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Complementary medicines

Complementary (also called ‘traditional’ or ‘alternative’) medicines are:

  • a group of diverse medical and health care systems
  • and products (e.g., vitamins, minerals, and herbal, aromatherapy and homeopathic products)

Complementary medicines are not considered to be standard medicines and are often used in addition to conventional, prescribed medication.

You will, at various times, have other health conditions that may require medication.

Most people in Australia take complementary medicines at least once a day. As a nation, we spend more money on them than on conventional medicines. Before you do take them, you need to know:

  • Is the preparation safe?
  • Will it work?
  • Will it affect my diabetes?

The diabetes medications you take may be affected if you take complementary medicines. Always talk to your doctor, pharmacist or diabetes educator before starting any of these. They should never replace your prescribed medications.

Negative impact of complementary medicines on diabetes

Some complementary medications can even have a negative effect on diabetes. For example, some studies have shown that, glucosamine which is taken to treat/prevent arthritis may increase insulin resistance in animals and increase blood glucose levels in people.

Complementary medicine regulation basics

In Australia, complementary medicines can either be listed or registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods depending on the ingredients and claims made for these medicines.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) divides medicines into two categories:

  • Registered medicines (AUST R ) are those that treat serious medical conditions and/or are considered high risk. All prescription medicines are registered, along with some over-the-counter medicines (sold in pharmacies and supermarkets), such as some pain-killers and cough mixtures.
  • Listed medicines (AUST L) are those designed to treat minor conditions and considered to be low risk. Most natural and complementary medicines are listed medicines.

While registered and listed medicines may look the same on the pharmacy shelf, the testing process they undergo by the TGA is very different. For consumers, this means that you cannot be sure that a listed (AUST L) product has been tested to ensure that it has the effect it claims to. If you are unsure about taking a listed medicine, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor or other health care provider and to find out if there is any evidence to support its use.

Always tell your doctor, pharmacist or diabetes educator about any medicines, vitamins or herbal products you are taking (even those you buy at the supermarket or pharmacy). They may affect your blood glucose levels or interact with insulin or other medications you are taking.

For more information about complementary medicines visit the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.