Complementary Medicines: know what you’re taking

When recovering from an injury or experiencing pain, some patients ask me whether taking any complementary medications will reduce their pain and/or accelerate the healing process. Whether it be prescription or complementary medication, it is prudent to inform yourself of the potential risks and benefits of taking any medication.

It is wisely recommended to consult with your pharmacist or GP first before ingesting any “natural” medicines. Just because they are natural does not necessarily mean they are helpful or benign.

Registered Prescription medications (scheduled S4 and prescribed by a medical practitioner) must pass strict inspections from the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) and rigorous clinical trials before being made available to the public. Their ingredients must also be declared and the product information and labelling be approved before the drug can be marketed (Moses, 2019).

Unfortunately, complementary medicines do not require any proof of contents or effectiveness, or pre-approval of labelling and product information before marketing. There is no guarantee that the ingredients list is accurate or that the product will have its desired effect. Many “natural” medicines are prepared in combinations that don’t occur in nature and haven’t been tested on humans to determine their safety (Moses, 2019).

This can result in negative consequences:

  • Potential interactions can occur between complementary medicines and prescription drugs that can alter the effectiveness of the prescription medication and increase their toxicity; this is most concerning for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Unknowingly ingesting a banned substance as it was not listed in the ingredients.
  • Your pharmacist or GP may not be able to predict drug interactions accurately if all of the product ingredients and amounts, are not listed.

In summary, natural medications may be helpful for certain conditions however more research needs to performed at higher standards to support the claims made by some complementary medicines. Apart from misspending your money, you may inadvertently be affecting your health in a negative manner.

As a physiotherapist, I’m in the business of managing, reducing and eliminating musculoskeletal pain. Sometimes working in tandem with your GP and using a multidisciplinary approach can deliver superior outcomes. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can help.

Moses. G (2019) What’s in complementary medicines? Australian Prescriber 2019 vol. 42 no.3 pp: 82-83