some dietary supplements can interact with medication or cause problems if you have surgery.

Many older adults have chronic health conditions, and many take prescription drugs. These factors can affect the safety of complementary approaches. Your health care provider is the best person to give you advice on what’s right for you.

It’s very common for older adults to take both prescription medications and dietary supplements. In one study of people aged 75 and older, researchers found that almost three-quarters of the study participants took at least one prescription drug and one dietary supplement. About one-third took three or more prescription drugs along with three or more dietary supplements. So there are a lot of chances for interactions to occur.

What To Share

Be proactive. Don’t wait for your health care providers to ask about your use of complementary health approaches. Bring up the topic yourself.

Tell your health care providers about all health products and practices you use, both conventional and complementary. Talking to them about your use of complementary approaches helps them to be fully informed partners in your health care.

When you fill out patient history forms at a medical office or hospital, list all over-the-counter and prescription medicines you use and all dietary supplements or other natural products you take. Also, list other complementary health approaches you use, like chiropractic or massage therapy. It may help to make a list in advance and bring it with you.

What To Ask

If you're considering a new complementary health approach, ask your health care providers about its safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with medicines. It is especially important to talk with your health care providers if you are

  • taking any medicines
  • planning to have surgery
  • thinking about stopping (or not starting) conventional treatment for a medical problem.

For More Information

See Talking With Your Doctor, for helpful tips on communicating with your health care provider.

Visit the website National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s (NCCIH) for