Complementary medicines

Reveal all to your pharmacist to stay safe

With almost 7 million Australians taking some form of complementary medicine every day*, NPS MedicineWise is reminding people that complementary medicines should be treated like other medicines. Complementary medicines may interact with your prescription and over-the-counter medicines which may cause you harm, so reveal all your medicines to your pharmacist before you buy a complementary medicine.

According to a Galaxy survey* conducted by NPS MedicineWise, only 20% of Australians never take a complementary medicine and around 8 million Australians take two or more forms of complementary medicines in a typical week. The same survey found that of Australians taking complementary medicines every day, the majority (59%) also take prescription medicine daily.

“Complementary medicines may not work well with prescription medicines,” says Dr Jill Thistlethwaite, NPS MedicineWise Medical Adviser and general practitioner.

“For example, St John’s Wort, which some people take to help with depression may make medicines such as some epilepsy medicines and blood thinners less effective,” continues Dr Thistlethwaite. “It may also interact with some prescribed antidepressant medicines increasing the risk of side effects.

“Other examples include gingko and milk thistle which may both interact with antidiabetes medicines, changing blood glucose levels,” she says.

In Australia most complementary medicines, are listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (marked with AUST L on the packaging) rather than registered (AUST R). This means that while they are assessed for safety and quality, they are not assessed for whether or not they are effective.

“When checking or changing treatment, it is important to tell your health professional of all the medicines you are taking including complementary medicines,” says Dr Thistlethwaite. “And, if you do take complementary medicines, your pharmacist can give you advice on which are safe for you to take.”

More information
NPS MedicineWise has more information on complementary medicines.

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS 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).

To learn more about the medicines you take, and to help you keep track of all your medicines, download the MedicineWise app from your preferred app store.

*Figure extrapolated from a Galaxy poll of 1015 adults conducted in July 2018 for NPS MedicineWise.


Spokespeople are available for media interviews.

Media contact

Matthew Harris

Media adviser
02 8217 9229, 0419 618 365 or [email protected]

Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines, medical tests and other health technologies. We receive funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.