ASMI Media Release – Complementary Medicines Improve Health

New Research: Complementary medicines can improve consumer health and reduce costs

15 October 2014. Specific complementary medicines can contribute to improved health and reduced consumer healthcare costs, according to a new study by economic research firm Frost and Sullivan.

The study, ‘Targeted Use of Complementary Medicines: Potential Health Outcomes and Cost Savings in Australia,’ which was commissioned by the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI), concludedthat health outcomes are improved and consumers’ out-of-pocket costs associated with medicalevents are potentially reduced, when specific complementary medicines are used by high-risk targetpopulations. 1

“There is widespread uptake of complementary medicines in Australia,” said Dr Deon Schoombie, ASMI Executive Director. “Seventy per cent of Australians have taken complementary medicines in the last year for general health. Almost half of users take a complementary medicine daily, particularly those aged 65 years or older (67 per cent). Two of the most popular complementary medicines are fish oils and calcium. Twenty nine percent of fish oil users take it for heart health and 71 per cent of calcium users take it for bone health.”2

Christopher Shanahan, the researcher from Frost and Sullivan who conducted the study said: “We know that consumers in Australia and globally want to feel more empowered to take good care of their health. The study helps to show that not only can complementary medicines lead to better health, they have the potential to reduce out-of-pocket costs.”

The study examined six complementary medicine regimens, all with evidence of efficacy, across four chronic disease conditions – cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis, age-related macular degeneration and depression. Three of these diseases are in the top nine National Health Priority Areas (NHPAs) that Australian governments have chosen for focused attention because of their significant contribution to the burden of illness and injury in the Australian community.

“The biggest gains identified in the study are in the area of osteoporosis and osteopenia – conditions which affect 1.8 million Australians and resulted in approximately 140,822 fractures in 2012,” said Dr Schoombie. 3,4

Frost and Sullivan found that the relative risk of an individual in the target population experiencing an osteoporosis-attributed fracture is reduced by 19.7% given the use of calcium and vitamin D at preventive intake levels. This translates to a potential of 36,783avoidable osteoporosis-attributed fractures in 2015 given 100 per cent utilisation of calcium and vitamin D by the high risk population.

The report estimated that between 2015 and 2020 average annual hospitalisation costs of $922 million can be potentially saved and average annual productivity gains of $900 million can be realised for the same period if all women aged over 50 who were diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia take a preventive dose of calcium and vitamin D. This translates to a benefit of $22.34 for every one dollar spent on complementary medicines and over half of the savings would be realised by individual consumers.

Lisa Cox, an author and consumer health representative, takes calcium and vitamin D every day to prevent osteoporosis. She said: “Complementary medicines are a great way for me to take responsibility for my own health and give my body the help it needs.”

“My limited sun exposure reduces my vitamin D levels. In consultation with my Practitioner, I take vitamin D and calcium supplements daily. Vitamin D helps me to absorb more calcium from my diet and supplements. Because I have a low bone density this is of great importance to me,” she said.

The report also explored the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) on Australians and the potential health and economic benefits that can be realised if an omega-3 fatty acid regimen was used by all Australians aged 55 and over who are diagnosed with CVD.

It was estimated that the relative risk of hospitalisation due to a CVD event can be reduced by 4.9 per cent and 6,894 average annual medical events avoided between 2015 -2020 if all Australians aged over 55 with CVD were to take omega-3 fatty acids at a preventive level. The average annual benefit cost ratio from 2015 to 2020 would be $8.49 for every dollar spent on the omega-3 fatty acids, with 60 per cent of the savings going to individual consumers.

About the Frost and Sullivan study

The Frost and Sullivan researchers conducted a review of peer-reviewed scientific literature, focusing on studies that quantified the effect of certain complementary medicines on the occurrence of disease-related events among targeted populations.

From this review, an overall change in the relative risk of a given disease-related event resulting from the use of each of the complementary regimens was derived. Then, these relative risk reduction statistics were used as an input into a cost-benefit scenario analysis to determine the potential change in hospital utilisation costs and wage income gains that could be realised if people in a specified high-risk population were to use each of the complementary medicine regimens.


  1. Shanahan, C. and Lorimier, R. Targeted Use of Complementary Medicines: Potential Health

Outcomes & Cost Savings in Australia. Frost and Sullivan, October 2014.

  1. Macquarie University. The Australian Self Medication Factbook: Understanding consumers’

use and attitudes towards over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, minerals and supplements

and down-scheduling certain prescription medicines. October 2014.

  1. Department of Health. Burden of disease: a snapshot in 2013. Department of Health,

Queensland Government, Brisbane 2013.

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved in July 2014 at


One response to “ASMI Media Release – Complementary Medicines Improve Health”

  1. The item claims that Complementary Medicine has the potential to produce a net economic benefit of $1.8 billion from 2015-2020.
    However, of the six treatments that were investigated, only one is complementary.
    The news report covers vitamin D and calcium supplementation for osteoporosis. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation is not complementary medicine, but conventional medicine, with the optimal doses and patient populations being worked out in clinical trials after basic research determined the mechanism of action of the hormone. Similarly, folic acid and omega fatty acids for cardiovascular disease are not complementary medicines, but conventional medicines. They were again discovered and developed by conventional research and clinical trials
    That something can be purchased over the counter without a prescription does not make it complementary, paracetamol would never be claimed as a complementary medicine. Being a vitamin does not make something a complementary medicine. Using vitamin C to treat Scurvy or folic acid to prevent neural tube defects is conventional medicine, while using vitamin C to treat colds is a complementary use (which is still promoted in the face of continued evidence that it is ineffective).
    The benefits of these regimes may be overestimated. The report did not examine some of the latest systematic reviews on omega fatty acids that have concluded there is no or minor effects. The review of the only actual complementary medicine, St. John’s Wort, does not factor in the life threatening drug interactions that it causes in the cost benefit analysis, and seems to be promoting self-medication for a significant illness.
    Claiming conventional medical treatments (such the vitamin D and calcium supplementation highlighted in the news article) show that complementary medicines have significant economic benefits is highly misleading.
    Yours sincerely
    Ian Musgrave
    Senior lecturer in Pharmacology University of Adelaide

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