Take complementary medicines with care

Following the broadcast of the ABC’s Four Corners episode last night on complementary medicines, NPS MedicineWise is reminding people to take these medicines with care.

Many people like to use complementary medicines, which include natural and herbal medicines, alternative or holistic remedies, traditional remedies, homeopathy, aromatherapy oils, and vitamins and minerals (although these can be part of medical treatment too).

NPS MedicineWise CEO Dr Lynn Weekes says that over 50% of all calls to Medicines Line about complementary medicines are questions about drug interactions – with the the most enquiries regarding Vitamin D and calcium preparations, multivitamin products, fish oil and other marine oil preparations, glucosamine products and St John's wort.

“Although complementary medicines can have benefits, they can still have side effects, interactions, and cause allergic reactions, and they also undergo less testing in general compared to other types of medicines, so they still need to be used with care,” says Dr Weekes.

With complementary medicines in the spotlight, NPS MedicineWise is strongly encouraging people to be open with their health professional and tell them about all the prescription and non-prescription medicines they are taking

“Talk to your pharmacist or doctor in the first instance to find out whether a complementary medicine might be the right course of treatment for you,” says Dr Weekes

“Remember to ask if there will be any effect on your other prescription or non-prescription medicines

“Your health professional can help guide you when it comes to choosing a complementary medicine, how much to take, how often to take the medicine, and what side effects and interactions to look out for.”

The free MedicineList+ smartphone app by NPS MedicineWise is one tool to help you or someone you care for to keep a complete list of all your prescription, non-prescription and complementary medicines. The app helps you keep track of what you’re taking and when you should take it, it offers reminders, and allows you to share your list with a health professional.

Dr Weekes has one final tip for anyone looking on the internet to find out more about, or to buy complementary medicines.

“Finding good information on the internet can be tricky, as there are thousands of websites providing information about complementary medicines—but you need to keep in mind that many of these are designed to sell products, and the information they provide is often not reliable,” she says.

“There are also potential pitfalls and risks when it comes to buying complementary medicines online. There’s no certainty that something you buy from an overseas website has been manufactured to Australian standards, and even a product with the same brand name as an Australian product may have completely different active ingredients. Essentially, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Further reading

To read more about using complementary medicines, go to www.nps.org.au/using-complementary-medicines

For more information about how medicines are approved for sale in Australia, visit www.nps.org.au/topics/how-to-be-medicinewise/regulation-clinical-trials/tga-approval

For more information on the Government rules for complementary medicines sold in Australia, see the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s web page on The regulation of complementary medicines in Australia – an overview: http://www.tga.gov.au/overview-regulation-complementary-medicines-australia

Telephone services

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, including questions about side effects and medicine interactions, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).

If you experience a significant side effect relating to your medicines, it’s important to contact your health professional. You are also able to report this to the Therapeutic Goods Administration via the NPS Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237.

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