Pharmacists are being called to account for recommending natural medicines without knowledge of their effectiveness.
Pharmacists are being called to account for recommending natural medicines without knowledge of their effectiveness.

WARNING: Don't get caught out by natural medicines

A LACK of scientific evidence behind pharmacy recommendations on the use of natural medicines has been flagged by CHOICE as a major concern for consumers.

Visit any one of the plethora of pharmacies available and you will be confronted by the bulging shelves of natural medicines offering a way to rectify just about every health issue you can think of.

These front-of-shop medications are often priced competitively and presented as an attractive option.

Because of the complexity of deciding which product and which brand of that product to buy, the recommendation of the pharmacy assistants or the duty pharmacist is often sought by the consumer.

But the problem here is that CHOICE discovered among those pharmacy staff who recommended a natural product, one in three lacked knowledge about the effectiveness of the product.

Added to that is this warning from the study, What risks do herbal products pose to the Australian community?, published in February 2017 in the Medical Journal of Australia: "It is popularly believed that these products are safer than prescribed drugs.

"While many may be safe, it is worrying that the specific effects and harmful interactions of a number of their components with prescription medications is not well understood.”

That study concluded: "The content and quality of herbal preparations are not tightly controlled with some ingredients either not listed or their concentrations recorded inaccurately on websites or labels.”

When the pharmacy staff were asked what was in a product and how it worked, half of the questions posed about the composition met with an answer that the product consisted of "natural” ingredients including plants, flowers and herbs.

"For 59% of shoppers, assurance that the product works was given without any suggestion of supporting evidence and 24% were told the recommended product scientifically works,” Mr Godfrey said.

"It's deeply concerning that the explanation for the recommendations were often vague and lacked scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.”

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Joe Demarte responded to the CHOICE report: "PSA strongly recommends that all consumers considering taking complementary medicines consult with pharmacists who adhere to PSA's Code of Ethics and provide evidence-based advice.”

As a consequence of this research, CHOICE recommended pharmacy staff talk to the consumer about their symptoms, only recommend evidence-based solutions and where appropriate, and refer the consumer back to their doctor for further advice.

For the consumer, reading about the product before you buy or talking to your GP about your problem and what the treatment options best suit you are safer steps to take before purchasing natural medicines.


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