The truth about vitamins & supplements

By now you will have heard questions are being raised about the safety of taking vitamins and dietary supplements on both the ABC’s Four Corners and the Project on Channel Ten, rehashing a story that aired in America on PBS Frontline.

But before you get caught up in the hysteria, I want to point out some important facts that have been overlooked by the media.

Firstly, the story concentrates on American standards of manufacturing and regulatory practice, which cannot possibly be compared to the high standards and consumer protection mechanisms we have in Australia. American supplements are regarded as foods, and subsequently do not have the strict manufacturing processes and regulatory controls we have here.

Our industry operates within one of the most tightly-regulated systems in the world, where products are manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), and strict safety and quality regulations are enforced, ensuring that responsible, evidence-based and high quality products are available to consumers.

Australian supplements are made in TGA-approved facilities with strict guidelines and are fully accountable. The Therapeutic Goods Administration even ensures that any health claims regarding the supplements being manufactured are evidence-based, further protecting the consumer from unrealistic claims. This is unfortunately not the case in the USA or for the supplements you can purchase online.

In fact, the Australian regulatory regime for complementary medicines is viewed by most countries as the benchmark for protecting consumers. It is not fair or realistic to compare our system to the USA.

While I feel the story was biased and not applicable to what actually happens in Australia, it does highlight some very important points…

I do believe that too many people are self-prescribing and this is why I am really passionate about people actually going and getting advice - proper advice from a qualified practitioner. They will take into consideration your individual health, any medication you are taking, including potential interactions, as well as your diet and lifestyle, and will prescribe you something that will actually work for you.

If you are self-prescribing at this point, I would recommend you check-in with a practitioner to go through your supplements to make sure you are not taking uneccesarily products and ensure you are taking the right dosage and the best quality products for you.

If you are importing supplements online from companies such as iherb – a word of warning. You really are taking a risk with your health because of the fact that those products do not have to go through our strict TGA regulations and standards, meaning can’t really be sure of what you are getting.

I do, however, feel that there could be higher industry standards even in Australia. For example, I will only use products of companies which I know do their own testing, rather than outsourcing.

For instance, one of the companies that I use lists in each product where the herb has come from, how much of that herb is in there, what strain of herb and what part of the herb has been used, and they guarantee how much of the active constituant is in each tablet. This means that you are actually getting what you are paying for.

This is important to understand because this level of quality control is not something that is done with all supplements in Australia at this time. This is why I only prescribe practitioner-only supplements and herbal medicines from companies I know have the highest standards of quality control. If you are buying supplements from your health food store, your discount chemist or the supermarket, ask yourself, am I really getting what I am paying for? They may be cheap, but do they actually contain enough of the active constituents to be effective?

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t panick and think your supplements aren’t safe, or what was represented in the USA is happening in Australia, or for you to get any flack about taking supplements. Please feel free to share this blog if you need some back up!

While there were some valid points in what was discussed, this was not an accurate or truthful representation of Australian quality control standards. I hope this puts your mind at ease, and as always, if you have any questions, please ask!

Yours in health,


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