Australians should be warned that almost no complementary medicines are tested for safety and effectiveness, the nation's peak consumer health body says.
Only 2 per cent of complementary medicines – which include vitamins, minerals, aromatherapy and herbal and homoeopathic remedies – are tested by the nation's drug regulator, says the Consumers Health Forum of Australia.
We want people to know they haven't been tested and in some cases they can be ineffective, or even harmful
The forum's chief executive, Carol Bennett, called for labels on all complementary medicines to state they are not tested before they are approved for sale.
Australians spend more than $1 billion each year on complementary medicines but many people are unaware that they are largely untested, Ms Bennett said.
“We want people to know they haven't been tested and in some cases they can be ineffective, or even harmful," she said.
“Two-thirds of Australians are using these products, and we just want people to be better informed about what is a very limited and light-touch regulatory process".
Last year a report from the National Audit Office found there were about 10,000 complementary medicines for sale in Australia.
Only about 2 per cent of those are “registered” by the drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, meaning their makers are required to provide comprehensive safety, quality and efficacy data.
Ms Bennett said that when complementary medicines had been audited by the administration, many were found to be in breach of guidelines because of problems such as poor quality or incorrect claims of efficacy.
“We're interested in ensuring consumers are as informed as they can be about the products people are choosing to spend a lot of their hard-earned money on,” she said.
The administration should publish online all the evidence that manufacturers say supports the claims they make about their products, she said.