Warning over dodgy ingredients in complementary medicines

A pharmacist has warned of the dangers in taking complementary supplements. Source: Getty

Australians have been urged to keep their doctors up to date with the specific details of any complementary medicines they’re taking, in an effort to reduce the risk of further health issues.

Consultant clinical pharmacist Geraldine Moses has warned Aussies of the unknown dangers of taking natural products to treat illness, revealing the labelling on them can be misleading and unclear – so if your GP is unaware of exactly what you’re taking, it could pose dangers further down the line.

In an article published by NPS MedicineWise, the pharmacist from Mater Health Services in Brisbane explained the ‘light-touch regulation’ of medications supplied by herbalists and homeopaths can pose serious risks to health.

Moses called on all Australians taking complementary supplements to inform their GPs not just of the medicines they’re using, but also of the specific brand names and doses, as there’s often no way of actually knowing what’s in each product.

Unlike registered medicines in Australia, complementary meds are classified by the TGA as ‘listed’ medicines – meaning they don’t need to prove contents, efficacy or pre-approval of labelling and product information before marketing. In other words, the supplement can be approved with the stated ingredients on the label simply accepted on trust.

It’s for this reason Moses said it’s necessary to give all information possible to GPs, to ensure they have what they need to then research the product themselves and find out the exact ingredients included – avoiding any future health risks when prescribing other medication to the patient.

“The brand name of the complementary medicine should be recorded, to show exactly which product the patient is taking along with its dose and duration,” she explained.

“Without knowing the product name, a full assessment of which substances the patient is exposed to and their drug interaction potential cannot be made.”

The latest announcement follows warnings earlier this year of the potentially harmful effects of taking unproven complementary medicines and therapies, with fears Aussies could end up in a dire condition with very little cash.

Read more: Health warning as complementary medicine popularity continues to grow

In the last 10 years the Australian complementary medicine industry revenue has doubled to $4.9M annually, including $630M on herbal products and $430M on weight loss products in 2017.

In a bid to crackdown on any issues resulting from taking the medicines, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released its updated Position Statement on Complementary Medicine 2018. This reflected changes to state laws and national monitoring systems that have come into place since the Position Statement was last reviewed in 2011-12.

According to AMA President Dr Tony Bartone, while the AMA recognises the evidence-based aspects of complementary medicine, there is little evidence to support the therapeutic claims made for most of these medicines and therapies.

He claimed the majority of complementary medicines don’t meet the same standards of safety, quality and efficacy as mainstream medicines, as they aren’t as rigorously tested, causing much concern for Australians.

“Some can cause adverse reactions, or interact with conventional medicine,” he said in a statement. “Most just don’t do anything at all.

“But they do pose a risk to patient health, either directly through misuse, or indirectly if a patient puts off seeking medical advice, or has spent so much on these products that they cannot afford necessary, evidence-based treatment.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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