Cat breath’s not the only side effect of complementary pills
I rattle when I walk in the morning after taking all my complementary medicine supplements.
(Tim Minchin explains his frustration at dealing with believers)
Not to mention that I reek of cat-breath from fish oil pills and of neem pounded into my scalp, and have the complexion of a ginko tree root.
Let’s face it, I’m not all that attractive but by my calculation I have fended off high blood pressure, rapid aging, flaky skin and quite possibly a number of varieties of leprosy.
I have considerable faith in complementary medicines, the type I select in a health store or online, and which are not usually prescribed or recommended by a doctor or a pharmacist.
Like most of the millions of Australians who do the same, it wasn’t long ago that I didn’t know whether echinacea was a disease or a cure.
The embrace of complementary medicines has been a swift and substantial step towards people helping themselves without adding to the burden of the formal health system. In most cases it has been a positive advance in preventative care.
It also has involved that reliance on faith I mentioned earlier.
There are plenty of reputable suppliers of these supplements, potions, pills and oils. Blackmores is one and we all know others seen on the shelves of chemists.
However, as the demand has become greater, the suppliers have become more numerous, and the quality of products has become more suspect in some areas. Many of them are not tested properly for safety, we have now learned.
They might get a once-over in a content appraisal but a minority are subjected to a vigorous analysis.
We shouldn’t believe that all complementary medicines are harmless and that the worst consequence of taking them is that they will not work. The scope of horrors is much broader.
If a complementary treatment is so effective it can make dramatic changes to your general health or shape, you have to consider the prospect it might also be powerful enough to rip the tripe out of your innards.
And if that additive has not been scientifically and independently tested, the possibility of a nasty outcome cannot be satisfactorily negated.
The Department of Health has revealed the the limited scope of testing by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. It’s the type of scrutiny which wouldn’t be acceptable during the “killer toys” check of showbags before the Easter Show.
This is one basic set of figures released by the department: Between mid-2009 and mid-2010 there were “desktop” reviews of 110 complementary medicines.
There were a further 22 medicines which didn’t even get this far. They were withdrawn by their companies after the TGA announced they would be reviewed.
Of those 110 which did go through the process, just 12 complied with regulations. Of the others, 57 required fixing, and 41 were cancelled by the TGA.
This batch of 110 was randomly selected and might not be representative of all 10,000 complementary medicines. And if we stick to a known and long-patronised supplier of well-established products we might easily overcome any risks of dodgy ingredients.
There are two factors which threaten that safety-first approach.
One is the extraordinary claims of some complementary medicines which will always lure those desperate for a solution to health woes, some long-term and painful.
They might or might not work, but in too many cases they could directly affect the functions of vital organs, such as the heart and kidneys.
Second, the range of suppliers is expanding as the market expands and many are based overseas where basic production standards are less than required here. And they can enter the country through internet transactions looking just like the real thing.
Dr Ken Harvey of La Trobe University was reported on Monday’s Health Report, on ABC Radio National, with an explanation for the light touch of the TGA scrutiny:
Well clearly I think there are two reasons. Firstly the complementary medicine industry is very reluctant to have anything happen because they are making good money doing what they’re doing.
And the second problem I think is the TGA. It’s a risk-based organisation, it can only put its limited resources where it thinks the big problems are and it would regard ripping off consumers as less of a problem than for example some prescription medicines which have really nasty side effects which can kill you.
However, not concentrating at all on the problem of complementary medicines has let the problem blow out.
I might say there’s one other problem that people have perceived and that is that the TGA is 100 per cent funded now by industry fees and again some people have unkindly suggested that if you’ve got an organisation 100 per cent funded by industry that it may be more reluctant to take measures that would impact on industry profitability and indeed on the TGA’s own finances.
Be careful of what makes you rattle.
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