Half of all Australians take expensive vitamin and mineral supplements, but they are not always harmless shout the headlines in today’s newspaper, but is this sweeping statement factually correct? Is the researcher applying this broad declaration to every supplement available in Australia?
The audacious blanket statements made in the published article by Geraldine Moses are just untrue.
Australia has the most highly regulated environment in the world for complementary medicines’ quality and safety. A manufacturer’s use of the AUST L or AUST R number on the label proudly displays the fact that the product has been regulated to minimise the possibility of side effects. Side effects are rare and all listed in the Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN).
Dr Geraldine Moses from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Queensland has flagged potential harms associated with using dietary supplements in the journal Australian Prescriber and subsequently reported in The Courier Mail and other news outlets. Here are ten questions that arise from her latest and well-worn attack on complementary medicines.
1. “One reason for the persistent popularity of vitamins and minerals is the perception that they are harmless.”
Is the author suggesting that people take supplements because they are harmless and not for their health benefits? Indeed, this is a blanket insult to the intelligence of the public.
2. “Like all medicines, supplements can cause potential harm. Still, unlike conventional medicines, manufacturers of vitamins and minerals are not required to provide warnings of their potential side effects, drug interactions or risks from an overdose.”
Interactions exist in a similar way in which foods can also interact with drugs. Fortunately, decades of research have shown there is only a small handful that are clinically significant. The industry produces interaction checkers for healthcare Practitioners. For example, Blackmores Institute produces one that is reviewed by academics at Sydney University and offer practical training for pharmacists via their training portal.
Dose matters - like every medicine, too high, and you get side effects. Geraldine Moses fails to mention that the high doses required to result in side effects are clinically challenging to consume. Manufacturers of Australian complementary medicines recommend dosages on the labels.
Geraldine Moses does not acknowledge the health literacy of the Australian public, which CMA believes is inspiring people to take increasing control of their health. Using individually-sought or shared research with the advice of health professionals (from pharmacists and integrative GPs to nutritionists, dentists and more), more and more people are using nutritional supplements as an essential part of their therapeutic and preventive approaches to good health. The industry takes the training of health care practitioners and pharmacy assistants seriously, with a significant focus on these areas.
3. “Vitamins and mineral supplements are not all they are cracked up to be and can bring false hope and disappointment.”
We are not sure which supplements the researchers believe: “not all they are cracked up to be.” Nor which supplements bring false hope. The author comments on a diverse range of the supplements available in Australia, from fish oils to probiotics, iron supplements to vitamin D, turmeric to CoQ10; it is unclear just what Geraldine Moses is referring to.
Australians choose different supplements for many reasons, and a myriad of evidence supports their nutritional health benefits. Making blanket statements is not just inaccurate; it is unworthy.
4. “Vitamin supplements may be a waste of money.”
Another broad-ranging and vague statement, which is much less helpful than a definitive statement, might have been.
5. “Eating too much of certain antioxidants may increase mortality rate.”
It would be interesting to know which ones are being referred to and for which group of society.
6.“The expensive products are big sellers and used by almost half of all Australians.”
Over seven out of 10 Australians use complementary medicines. Just as any products that have been researched and formulated, regulated and distributed, costs are incurred. CMA does not and cannot put a price on a person’s preventive and therapeutic health choices.
7. “Manufacturers are not required to provide warnings of potential side effects, drug interactions or risks from overdose.”
The label warnings on Australian complementary medicines clearly state dosage instructions and consult a health professional if symptoms persist. Certain complementary medicines can only be purchased via health professionals, including pharmacists, naturopaths and dentists. Discussing the use of medicines – including complementary medicines – is an essential part of effective health literacy.
As already mentioned, the industry holds training sessions for pharmacy staff and health professionals. It encourages free-flowing and ongoing communication to protect and support customers’ health while promoting the education of healthcare professionals and staff.
8. “What many people don’t realise is that high doses of some supplements can be dangerous.”
Again, improving health literacy and the encouragement of dynamic and robust communication with health professionals is vital. Consumers are also strongly advised to read and abide by the warning statements on the labels. The complementary medicines industry is in the business of health protection. It will do everything possible to ensure customers understand the medicines that they are using and that they obtain the advice of a health professional to guard their wellbeing at every stage.
9. “Another thing to remember is that the same vitamin or mineral can be in multiple different products, so a person can accidentally overdose if those products are all taken together.”
Once more, transparent and honest dialogue with health professionals and individuals is vital. The risk of overdose is small; however, taking numerous supplements with the same ingredients can be dangerous.
Labels on Australian complementary medicines have clear guidelines on dosage and instruction. These labels provide relevant consumer warnings for well-established information. Consumers should read and adhere to the dosage directions and warnings on the label and talk to a healthcare professional should they feel overdosing on supplements or prescription medicines, or over-the-counter medicines.
10.“Vitamin and mineral supplements can be important to treat certain illnesses or nutritional deficiencies. For example, vitamin B3 can be used for high cholesterol, and folic acid can be used in pregnancy to prevent birth defects. When used for general wellness, however, their risks may outweigh their benefits.”
CMA must question this incredibly bold statement that the use of vitamin and mineral supplements for general wellness that the risks may outweigh the benefit. Do the authors disagree with the use of iron supplements to treat anaemia? Or vitamin D supplements for up to 40% of Australians with diagnosed deficiency? Or B12 for the increasing number of people choosing a plant-based diet? Or fibre supplements for the easing of constipation and more? This audacious blanket statement is incorrect.
CMA reiterates the need for consumers to communicate with their doctor and pharmacist when choosing complementary medicines. Whether the consumer has a medical condition or risk factor or is taking specific prescription or over-the-counter medications are important factors that should be considered.
CMA is justly proud of the Australian complementary medicines industry. Increasing knowledge and understanding of customers, growing education on complementary medicines and pharmaceutical medicines for healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and more; this, teamed with the increasing demand for high-quality Australian supplements, has resulted in an Australian success story. Ours is the most highly regulated environment for complementary medicines globally, and it means that consumers can be confident about the quality and safety of Australian complementary medicines.