Four Corners program on supplements: 'Supplements and Safety - The hidden dangers of vitamins and health supplements' broadcast on 16 May 2016

supplementsThe episode broadcast on Four Corners was a wholly-US program that examined the use of dietary supplements from a US perspective, but with limited relevance to the situation in Australia.

The fact is that there are significant differences between the way the US and Australia regulate these products.

In Australia, complementary medicines are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is considered one of the most rigorous systems for regulating supplements in the world, and companies marketing complementary medicines must comply with a range of TGA requirements.

Features of the Australian regulation of complementary medicines include:

  • Complementary medicines (e.g. fish oil, vitamins and mineral supplements) are regulated as medicines in Australia and must be manufactured to medicinal standards in TGA approved sites
  • The TGA conducts a safety assessment on ingredients in Listed (displaying an AUST L number) complementary medicines
  • Complementary medicines must contain the ingredients listed on the label and no other active ingredients, and they must only be produced from ingredients approved as low-risk by the TGA
  • The TGA routinely conducts manufacturing site inspections, sampling and testing of products in the market to monitor compliance
  • Companies marketing complementary medicines can only make limited claims regarding their effectiveness and are required to hold evidence supporting those claims
  • All complementary medicines legally available for sale in Australia must be included on the TGA's publicly accessible database, the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG)
  • The TGA maintains a rigorous system for recording, monitoring and responding to adverse events for all medicines, including complementary medicines.
  • The features of the Australian regulatory environment are very different to those in the US that were featured in the Four Corners program, and they should give Australian consumers a high level of confidence in the safety and efficacy of their medicines.

Fish oils

The Four Corners program also raised issues in relation to omega-3 fish oil supplements.

The majority of Australian do not eat enough fish, and omega-3 supplements play an important role in helping people to consume adequate marine-sourced omega-3s.

Companies that market fish oil products in Australia must comply with TGA requirements including strict manufacturing standards that maximise the purity of these products.

Australian consumers can be confident that fish oil products available in Australia are of the highest quality as they are required to comply with medicinal manufacturing standards.

As with all medicines, fish oil products must be labelled with an expiry date, and products are required to comply with content standards for the duration of their shelf life.
Source: Australian Self-medication Association

Prescribed herbal and nutritional medicines

We consider the safety of our patients the highest priority. We only prescribe medicines from reputable sources, and only in very limited situations do we recommend medicines produced overseas.

The majority of the herbal and nutritional medicines we prescribe are known as practitioner-only medicines. They are not available directly to the public and need to be prescribed by a qualified health practitioner. These products are often of a higher quality and strength compared to retail products.

As health professionals, we prescribe these medicines in a much more targeted and focused way. We check against potential drug interactions with any pharmaceutical medicine a patient may be taking and we monitor and adjust the combinations and dosages carefully.

We constantly review the prescription ensuring a patient is taking the appropriate medicines and only for as long as necessary.

You are in safe hands when using practitioner-prescribed herbal and nutritional medicines.