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Purchasing complementary medicines online can seem attractive


Countless sites on the Internet offer a range of supplements, usually at very cheap prices. However, using products bought from online sites can be risky. Watch out for scams or quackery and don’t self-diagnose or self-medicate.

Using products bought from online sites can be risky for many reasons.

A growing number of Australians are using some kind of complementary medicine (sometimes known as ‘complementary and alternative medicines’ or CAM). The complementary therapy you are considering may be safe and may work for others but it may not be the best treatment for you.

Always consult with your GP, naturopath or complementary medicine practitioner before using a complementary therapy and don’t stop taking your prescription medication or alter the dose without your doctor’s knowledge and approval.

Quality and safety issues of products bought online

Searching for health and medical information was among the top 10 internet activities for online Australians over 16 years of age in 2010. Complementary medicines made in Australia are subject to regulations that may not apply to products bought from other countries. For example:

  • The medicine may be regulated as a diet product or food supplement, rather than as a medicine – this may mean lower or inadequate controls over its use.
  • Some products may contain substances that are illegal in Australia.
  • If not processed properly, some herbs retain toxic compounds that may cause unwanted side effects.
  • A poorly manufactured product may be contaminated.
  • The product may include dangerous ingredients. Studies published since 2000 have examined Asian herbal products and dietary supplements available for sale in Europe, US and UK, and raised concerns that some may contain toxic substances including heavy metals (such as arsenic or mercury), pesticides and microbes.
  • The website may offer limited or non-existent health and safety information or dose recommendations for their product, which prevents you from making an informed decision.
  • A disreputable website may sell out-of-date, low-quality or fake products.
  • You are not protected under Australian consumer laws if you buy a complementary medicine from overseas. Australian-made products are marked ‘Registered Aust R’ or ‘Listed Aust R’, which means the product was manufactured in a laboratory licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA is an Australian government department that ensures medicines available in Australia are of an acceptable standard.