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When should older Americans start taking blood pressure medication?

A doctor checks the blood pressure of a patient at the J.W.C.H. safety-net clinic in the center of skid row in downtown Los Angeles July 30, 2007.
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook and CBS News contributor Dr. Holly Phillips discussed on "CBS This Morning: Saturday" the major medical stories of the week.

According to a new report by a panel of experts, some older Americans who are taking medication for high blood pressure don't need to. For decades doctors recommended that patients over 60 start medication if their blood pressure was 140/90 or higher.

After reviewing a large body of evidence, the panel says people over 60 can wait to be treated with medicine until their blood pressure reaches 150/90. They found when it came to heart attack or stroke in those over 60 there was no clear benefit to lowering the number to 140.

LaPook told the “CBS This Morning” co-hosts that these changes in guidelines will impact the 67 million Americans who have high blood pressure.

“The estimate is that maybe about seven and a half million Americans over the age of 60 now don’t necessarily have to take medication, whereas before, under the old guidelines, they would,” he said.

LaPook also said that lifestyle changes might be more helpful for some people than medication, but it’s not going to be easy.

“It’s really tough because people like to eat. They don’t like to exercise; they like to pop pills,” he said. “We have to change that whole culture … one of the reasons for these changing recommendations is that it’s not benign to take medication when you’re older. If you’re over the age of 60 and you’re taking medication for blood pressure, you may be taking other medicines. There may be interactions.”

However, LaPook said when you do exercise, lose weight and eat right, “there are no side effects to that.”

Also this week, a top medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, strongly advised most Americans to stop taking vitamins. The publication said vitamins are largely useless and can be dangerous.

Phillips told the “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-hosts that “the authors of this study really wanted to make it a final word on vitamins and supplements.”

“Despite the fact that 53 percent of Americans take some type of vitamin or supplement, there hadn’t really been a general consensus on whether or not it’s necessary,” she said.

She also explained that the journal looked at “three very large well-done persuasive studies” in order to come to their conclusion.

“The first found there was no improvement in chronic diseases and cancer from taking supplements. The second found no improvement in cognitive decline or memory, and finally the third found there was no improvement or protection against repeat heart attack or overall death from heart attack,” said Phillips.  

Because vitamins are a big market, bringing in $28 billion a year, according to Phillips, the reaction from the supplement industry has not been good.

“The idea is that less than 10 percent of Americans have any nutritional deficiencies, so that $28 billion is likely better spent on more nutritious food, rather than taking pills,” she said.  

Check out more from Morning Rounds with Dr. LaPook