ALSOP reveals widespread use of complementary medicine in older Australians

Mar 30, 2021

First comprehensive data on complementary medicine use by community-dwelling older Australians


Almost 75% of participants in the ALSOP (ASPREE Longitudinal Study of Older Persons) study reported occasionally or regularly taking complementary medicines, such as fish oil, vitamin D, glucosamine and calcium supplements.

ALSOP is one of the several ASPREE sub-studies in the clinical trial. More than 14,700 Australian participants reported their complementary medicine use between January 2012 – July 2015.

This is the first time comprehensive information has been collected on complementary medicine use by Australians aged 70 years and older residing in metropolitan and regional parts of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, Wollongong and southern New South Wales.

Above: Member of the ASPREE -XT field staff Aimee Lefevre, is grateful to publish her honours project in the Medical Journal of Australia.

ASPREE-XT field staff member, Aimee Lefevre (pictured), led the analysis as part of her Honours degree research project, with supervision from senior researchers Dr Alice Owen, A/Prof Ingrid Hopper and Prof John McNeil.

The study collected data from the first round of ALSOP questionnaires, finding that 10,960 (74%) of respondents take complementary medicines either daily or occasionally.

The most commonly reported item was fish oil (45% of respondents), vitamin D (34%), glucosamine (27%) and calcium supplements (25%).

Sixteen per cent took multivitamins and 13% vitamin C, while 9% reported taking vitamin B and Chinese herbal medicines/ or other.

Overall, the study found that more women than men used complementary medicines (82% vs 65%).

Participants with a history of depression or osteoarthritis took more supplements than those without – depression (24% vs 20%) and osteoarthritis (58% vs 44%) respectively.

On the other hand, self-reported diabetes was more common in non-users than among complementary medicine users (10% vs 7%).

The research has offered a first-time valuable insight into the prevalent use of complementary medicine in Australia.

More than half the Australian population takes complementary medicines, spending an estimated $5.2billion dollars in 2019.

The ALSOP findings were published in the Medical Journal of Australia in January 2021.

Aimee Lefevre, a Monash University biomedical science graduate, was delighted to work on the analysis.

“I’m really grateful for the help from my supervisors and that we were able to publish my honours project in the MJA,” said Aimee.

“The findings provide the most comprehensive information to date on the complementary medicine use by Australians over 70 years of age, and this is important to understand because complementary medicines can be a significant out-of-pocket health cost” added Dr Owen.

The authors recommend all patients speak with their GP about their complementary medicine use as some medications may interact with others.

Dr Owen and A/Prof Hopper further discuss the findings in a MJA podcast and media release.

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