If the latest installment of the popular SBS program ‘Insight’ has taught us anything, it is the need to get qualified advice for taking supplements of vitamins, minerals and herbs.

The program looked at the current system of sales of nutritional and herbal supplements over the counter from chemists and health food shops in Australia.

Australia has some of the most rigorous safety requirements of any country in the world. It is regularly reviewed by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) so that only ingredients which are deemed safe can be formulated into supplements sold in Australia.

Each year the TGA does a random audit of supplements on the market and any manufacturers who make unsubstantiated or illegal claims are promptly prosecuted.

The onus is on the pharmacy or health food shop to give quality advice based on the other medications the customer may be taking and their presenting health problem.

However, in a retail setting there are a lot of customers who simply know what they want and go in to buy it, without asking for advice.

Self prescribing is at best proactive and at worst Russian roulette. Customers may be doubling up on supplements when their prescribed medicines are given for the same complaint. They also run the risk of up regulating the effects of their prescription medicines.

With so much information available online with regard to supplements, it pays to ask the retailer if there are going to be any contraindications by taking a supplement with a prescription medicine.

If in doubt it is best to work with your GP and Naturopath/Nutritionist to make sure you are on the right track. There are some medications which create deficiencies of certain nutrients so co-prescribing these nutrients can elevate some of the side-effects of taking the medication.

This complementary approach is the best form of health maintenance.