Complementary Medicines

As a curmudgeonly septuagenarian and one whose long past career history was in an analytical, applied science related profession, I might be the sort of old dude expected to scoff at alternative medicines. However, because of personal experience, I do not.

There are two non-prescribed “medicines” which I take every day which have served me very well. The first is the herbal remedy ‘saw palmetto’ which was recommended to me by, of all people, my GP, who is of Chinese heritage - which, perhaps, may or may not explain his affinity with non “Big Pharma” remedies. However, of interesting relevance is that this bloke was also a pharmacist before he became a GP so I reckon that he would know his subject matter pretty well.

Anyway, this GP suggested that I could give saw palmetto a go to relieve an ageing “men’s problem” and his observation was that there were reports that the remedy worked for some people. My subsequent online research told me that it was indeed a numbers game as it worked for some people but not for all. Nonetheless, I gave it a go and after about six weeks, it started working for me. Several years have passed and I continue to benefit from this over-the-counter* treatment every day.
(Actually, I no longer buy it ‘over the counter.’ Instead, I buy in online from the cheapest supplier, which is always one of two or three well known branded chemist shops.)

The second alternative “medicine” that I take is CoQ10 which was recommended me by a family member as possibly being a remedy for the extremely painful leg muscle aches that I experienced with long term use of a very commonly prescribed cholesterol preventative drug. Severe leg muscle aching appears to be a known side effect of this drug. Once again, it took a few weeks to take full effect but several years later, I would not consider not taking it daily as I no longer suffer the debilitating leg muscle pain that I used to wake up with on every single day of my life.

I mention all of this because I notice in today’s Fairfax media that a prominent Choice associate who campaigns in the complementary medicine space has resigned his activities in that area and that Choice is considering whether to “nominate a new representative or resign altogether.”


Something that troubles me is that the prominent associate mentioned is quoted as saying, "Complementary medicines are a profitable, export-oriented industry. But it’s export-oriented because it’s producing bullshit.”

The vehemence implied in this latter assertion might suggest to a bystander like me that the person representing Choice in this area might have an intrinsic disposition of disbelief at the benefits of alternative medicines.

That cannot be a good thing for the sort of balanced, unbiased, disinterested perspectives that Choice subscribers expect of Choice evaluations. I would hope that (a) Choice does continue to have representation in the relevant forums, working parties, evaluation committees etc that relate to alternative medicines and that (b) such representation is open minded and fair minded.

On a day when the media is reporting that an anti vaxxer campaigner with widespread fame as a ‘celebrity chef’ has lost a lot of sponsors because of the manifestation of his extreme views on some topics, it is a reminder that Choice members really need evaluations and representation that is balanced and what might be expected by the average person on the number something-or-other bus.

Choice, please find someone to represent us who has a balanced view of alternative remedies because they can be very, very effective.

I would be concerned about representatives who were not impartial too. I don’t think we have established that is the case though. Dr Harvey resigning and saying very uncomplimentary things, even getting passionate about it, does not mean he is wrong about the industry overall or the way that it is managed. When people are passionate about their subject I look at the reason why rather than discount it automatically as being unreasoned.

It is quite possible to be a passionate advocate who is actually right. It is also possible for that person to not stick to the carefully modulated and highly qualified statements that often accompany scientific announcements, especially if they are announcing that they are unhappy enough to quit.

Your anecdotes about treatments that work for you do not suggest there is anything wrong with the summary statistics quoted in the linked article (and many other places) that point to lack of evidence for the efficacy of many remedies. Nobody is claiming Big Pharma is always right or that no alternative remedy is effective; that is a straw man argument. The point being made is that in cases where the product has not been shown to be effective not enough is done about it, not that all products are ineffective.


While the title expresses Complementary as what is being discussed some of the post is about alternative medicine. These two types of medicines may often not have common ground. Do I expect that Rhino horn is useful as a treatment, not at all. In the regards of “Big Pharma” they are highly regulated and their products must have proof of effectiveness, this is not the case for alternative medicines/products… Hence why some of it may be Bullshit as expressed in the article.


The problem is that the TGA has a very close relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, and is not impartial. They are under direction from the Minister for Health as to how they handle matters. They are constrained and close in the same way as the ANZ food authority, the Financial Industry Ombudsman are in their respective areas.

To get consumer representation, you need someone with passion who will try and balance out the influence of industry. Unfortunately, the consumer representative role is a lonely one and very tiring when you are beating you head against a brick wall meeting after meeting. I know because I have been in this role. Sometimes like King Canute, the consumer representatives see that the tide of decisions can not be stopped, and they don’t want their names to be linked to decisions they consider to be wrong. So they leave.

We should be giving consumer reps our hearty thanks for taking the time and effort to go time after time and bat on our behalf in what can be a very onerous job.


Did you know that there are no specific labelling requirements in relation to the origin of complementary medicines? You might worry about where your food comes from but what about your fish oil or vitamins? I’m not suggesting that any manufacturer can, or does, misrepresent the origin of their products. They simply don’t have to tell you.

Here a some examples of labelling:

  • Blackmores Omega Triple Super Strength Fish Oil - “Australia - Since 1932” - provides an address in Sydney
  • Natures Own Glucosamine with Chondroitin - no mention of origin - provides addresses in Brisbane and Auckland
  • Cenovis Turmeric 3100 - as for Natures Own, including same addresses
  • Natures Own High Strength Zinc - “Made in Australia” - same Brisbane (only) address.

For the first three products above, the tablets or capsules could have been sourced overseas; even the Zinc could have been imported as the active substance and made into tablets in Australia. Our Therapeutic Goods Administration approve their labels (all bear a registered label number) but their primary concern is with the making of unsubstantiated Therapeutic claims. Importation of any of the packed goods would fall foul of Customs rules on labelling of pre-packed goods generally.

Seeing that you don’t know where these goods originated, how do you feel about the possibility of fish oil coming from overstocked fish farms or other ingredients from backyard factories in third world countries? That may or may be the case, but there is no obligation for the supplier to tell you. If they were made in Australia, you’d expect them to shout it from the roof tops.


I believe every packaged product should have country of manufacture/product of information.

I personally have no issue if the product is safe to take, performed as labelled and the product has the concentration of active ingredients listed on the label.

BTW, I don’t take complementary medicines as I would prefer to keep my money in my pocket.

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Spot on re: fish oil. I would also add ethically made supplements to your observation. For example, farmed salmon is unethical in its current form and we should be absolutely concerned about the chemicals that they are fed (which we then eat) and that fall to the ocean floor destroying the ocan environment. Further, Krill fishing (for wild krill oil) has been a major issue with dumping of gear in pristine waters and little to no management of stocks. Given that a range of whales feed off krill and migrate to fish for them in places such as Antarctica this should of concern - in my opinion. I feel that if we want change then we should begin by not buying products where its it’s dubious of origin and ethics.

Nice to read :slight_smile:


I have moved your post over to the Complementary Medicines thread. What you raise is just one more issue with complementary medicines as the are today.

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