Are supplements a sham?

A CHOICE study questions the efficacy of complementary medicines and supplements, with questions also arising as to whether they should be recommended by pharmacists.

Around seven out of 10 Australians take some form of supplement. However, health experts say there is very little evidence that they work.

The same experts say that, because of the prominent shelf space supplements occupy in pharmacies, and because one in three pharmacists recommend some form of alternative medicine to combat conditions such as stress, most Australians just assume that complimentary medicine is effective.

While vitamins can be useful for treating specific deficiencies, Australians who habitually use multivitamins “are pissing money down the toilet”, says Adjunct Associate Professor Ken Harvey from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.

“What you need is a good diet,” he added.

This is a point on which the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) agrees.

“Vitamin and mineral supplements can play an important role for the 52 per cent of Australian adults who do not eat the recommended intake of fruit or the 92 per cent who do not eat the recommended intake of vegetables each day.”

Other key findings in the CHOICE study include:

  • 46 per cent of pharmacists recommend products containing a mixture of B vitamins and possibly other vitamins, minerals and herbs
  • 26 per cent recommend Bach flower remedies to treat stress
  • eight per cent recommend magnesium supplements.


The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is concerned about the lack of evidence showing that these types remedies work.

“What a lot of Australians have is very expensive urine,” said AMA President Michael Gannon.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is pushing for reform that compels companies to prove the value of such therapies.

“The new reforms will support Australian consumers make informed choices about the use of complementary medicines and help protect consumers from potentially misleading therapeutic claims”.

Read more at CHOICE

Do you take supplements? Are you convinced of their efficacy?

Related articles:
Foods to replace multivitamins
The danger of dietary supplements
Do you need dietary supplements?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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