Vitamins are useful for treating specific deficiencies but most people who use multivitamins just have very expensive urine, the Australian Medical Association president, Michael Gannon, says.
Seven out of every 10 Australians take some form of vitamin or supplement but experts have questioned their efficacy and the shelf space they dominate in pharmacies.
Adjunct Associate Professor Ken Harvey from the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University told the ABC’s Four Corners program there’s little evidence to suggest multivitamins actually work.
Unproven alternative medicines recommended by third of Australian pharmacists
Buying multivitamins benefits the companies that manufacture them by boosting profits, but for the average Australian multivitamins provide “no benefit”.
“What you need is a good diet, you’re pissing the money down the toilet for no benefit,” he told the program.
However, the Australian Self Medication Industry says complementary medicines are useful because many Australians have poor diets.
“Vitamin and mineral supplements can play an important role for the 52% of Australian adults who do not eat the recommended intake of fruit or the 92% who do not eat the recommended intake of vegetables each day,” the ASMI said in a statement.
A recent investigation by consumer group Choice found one in three Australian pharmacists recommended alternative medicines to treat stress.
Nearly half, 46%, recommended products containing a mixture of B vitamins and possibly other vitamins, minerals and herbs.
Twenty-six percent recommended Bach flower remedies to treat stress and about 8% recommended magnesium supplements.
The AMA is concerned that many products, such as Bach flower, are given legitimacy, despite a lack of evidence showing they work, simply because they are sold in a pharmacy.
It’s known folate plays an important role during pregnancy and iron supplements are prescribed for those who are anaemic, but most doctors consider multivitamins a waste of money.
“What a lot of Australians have is very expensive urine,” Gannon said.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is pushing for reform which would create a new class of evidence-based complementary medicines. This would mean products would carry some form of indication that the product had been tested for safety and efficacy.