Complementary medicines sold in Australia are subject to regulation by
the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Unregulated complementary medicines, such as some traditional folk
medicines, may not be manufactured to the same quality and standard as
regulated medicines. Product labelling may be inaccurate, may include
unproven claims, and/or may not be translated into English, with potential
for undeclared and potentially harmful ingredients. No assurances can be
given about the safety, quality or effectiveness of unregulated
complementary medicines imported from other countries.
Traditional medicines, and other traditional products that are applied
or ingested, may come in a variety of forms (eg. tablets, powders, pellets,
creams) and may be used for a variety of purposes.
Reports of contamination
There have been recent reports of contamination of some traditional
Some Ayurvedic medicines have been found to contain high levels of lead,
three reported cases
in Victoria of elevated blood lead levels in patients taking Ayurvedic
medications imported from India. Another example is that some types of
traditional Burmese medicines, such as powders used for 'digestion and
strength' in babies, have been found to contain arsenic in NSW. Similar
Burmese products in the USA have been identified as a source of lead
exposure, as have a range of other
There have been no reported cases of toxicity associated with the use of
Burmese powders in Victoria, however based on these reports, use of these
products is not recommended.
Are your patients using traditional medicines?
Health professionals should ask about the use of traditional medicines,
particularly in migrants and refugees who may use these medicines more
frequently. Advise patients of the potential risks of using such
traditional medicines, particularly those that are unregulated.
In patients exposed to traditional medicines, consider the potential
adverse effects on patient health and investigate if appropriate. As well
as potentially leading to toxicity, side effects and/or drug interactions,
traditional medicines can also have implications for health if used as a
substitute for conventional medical therapy.
Specific clinical questions or concerns regarding toxicity should be
discussed with the
Information Centre 13 11 26
Patients who are acutely unwell should be referred to the local
Health professionals are strongly encouraged to
report any adverse
associated with the use of medicines to the Therapeutic Goods
For further information:
Department of Health reported cases here
International reports regarding traditional (folk) medicines:
Reporting adverse reactions to a medicine (TGA):
Dr Rosemary Lester
Chief Health Officer