Is complementary medication safe

Complementary medicine, in the form of diet aides or vitamin supplements, has been a hotly debated topic ever since it was first introduced on market the world over. However, while the general population continues to believe in it and support it wholeheartedly, opinions in the medical community, backed by findings of official government bodies, appear to be shifting as we speak. On the one hand, a recent online poll on the website (on-going as of the time this article was written), showed that 43.46 per cent of nearly 700 respondents did not believe vitamin pills work. The majority of those who took their time to answer did believe, but perhaps what is more important is that official regulating bodies have started displaying signs of disbelief.

Recently, the chief executive of the Australian Consumers Health Forum, Carol Bennett, stated that only a small fraction of the complementary medicine range currently available on Australian markets had been tested by authorities to check if they actually do work. According to Bennett, safety, quality and efficiency tests had been performed on no more than 200 out of the 11,000 such products currently up for sale on an over-the-counter regimen and approved by being listed in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

Bennett also used this opportunity to announce that the Consumers Health Forum would launch the Know Your Product campaign in late November – an awareness effort, which encourages buyers to read prospects and learn as much information as possible before taking any sort of pill whatsoever. The relevance of the campaign can easily be underlined by a look at official data: almost two thirds of all Australian citizens are currently using some sort of supplement or vitamin complex, all the while feeding into a homeopathy industry that’s has been appraised at an impressive grand total of $1.2 billion per year.

Of course, many of these pills can turn out to be absolutely harmless ‘sugar pills’, case in which the most damage they are likely to do is to cause unnecessary expenses. Anecdotal evidence alone is often a powerful sales pitch, which has been explained time and again through the existence of the placebo effect. People who experience placebo will report being ‘cured’ of one malady or another, even if the medicine they use to treat themselves with contains no active chemical substances whatsoever. Placebo is the by-product of a complex mix, which includes self-suggestion and the human propensity for willing suspension of disbelief.

However, there are also more serious cases, in which taking complementary medication can result in disastrous effects. Many such cases have been reported on the dieting segment. Since dieters are often on the look-out for immediate gratification and ‘instant weight loss’, they will often end up self-medicating themselves with quasi-non-approved supplements, which, in time, can cause serious physiological secondary effects, as well as eating disorders. Weight issues that stem from psychological causes, such as emotional imbalance, poor body image, and low self-esteem can often only be treated by employing a combination of counselling (, dietary lifestyle changes, and a sustained regimen of physical exercises.

According to Bennett and several other experts in the field of pharmaceutics, Australian authorities need to make sure that the products which are reaching consumers have been thoroughly tested prior to their release on the market. At the moment, listing a product for sale as complementary medicine requires the retailer do no more than pay a $720 sale licensing fee and file a form via the Internet. The form asks for no scientific evidence in support of the benefit claims that the product makes. Moreover, Doctor Peter Sharley, the president of the Australian Medical Association explained that patients should always inform their GPs as to what complementary medicine they are using, in order to avoid unwanted reactions – and, possibly, the development of even more serious health concerns.

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