If you regularly take a vitamin in the morning, protein powder after a workout or zinc to help with your cold symptoms, you can count yourself among the 79 per cent of Canadians who rely on natural health products as part of their healthy regimen.
In Canada, natural health products (also known as NHPs) are products that include vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, traditional and homeopathic medicines, probiotics and enzymes, and more. But are you familiar with what NHPs go through to ensure their safety, efficacy and quality before you buy a bottle and take it home?
Before an NHP can be legally sold on the shelves of your local health food store, it is reviewed by Health Canada to ensure it will do what it says on the label. For this review process, manufacturers who produce NHPs submit evidence to support the claims they are making. This evidence can include clinical trial data, references to published studies, journals, pharmacopoeias and traditional sources. The type and amount of supporting evidence required is dependent on the health claim made and the products overall risks. Many NHPs have a long history of safe use for various conditions, with a large and growing body of scientific research.
Once Health Canada has deemed the product safe and there is suitable evidence that supports the claims made, it’ll be licensed with an eight-digit Natural Product Number (shortened to NPN, which is what you’ll see on the label). This gives you the confidence to know the product’s claims have been verified, it is safe for you to use when following the directions on the label, and it is made with ingredients and in a place that’s appropriate. You can also go to Health Canada’s website to look up the NPN of any product on the shelf to find its current licence status, the company making the product, the ingredients, the approved claims, along with additional information.
However, this could be changing.
In September 2016, Health Canada proposed changes to the way self-care products, which includes NHPs, non-prescription drugs and cosmetics, could be regulated. This left consumers and members of the natural health industry concerned about the future availability of these products that the majority of Canadians rely on. In April and May 2017, consumers and industry had the chance to attended in-person and online consultation sessions across Canada with Health Canada, where they had the opportunity to learn more about the proposal, provide feedback and ask questions.
Based on feedback received Health Canada continues to refine its policy proposal. It has taken into consideration some of the concerns raised, but there’s still a lack of clarity in other areas and many outstanding topics that need to be discussed.
As part of the next steps in the consultation process and to provide further information on the planned approach to changing how NHPs are regulated in Canada, Health Canada is hosting a second round of in-person and online consultation sessions throughout the month of June in locations across the country.
If you rely on NHPs for maintaining your health, consider participating in one of these sessions, hear about what’s being proposed, and share your perspective with Health Canada directly in person. To find out where and when the sessions are happening, and how you can get involved, visit chfa.ca.