Complementary medicines are being consumed by a growing number of health-conscious Australians looking for ways to optimise their health and reduce the risk of chronic conditions. This in turn is fuelling a much stronger focus on research, development, scientific validation and new clinical trials to support the efficacy of supplementation.
Today, two in every three Australians are thought to be using a supplement as they look for ways to promote wellness, live a healthier life and prevent or manage illness.
These range from the common cold to more serious conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, cognitive health, musculoskeletal disorders, digestive health, macular degeneration, depression management, cardiovascular disease.“It’s difficult for the government to ignore the fact that consumers are driving the demand for complementary medicines”.
Recently the success of the industry has led to strong export growth across Asia also, particularly in high value-added pharmaceutical standard supplements. Australia is the only place where the pharmaceutical manufacturing standards of Good Manufacturing Practice are mandated for listed supplements production.
Unfortunately, recent behind the border regulatory changes in Asia have dampened the growth in demand; however confidence is being restored and with some channel consideration the industry should see a second wave in the near future.
Front of mind for federal and state governments is also the nation’s escalating health cost bill, with the burden of disease in Australia an escalating structural headache for policy makers.
Healthcare cost reduction figures
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that expenditure in traditional health care ballooned to $140 billion in 2013. A substantial portion of this expenditure is related to costly procedures and emergency room visits, pharmaceuticals, home and nursing care services and outpatient visits.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence in the market that proves that the use and further development of the complementary medicines market presents a huge opportunity to counteract national spiralling health care costs. This could potentially result in a lessened reliance on the hospital system and considerably less pressure on the nation’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
A recent Frost & Sullivan Economic Report titled Targeted Use of Complementary Medicines: Potential Health Outcomes & Cost Savings in Australia outlined a range of uses for complementary health, including that the use of calcium and vitamin D as complementary medicines at preventative daily intake levels by all Australian woman aged 50 and older diagnosed with osteoporosis could result in $1.6 billion in avoidable hospital utilisation costs.
“The 2016 Research Australia annual public health poll reveals that 76% of Australians rank investment in preventative health among the top 10 priorities for the Australian Government.”
Complementary Medicines Australia CEO, Carl Gibson, says it’s difficult for the government to ignore the fact that consumers are driving the demand for complementary medicines.
“Complementary medicines are paid for fully by the consumer, and alongside their widespread use, this demonstrates that Australians are willing to invest in improving their health and want to have an active role in their healthcare,” Gibson says.
The industry’s organic growth puts scientific rigour and the issue of how to promote and support further growth right under the federal government spotlight.
And now, various policymakers face the difficult task of ensuring fair and sustainable funding of healthcare in the face of an ageing population that’s dealing with increasing levels of chronic disease, Gibson says.
“Consumers want to take a more active role in caring for their health, and they need to be supported by a shift in policy towards focusing on early prevention, encouraging healthy and active ageing and empowering individuals to take control over their health.”
Complementary medicines are easier to access than ever before, too, with wide product ranges sold in more than 5500 pharmacies, 3500 supermarkets and 1500 health food stores. Distribution in these channels allows easy access for consumers to products that allow them to take control of their health.
Evidence an export tonic
The complementary medicines sector is also proving an export boon with exports up to well over $600 million per annum of value-added products, driven by the Australian industry’s reputation for high standard products, regulated to world best practice.
Australian company Swisse emerged from a small Melbourne start-up in 1969 to now producing more than 300 products, from single and multivitamins, such as Omega 3 and Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin C as well as natural skincare and sports nutrition
Growth in the core products has the Melbourne based business undertaking a globalisation in to 20 overseas countries in the next five years, with the brand already in seven countries.
“A key part of our strategy to raise awareness of the proven nature of Swisse products is to conduct our own self-funded but independently conducted clinical trials,” Swisse CEO Radek Sali says.
“We’re currently in the process of putting several of our key products into clinical trials, at gold standard clinical practice level for low risk products which we do to ensure our product formulations are the best they can be.
“Secondly, we’re committed to research to help us stand head and shoulders above the other brands in the market. And finally, we do it to promote the advancement of the evidence for complementary health,” Sali says.
“We regularly engage our Scientific Advisory Panel — a group of leading academics, scientists and clinicians — to help formulate new products and educate the business on emerging research, population-specific health concerns and areas where complementary medicine may assist,” Sali says.
Helping healthy choices
Australians also need to help themselves, with 95% of the population not meeting recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake recommendations. Meanwhile, there’s a substantial body of evidence supporting the complementary health industry, including an article from Harvard concluding that a daily multivitamin is good for your nutrition.
Swisse also wants to play an ongoing role in the contribution to the evidence of complementary medicine and nutraceutical research, he adds.
“We’ll continue our research into key lifestyle factors such as nutrition, movement and mindfulness and the positive role complementary medicines can play in areas such as cognitive, cardiovascular, bone and joint, and gut health as special focus areas.
Current trials under way by Swisse include the effect of multivitamin supplementation on mood and stress in healthy older men, and the effects of a multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement on cognition and blood biomarkers, among others.