Drug metabolism in the elderly: A multifactorial problem?

Rosemary Waring, S. C. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
540 Downloads (Pure)


Whether or not an individual’s drug metabolising capacity declines with advancing age is a vexing question. There is no clear evidence that drug metabolism itself (‘the biologically-assisted chemical alteration of the administered parent molecule’) is less efficient in healthy old age than at younger ages, whereas a decreased capacity may be associated with ill-health and frailty. However, elderly individuals do show a reduced enzyme induction capability and are less able to tolerate overdoses. It appears that the majority of deleterious clinical outcomes related to drug therapy in an elderly (usually ill or frail) population may be ascribed to various anatomical and physiological age-related changes. These may affect both pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, but not necessarily drug metabolism. Information gleaned from animal studies undertaken mainly in rodents does not seem to be of relevance to humans and studies in healthy aged human populations may not highlight possible problems. However, certain circumstances may influence metabolic competence, and phenotyping rather than genotyping is of more value in identifying those susceptible to adverse drug reactions. This short review discusses the potential contributions of four factors (inflammation, circadian rhythm, gut microbes, epigenetic aspects) which may lead to alterations in drug metabolism with increasing age.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-32
Early online date18 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • Age effect
  • Xenobiosis
  • Inflammation
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Gut microbiota
  • Epigenetic factors


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