Natural Health Supplements: Do they enrich our health or endanger our wellness?
Have you recently purchased dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals or nutritional or herbal supplements? Many of us with common problems like hair loss, skin wrinkles, irritable bowel, weight management or stress relief have reached for some of these over the counter natural health products. Or at least we know a friend who may be a proponent of these products. According to the Health Canada website 71% of Canadians have used natural health products.
What are Natural Health Products?
Natural health products (NHPs) include vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines, probiotics, other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids as defined under the Natural Health Products regulations by Health Canada. They typically have fewer side effects than prescription drugs and often emphasize prevention rather than cure.
In recent times there has been a growing demand for holistic health, nutrition and natural treatments. People have diverging perspectives underlying this growing health awareness in the multicultural melting pot that is Surrey. In some communities, historically developed traditional treatments and ancient herbal remedies have been part and parcel of the diet and lifestyle since centuries.
Currently along with the growing popularity of vitamins and minerals, herbs such as Indian neem, turmeric, Korean or Chinese root ginseng, kampo herbal medicines from Japan, the south American acai berry and other plant based dietary supplements are catching on within other local communities too.
But skeptics still question whether all of these really work and are they really safe? Research has occasionally reported contrary conclusions.
Word from the Surrey street:
Fleetwood resident Inderpreet Kaur shares some of her positive experiences using natural health products, “My whole family has traditionally always relied on aayurvedic and herbal supplements. I find them effective for skin related problems and also general wellness. Indeed I know some people also lean towards these supplements and vitamins for minor ailments such as vitamin C for a viral cold or a natural laxative for a prolonged tummy upset which would not necessarily warrant a prescription drug from a doctor. “
“Our natural health products such as aloe vera, moringa, ashwagandha can be seen more as food than as medicine” explains Mr. Aggarwal from Shubh Organic Health Foods & Supplements a popular health food store in Newton. He stresses that his recommendations to customers initially focus on their own dietary improvements and lifestyle changes. “Beyond that however customers can opt for these plant based supplements to improve the immune system of the body, reduce stress and to develop overall good health and wellbeing. “
According to Health Canada natural health products are generally safe but not risk free. Risks include contamination, unproven claims, incorrect dosage, unwanted allergic reactions etc. as also reported in independent studies.
Regulation and testing of Natural Health Products:
As per current Natural Health Products Regulations, to be legally sold in Canada, all natural health products must have a product licence, and the Canadian sites that manufacture, package, label and import these products must have site licences. Their health claims must be supported by proper evidence so that consumers and Health Canada know the products are indeed safe and effective. Evidence may include clinical trial data or references to published studies, journals, pharmacopoeias and traditional resources. These regulations are viewed as less stringent compared to drug manufacturers that must submit results of clinical trials and also pay more to get their products assessed. This is perceived as a two tier system that is limiting the ability of Health Canada to ensure the safety and efficacy of NHPs.
A major overhaul is currently proposed to these regulations. As reported by mainstream media, under the proposed new system Health Canada would bring natural health products, over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics under one set of rules and regulate them based on the potential health risks they pose. Higher-risk natural products would require a full government review of science-based evidence before a product can be sold or health claims are approved. Lower-risk products could include vitamins, toothpaste and homeopathic products. These would not be reviewed by Health Canada and could not make any specific disease treatment or prevention claims on product labels.
Have your say:
Local suppliers of NHPs are concerned as in some cases customers may be deprived of relevant information regarding a supplement due to lack of sufficient funds to clinically test these time tested traditional remedies. The Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) have expressed their disagreement with this proposed regulation on their website stating that the increased costs in providing the drug-level evidence required are not justified and may not be affordable driving some products and companies out of the market. Canada’s natural health products industry is valued at $3-billion, according to the CHFA. They have invited consumers and other industry stakeholders to join their consultation and have your say!
Some customers may prefer the new regulations or they may find a more balanced way to use natural products based on what they learn in this consultation. On the other hand in many cultures the philosophy of well-being is ingrained in the foundation of treating both body and mind. In order to receive a holistic natural treatment patients are expected to change their diet, lifestyle and even mindset.” Is the ‘western scientific methodology of time bound controlled clinical trials really adequate or appropriate for testing a complete other philosophy?” asks Inderpreet Kaur.
Healthlink BC also offers some useful resources on how to use natural supplements not as replacement to drugs but as part of ‘complementary solutions’ to stay healthy and safe!