Can I mix this with that? What people are asking about complementary medicines

“Can I take my complementary medicine with my other medicines?” This and other top questions asked of the national Medicines Line service about complementary medicines have been revealed today at the Choosing Wisely 2019 Annual Meeting in Melbourne.

Medicines Line is a free information service, offered by NPS MedicineWise, that provides consumers with information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines. Of the 42,000 calls received by Medicines Line from January 2014 to December 2018, over 2000 of these were about a complementary medicine.

“Over 50% of calls about complementary medicines are about medicine interactions,” says Nerida Packham – pharmacist and Medicines Line Team Lead at NPS MedicineWise.

“Other questions are about side effects, what they can be used for, and use during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” she says.

Enquiries covered a wide range of complementary medicines with fish oil, magnesium and probiotics being the most frequently asked about.

“People are often recommended complementary medicines through social media, online, in health food stores, in pharmacies and from family and friends,” says Ms Packham.

“Some complementary medicines have been tested in good quality scientific trials to show they are effective, but most have not. Unlike prescription medicines, for a complementary medicine to be sold in Australia, there is no requirement of proof that it works and often little information on how it interacts with other medicines.

“The pharmacists who staff the Medicines Line are uniquely placed to interact with consumers to help them sift through information and deliver evidence-based recommendations about complementary medicines,” she says.

Presented as a poster at the Choosing Wisely 2019 Annual Meeting, these findings are evidence that people are asking important questions to better understand and get the most out of their medicines.

Choosing Wisely Australia is an initiative of NPS MedicineWise in partnership with Australia’s health professional colleges, societies and associations. The initiative aims to stimulate important conversations about tests, treatments and procedures where evidence shows that they provide no benefit, or in some cases, lead to harm.

More information

NPS MedicineWise has an explainer article on complementary medicines and how to use them safely. 

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).


Spokespeople are available for media interviews.

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Matthew Harris
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