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9 May 2016

Blackmores’ $23 million buy into the Chinese herbal medicine market is not just a worry for its competitors.

Pharmacologists say aggressive marketing is likely to lead to polypharmacy, where people take multiple medicines and alternative medicines together (also known as “polyherbalcy”), which could cause adverse events in patients.

On Friday Blackmores announced it had bought 100% of Chinese herbal medicine supplier Global Therapeutics.

Dr Ian Musgrave, a molecular pharmacologist / toxicologist at the University of Adelaide, says Chinese medicine is characterised by multicomponent herbals, which means there is increased potential for interactions between these therapeutics and other drugs.

In contrast, single or minimal component herbal supplements have tended to be the norm in Australia.

Given Blackmores’ marketing reach in Australia and beyond, careful labelling will be key to consumer safety, he says.

“The problem with Chinese medicines is that they are quite complex herbals and not all they are cracked up to be. They may be innocuous by themselves  but sometimes one herbal prevents the breakdown of another so you end up with toxic levels.”

To complicate the issue, he says, at present there is no adequate way to monitor adverse reactions of herbal medicines so the problem could be greater than initially thought.

“We have a very poor idea of when people have adverse reactions so it’s quite possible we are completely underestimating how bad things are.”

Last Reviewed: 09/05/2016

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