The researchers found omega-3s were effective against heart disease and that St John’s wort could save $50m annually in anti-depression pharma spending, but said more work in standardising the preparation was required.
An osteoarthritis herbal blend called Phytodolor was highlighted as having the potential to save $178m yearly if those taking non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) switch to it.
The report - ‘Cost effectiveness of complementary medicines' - was conducted by Access Economics for the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) at the University of Western Sydney (UWS).
"The clinical evidence showing some complementary medicine can play a vital role in improving an individual's health has been clear for some time, now this report shows complementary medicine could also improve the health of the healthcare system," said NICM executive director, Professor Alan Bensoussan, who is also Director of the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at UWS.
Lynne Pezzullo, director of Access Economics, commented on the difficulty of measuring the benefits of CAM consumption.
"The economic benefits of complementary medicine would be much larger than we report if the significant flow-on benefits of keeping people healthy, able to work and out of an already over stretched hospital system were included," she said.
In regard to St John’s wort, which is most often used as a treatment for mild depression, the authors stated: “While the recommended first-line treatments for depression remain non-pharmacological, for example cognitive behaviour therapy, and patients on St John's wort would most likely still be monitored and treated by medical practitioners, the savings from using the herbal treatment would flow from the lower per dose cost.”
“However, before St John's wort becomes more widely used, additional work will need to be done to standardise the preparation and closely examine interactions with other drug treatments.”
Professor Bensoussan concluded: "Complementary medicines could defray the high costs of modern health care by offering better disease prevention and more effective management of chronic conditions.
"The current focus on ‘restructuring' the Australian health system to save money would benefit from broadening the review to include better integration of cost effective complementary medicine into daily medical practice. The health of the nation and the national budget may ultimately rest on a full scientific and economic analysis of complementary medicine."
Australians spend more than €2.52bn on complementary medicines including treatments such as acupuncture each year.
The report can be found here.