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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Supplement buyer beware

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Alvimann via morguefileThe bottle looks professionally labelled. The claims listed and their web site look genuine, and your sister’s friend’s cousin said they were good. So should you pick up your credit card to order online?

Buying health supplements over the internet from overseas seems so simple, and cheaper. You just pay and they post. No need to attend an appointment with a trained natural health practitioner. How easy can it get! After all, ‘natural’ means ‘harmless’ doesn’t it? The latest reports of people whose health has been destroyed through supplements of uncertain origin that they self-prescribed demonstrates otherwise.

It’s often more costly to buy supplements within Australia; one reason is our safety net: Therapeutic supplements sold in our country are rigorously scrutinised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, a government regulatory body. This provides two big advantages for practitioners and for consumers: For practitioners, it means that when prescribing a supplement scrutinised by the TGA we can be confident that the contents match what’s on the label. Supplements purchased overseas don’t offer this protection.

The need for a manufacturer to jump through the hoops of the TGA approval process and ongoing checks adds considerably to the cost of bringing a new product to the marketplace. And engaging a trained practitioner to choose the right dose and check the supplement doesn’t clash with your medication increases what you have to pay, making self-prescribing from overseas tempting.

Some manufacturers in countries with less rigorous regulation than ours can be remarkably cavalier about the source of their ingredients and the accuracy of their content labels. This can result in herb substitutions, and raw materials adulterated with who knows what. Mostly this doesn’t have an impact, but you’ll hear the tragic stories when things go wrong. Like this report or this story.  Then the cheaper option isn’t so inexpensive.

The system isn’t perfect, understandably. Sometimes regulators seem too stringent; or supportive research is rejected. But overall, it’s helpful. If you find the AUST-L or AUST-R number on the label then you know that the supplement you’re purchasing has been screened by the TGA.  (Functional foods slip under the radar of the TGA, so an Australian supplement-like product may actually be classified as a food, not a supplement, and aren’t regulated).

If you choose to buy your supplements from overseas, keep in mind that you can’t be as confident of the contents as you can with products that have been screened by the TGA. Buyer beware.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Why self prescribing might not be such a good idea after all'

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