An Australian professor urged consumers to take dietary supplements with caution today after a study revealed the size of the growing alternative medicine market in Australia.
According to a report in The Melbourne Age, Australians spend an estimated A$2.3 billion (€1.3bn) each year on alternative medicines and therapies.
The report cited a recently published study by the Adelaide University Investigation which said that 60 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men now use alternative therapies.
Alastair MacLennan, from Adelaide University's Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said the figures revealed a number of worrying trends.
"Australians now spend four times as much on unproven therapies as on prescribed pharmaceuticals. While a few alternative medicines and therapies are proven to help some patients, what concerns me is the increased usage of unproven alternative therapies, many of which are costing the public more and more each year."
The study involved a survey of more than 3,000 South Australians and compared their spending and use of alternative therapies in 2000 to a previous study in 1993.
MacLennan told the paper that even allowing for inflation, the cost of alternative therapies had increased by 120 per cent over that time.
He said the public often assumed that alternative medicines prompted health and were safe, but in many cases their effectiveness and long-term safety remained unknown or had been disproved.
"The public should have better evidence that their A$2.3 billion a year is being put to sound use and that the money they are spending on alternative medicines is not doing more harm than good," he said.