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Advertising health products: Understanding what 'natural' means on your medicine

You need to understand terms like 'natural' when making decisions about medicines and medical devices

1 August 2019

You may have seen words like 'natural', 'all natural', '100% natural', or 'naturally derived' in advertisements for products like sunscreens, skin creams, personal lubricants, vitamin and mineral supplements, probiotics and herbal medicines.

But do you know what these claims really mean?

To make informed decisions about medicines and medical devices, you need to understand the meaning given to natural claims like these in advertisements.

What does natural mean?

Laws protect Australian consumers from being misled by advertising claims about medicines and medical devices. This includes potentially misleading claims that a product is 'natural', because natural claims could influence your decision.

Before making a 'natural' claim about a medicine or medical device, the advertiser should make sure that:

  • the starting or raw material of the ingredient or product is found in nature (such as a plant)
  • the product or ingredient has only undergone minimal processing (such as freeze drying, grinding, extraction or fermentation), and
  • the product or ingredient is chemically identical (must stay the same chemical) to the raw starting material.

We consider products or ingredients that meet all three requirements to be natural.

If a product does not meet these requirements, an advertisement can still use a natural claim, as long as the advertisement explains how the product or its ingredients could be considered natural. For example:

  • for a natural vitamin C product, the advertising could say that 90% of the vitamin C is from natural food sources, such as rosehip
  • for a natural turmeric product, the advertising could explain that the product does not contain artificial colours, chemical preservatives or any other synthetic ingredients.

Advertisers need to hold evidence that supports all advertising claims and provide it to the TGA if asked. This includes any natural claims. For more information, visit Therapeutic goods advertising: Ensuring 'natural' claims are not misleading

What if the brand name includes the word natural?

The use of natural in a brand name does not necessarily mean that the product is natural. You should read the product label to check whether the product is natural or contains natural ingredients. If you are unsure, contact the supplier.

Is 'natural' better?

All medicines and medical devices, including those promoted as natural, must meet the Australian requirements for quality and safety. However, all medicines and medical devices can have side effects or problems. Medicines and medical devices promoted as 'natural' must be used with the same caution as any other medicine or medical device.

We've put together a list of tips for you to consider when buying a medicine or medical device.

1. Natural does not automatically mean better for you

A natural product is not necessarily better for you than another product.

2. All medicines and medical devices carry risk -some minor and some more serious.

Any medicine or medical device may cause side effects or problems for some people - even when used as directed. Some products may have warnings on the label. You must check all the information on the label before use.

3. A natural product may not be suitable for you

Natural products may not be appropriate for the type or severity of your condition. Don't make decisions based solely on anecdotal evidence or stories from your friends, family or social media. You should follow directions from your health professional.

4. Natural medicines may interact with other medicines you are taking

Just because something is natural doesn't mean it won't interact with other medications you are taking. Even ingredients from plants can interact with other medicines and can be dangerous. Before using any medicine or medical device, tell your pharmacist or health care professional about all other medicines you are taking, including ones with natural claims.

5. No medicine or medical device can be promoted as 100% safe and effective, or a miracle cure.

The law prohibits advertisers from making these types of claims or misleading consumers about the performance of a medicine or medical device. If you have seen an advertisement that you think is misleading, you can report it to the TGA.

Remember

Inappropriate use of any medicine can harm you, even if it is 'natural'. Always follow the directions of your healthcare professional.

Further information