Complimentary supplements provide us with nothing more than expensive urine

by ray goodlass

My Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser reads:

Last week’s 4 Corners (ABC TV) report on complementary supplements showed unequivocally that multivitamins are a waste of money and just create ‘very expensive urine’. The Australian Medical Association president also says there is a lack of evidence showing multivitamins work.

This demonstrates quite clearly that in a world of unregulated capitalism where companies are free to manufacture and market just about anything we are in urgent need of stringent, genuinely evidence based testing rather than the shonky ‘scientifically proven’ claims used by these companies.

These claims are in fact fraudulent because they are based on samples so small they prove nothing. We haven’t really moved on from the ‘snake oil’ salesmen of the nineteenth century, have we?

In commenting on these fraudulent claims and misleading advertising I am not asserting that all complimentary medicines are unnecessary. Though with a proper diet and exercise most of us don’t need such supplements, but some of us do, due to certain genetic deficiencies, or, indeed, a poor diet. My point is that we need proper scientific testing, and regulations to back up that testing, to avoid false and misleading claims.

Let’s look in more detail at what both examinations discovered. First of all, the basic statistic: seven out of 10 Australians take some form of vitamin or supplement.

Adjunct Associate Professor Ken Harvey from the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University told the ABC’s Four Corners program there’s little evidence to suggest multivitamins actually work.

Furthermore, a consumer group Choice survey finds therapies with little to no evidence of their benefits, including Bach flower remedies and homeopathic products, being suggested to shoppers

Buying multivitamins benefits the companies that manufacture them by boosting profits, but for the average Australian multivitamins provide “no benefit”.

Naturally enough, the Australian Self Medication Industry says complementary medicines are useful because many Australians have poor diets. However, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

“Vitamin and mineral supplements can play an important role for the 52% of Australian adults who do not eat the recommended intake of fruit or the 92% who do not eat the recommended intake of vegetables each day,” the ASMI said in a statement.

However, there is good news on the horizon, in that the vitamins and supplements you buy could soon have a government tick of approval if they are found to be genuinely effective.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is looking to reform regulation on complementary medicines so consumers have a better understanding of whether the billions we spend on them is giving us any health benefit.

At present, a listing on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods only means the product is safe, not that it delivers its stated claims.

But a review into regulation of the industry has recommended companies apply for approval if research finds its product effective.

Monash University Associate Professor Dr Ken Harvey said the change would make Australia a world leader by building trust in the industry.

“This would greatly advance the future of complementary medicine if it gets implemented,” he said.

The TGA also released a consultation paper last week seeking feedback into the review, which means we can all have our say. The consultation closes on March 28, which gives us all plenty of time to make a submission.