The other side of the coin: safety of complementary and alternative medicine

Stephen P Myers and Phillip A Cheras
Med J Aust 2004; 181 (4): 222-225.


  • Most consumers consider complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) products inherently safe.

  • The growing simultaneous use of CAM products and pharmaceutical drugs by Australian consumers increases the risk of CAM–drug interactions.

  • The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has a two-tier, risk-based regulatory system for therapeutic goods — CAM products are regulated as low risk products and are assessed for quality and safety; and sponsors of products must hold the evidence for any claim of efficacy made about them.

  • Adverse reactions to CAM products can be classified as intrinsic (innate to the product), or extrinsic (where the risk is not related to the product itself, but results from the failure of good manufacturing practice).

  • Adverse reactions to CAM practices can be classified as risks of commission (which includes removal of medical therapy) and risks of omission (which includes failure to refer when appropriate).

  • While few systematic studies of adverse events with CAM exist, and under-reporting is likely, most CAM products and practices do not appear to present a high risk; their safety needs to be put into the perspective of wider safety issues.

  • A priority for research is to rigorously define the risks associated with both CAM products and practices so that their potential impact on public health can be assessed.

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  • Stephen P Myers1
  • Phillip A Cheras2

  • Australian Centre for Complementary Medicine Education and Research (ACCMER), a joint venture of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, and Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.


Competing interests:

None identified.

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