Complementary medicines

Complementary medicines make a range of claims about their effectiveness, but these claims are not always backed up with sound evidence.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:2 Dec 2008
 

01 .Introduction

Mother caring for sick child

The issue

Complementary medicines make a range of claims about their effectiveness, but these claims are not always backed up with sound evidence.

Worse, in some cases, complementary medicines can harm consumers’ health. Current regulatory action does not do enough to protect consumers.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) classifies medicines into two main categories, 'Listed' and 'Registered', but most consumers don't know the difference.

Listed (AUST L) medicines:

  • are considered to be 'low risk' by the TGA
  • companies are required to hold evidence to prove they work but are often not asked to produce it
  • complementary medicines generally fall into this category, for example, herbal medicines, vitamins and mineral supplements.

Registered (AUST R) medicines:

  • are considered to be 'high risk' by the TGA
  • are subject to stringent testing for safety, quality and efficacy
  • prescription drugs usually fall into this category, for example, antibiotics

The TGA claim that approximately 25% of new listing applications are assessd each year for compliance with requirements, including that sponsors must hold evidence to support promotional claims made. However, we understand that the TGA does not assess this evidence for quality, nor are literature searches performed to see if more recent clinical trial evidence contradicts that submitted by the sponsor. Our Choice investigation into weight loss products found that the evidence companies hold is often insufficient to substantiate the claims made.

There are over 16,000 complementary medicines listed with the TGA. The industry enjoys an annual retail turnover of more than $800 million. This is not surprising as more than half of Australia’s population has used at least one complementary medicine.

Just because you don’t need a prescription, doesn’t mean it’s completely safe. Although complementary medicines are considered ‘low risk’ by the TGA, they can still harm consumers by producing side-effects and interacting with other drugs. Three percent of reports to the Adverse Drug Reactions Unit (ADRU) of the TGA are for complementary medicines and another 3% for over the counter products. It depends on how your body reacts to different drugs and what other medication you are taking.

Apart from health consequences, financial costs are also a concern. It is natural to make an assumption that because a product is on the market, that it's effective and has been tested. Consumers may be wasting money on products which simply do not work.

We support consumers having the right to choose from a variety of treatments offered in teh market place. However, good decision-making requires evidence-based information about risks and benefits, regardless of whether the medicine is prescription or complementary.

What we want

  •  Complementary medicines should be evaluated in the same way as other pharmaceutical products. As an interim measure we support an opt-in system where a manufacturer could choose to pay an additional fee to have the effectiveness of their complementary medicine independently evaluated. A product with reasonable evidence of effectiveness would be awarded a 'Green Tick' similar to the National Heart Foundation 'Red Tick'.
  • A disclaimer for the label and advertising material of products whose sponsors choose not to pursue the opt-in system above as such as, 'This medicine has not been evaluated by Australian health authorities for efficacy'.
  • The provision of up-to-date, independent, evidence-based information about the benefits and risks of complementary medicines (the National Prescribing Service would be an appropriate organisation).
  • A more effective responsive advertising complaints system which will deter breaches of the rules. This should include fines to deter repeat offenders and help fund a more responsive system.

What we’re doing

CHOICE is lobbying the Senator Jan McLucas, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, and the TGA on these and other issues. We participate as a member of the Complementary Medicines Implementation Group (CMIRG) to ensure effective implementation of the recommendations made by an expert committee about changes to the complementary medicines industry.

In a letter published in The Age, CHOICE argued that the effectiveness of all products sold as 'medicines' in Australia should be regulated.

See also the article by Ken Harvey, Viola Korczak (former CHOICE health policy officer) and others in the Medical Journal of Australia.

What you can do

To check ingredients of complementary medicines for evidence of effectiveness go to the U.S. National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website.

Find out more or make a complaint about the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code and remember to send a copy of your complaint to CHOICE at campaigns@choice.com.au

Read one consumers' experience  with making a complaint.

 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 
CHOICE - Power and energy http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water.aspxIndependent and trusted reviews and investigations into ways you can reduce your household's power and energy use from CHOICE Australia. Copyright 2014 www.choice.com.auen-au http://www.choice.com.au/img/logo_choice.gif www.choice.com.au http://www.choice.com.auTue, 30 Sep 2014 15:57:59 GMTHouseholdYour utility rights http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/utility-bill-rights.aspx

If you've ever had trouble coming up with the funds to pay your utility bills, there are some important rights you should know about.

