Time for complementary medicines to show proof

It’s time to end the marketing practices that can mislead people about the health benefits of many complementary medicine products and require complementary medicines to show whether or not they have proven efficacy, the Consumers Health Forum says.

“The Four Corners program last night conveyed the growing scale of the multi-billion complimentary medicines industry and the urgent need for consumers to be armed with authoritative information about the products many are paying heavily for,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said.

“We are heartened to hear that the Therapeutic Goods Administration is considering a plan to make it much clearer to consumers which complementary products have proven efficacy and which don’t.

“The Consumers Health Forum has argued for years that there is a simple and evidence-based way of making it clear to consumers whether a product has any therapeutic value. That is to have a TGA note on labels stating whether or not the product has convinced authorities of its efficacy.

“The complementary medicines industry argues that their products must be okay because they already go through the respected TGA process and must only be produced using ingredients approved as low risk by the TGA.  But that process does not include a check of the efficacy of most of these products. That’s all the more reason why we need to have a clear signal from the TGA about the therapeutic worth of these products.

“It is not good enough to say that as the products do no harm, there need not be a clear indication of their efficacy. Low risk does not equal a health benefit. 

“This is particularly important when we consider that Australians’ out of pocket costs for healthcare are already relatively high. We need informed consumers spending money on the right medicines and interventions, including good food and preventive health services, that will yield benefit for them. This includes circumstances where some form of complementary medicine can make a difference health-wise, such as folate for pregnant women.    

“It’s also important because we know from research that over 60% of Australians have low health literacy which means they don’t necessarily have the information, skills and confidence to weigh up what they hear in the  marketing compared with the facts about health benefits.   

“Pharmacists are seeking to expand their roles as health care providers, in areas such as medication checks and immunisation. This is a welcome move as pharmacists are highly trusted and accessible health professionals who have a duty of care under their own code of to provide consumers with the best available information on medications and potential side effects, drug interactions and risks of harm.

“When these expected clinical practices are not followed, pharmacists put in jeopardy their authority as health care providers by promoting complementary products as medicines when most products have no proven efficacy.

“In this ‘post truth’ era it is important that consumers have a clear idea of which products are proven.   Many consumers believe that because the product is sold in a pharmacy it must be worthwhile.  Consumers are spending billions of dollars a year on these products when often what they might often need is a prescribed medicine or some other form of health service.”




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Mark Metherell

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