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Be Smart about Complementary Medicines

Australians spend well over $1 billion each year on complementary medicines. On day two of Be Medicinewise Week 2014, NPS MedicineWise is urging Australians to be aware of the importance of telling your health professional about all the medicines you take to avoid the risk of possible interactions.

Multivitamins and mineral supplements are widely used in Australia. Polling released today* by NPS MedicineWise reveals that of the 1,000 Australians surveyed:

  •   66% had taken a multivitamin or mineral supplements in the past 12 months
  •   64% were taking multivitamin or mineral supplements on most, or every day of the week
  •   52% of baby boomers surveyed take a multivitamin or mineral supplement on most or every day of the week.

NPS Medicines Line Manager and pharmacist, Sarah Spagnardi, says that people may not think about complementary medicines in the same way as other medicines.

“Complementary medicines—often called herbal, natural, and alternative medicines—can, like all medicines, cause side effects in some people and may interact with other medicines and food,” says Ms Spagnardi.

“Because these are readily available and often self-prescribed without the advice of a health professional, people may not always think to tell their health professional they are taking them. This can become a problem if people are taking lots of other medicines with the potential to interact.”

Results from the survey suggested only 14% of respondents who take complementary medicines had discussed with their doctor whether it was safe to take these with other medicines.

“Your health professional has access to information about your medicines and medical conditions and is a reliable source of information about complementary medicines,” says Ms Spagnardi.

“Discussing the complementary medicines you take with your health professional can help you make a well-informed choice about effectiveness, potential side effects and interactions and take these products safely.”

The polling also provides a snapshot of how Australians purchase complementary medicines. Sixty per cent of the surveyed Australians purchase their complementary medicines in supermarkets, 56% were purchasing from pharmacies and 28% of those surveyed had bought products online.

”It is important to think about the potential risks with buying any medicines online,” says Ms Spagnardi.

“This is particularly important if you’re buying products from overseas that may not comply with strict Australian requirements around manufacturing processes and labeling.”

This Be Medicinewise Week NPS MedicineWise urges all Australians to remember the importance of being safe and wise about medicines. Take the medicinewise challenge at

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).


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Alana Lowes

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