]]>
Power and energyFri, 07 Feb 2014 10:33:00 GMT
CFL and LED lamps review http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/compact-fluorescent-lightbulbs.aspx

Find out which of the 14 LED and CFL models scored highest for light output and endurance.

]]>
Power and energyThu, 28 Nov 2013 14:45:00 GMT
Solar panel payback times http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/solar/solar-payback-times.aspx

They've become much cheaper to install, so payback times for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have decreased in most states.

]]>
Power and energyTue, 18 Jun 2013 10:20:00 GMT
Shopping around for a new energy deal http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/shopping-for-a-new-electricity-plan.aspx

Are you paying too much for your energy? If you haven't reviewed your energy plan recently, chances are you're paying too much.

]]>
Power and energyMon, 20 May 2013 14:35:00 GMT
Energy retailers' marketing tactics http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/Energy-retailer-marketing.aspx

Energy retailers are trotting out special deals to try to lock in your business.

]]>
Power and energyTue, 23 Apr 2013 18:06:00 GMT
Carbon offsets http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/carbon-offsets.aspx

Can consumers trust that validated carbon offsets are genuine, or is it still the Wild West out there?

]]>
Power and energyWed, 25 Jul 2012 09:07:00 GMT
Go4Green EnergySmart first look http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/go4green.aspx

We run tests on another power saver that claims it will save you up to 10% on your electricity bill.

]]>
Power and energyThu, 22 Sep 2011 16:15:00 GMT
Standby energy http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/standby-energy.aspx

Standby energy costs eat into your bank account in small bites and the total cost across the country can amount to tonnes of CO² and other greenhouse gases being emitted.

]]>
Power and energyThu, 01 Sep 2011 13:34:00 GMT
Building energy ratings http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/building-energy-ratings.aspx

Without adequate controls in place, energy efficiency ratings may prove to be nothing more than words on paper.

]]>
Power and energyWed, 27 Jul 2011 17:27:00 GMT
Food waste http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/food-waste.aspx

CHOICE explains how you can do your bit to reduce household food waste, save money and help the environment in the process.

]]>
Power and energyTue, 28 Jun 2011 16:11:00 GMT
Philips LEDbulb first look http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/philips-ledbulb.aspx

The Philips LEDbulb is one of the first LED lamps designed for standard household light fittings.

]]>
Power and energyFri, 17 Jun 2011 12:07:00 GMT
Power meter reviews http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/power-meters-review-and-compare.aspx

Looking to save on your energy bills? A power meter helps monitor electricity consumption and identify ways to reduce energy usage.

]]>
Power and energyWed, 08 Jun 2011 15:25:00 GMT
Electricity prices http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/electricity-prices.aspx

We make sense of the confusing contracts and tariffs of electricity providers and outline a switching action plan.

]]>
Power and energyFri, 03 Jun 2011 17:34:00 GMT
Unsafe solar installation http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/solar/unsafe-solar-panel-installations-on-the-rise.aspx

Solar panel uptake is surging, but as installers are rushing through jobs, incorrect wiring and circuit breakers are being used.

]]>
Power and energyMon, 23 May 2011 08:40:00 GMT
Managing your household waste http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/household-waste-management-guide.aspx

Reducing household waste can be as easy as altering household disposal systems. CHOICE shows you some ways to make your home greener.

]]>
Power and energyThu, 14 Apr 2011 11:40:00 GMT
Energy efficient home guide http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/energy-efficient-home-guide.aspx

We've used our CHOICE testing to bring you a comprehensive list of energy-efficient products for your home.

]]>
Power and energyWed, 30 Mar 2011 12:18:00 GMT
Ecoswitch quick review http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/ecoswitch.aspx

This simple switch can save power around the home by turning off several electrical appliances at once.

]]>
Power and energyMon, 31 Jan 2011 13:20:00 GMT
Jackgreen unplugged http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/jackgreen.aspx

Renewable energy provider Jackgreen has gone into voluntary receivership and is suspended from trading on the National Electricity Market.

]]>
Power and energyMon, 11 Jan 2010 15:19:00 GMT
Not so smart meters http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/not so smart meters.aspx

]]>
Power and energyThu, 07 Jan 2010 17:08:00 GMT
Grey water for the garden http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/energy-and-water/saving-energy/grey-water-for-the-garden.aspx

Using grey water on your garden could save hundreds of litres of water per day. We tested wash and rinse water for potentially harmful chemicals.

]]>
Power and energyWed, 21 Oct 2009 14:33:00 GMT