Natural health products are now better regulated, but many misconceptions about them still abound. In this article, we separate fact from fiction.
1. Natural products are safe and without adverse effects because they are …natural.
Now there’s a persistent myth! For years now, health professionals and organizations have been warning the public about the risks associated with the use of natural products. Make no mistake, plants and supplements are not harmless. They must be taken according to specific instructions and dosages. Some products have important contraindications. Others can cause adverse effects or interact with other medications or natural products.
2. Natural products are manufactured according to widely varying quality standards.
Not anymore! While most natural health products, including herbal teas, tinctures and other preparations, are produced using ancestral knowledge, many are now being manufactured in a laboratory setting using strictly controlled processes. Since the implementation by Health Canada of the Natural Health Product Regulation, which requires NHP makers to follow Good Manufacturing Practices, the industry has been subjected to more regulatory oversight. In the case of standardized extracts, for example, the processes used must guarantee the uniform content of active ingredients, from one batch to the next.
3. The NPN (natural product number) on the label means the product is safe.
The NPN is not everything! When it comes to taking NPHs, consumers always need to use their common sense. Many factors must be considered before using any supplement. These include known allergies, other drugs being taken, lifestyle factors (alcohol consumption, diet) and pre-existing health problems or diseases. It is always best to consult a health professional first, and in some cases (e.g. if you have heart disease), it’s even a must.
4. Some plants and supplements can cure serious illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.
This is false! Plants and supplements cannot cure someone who is seriously ill. They simply play a role in helping to prevent the onset of disease, ease symptoms of certain illnesses or slow the progression of chronic health problems (e.g. osteoarthritis).
5. The more expensive the product, the better it is.
Not necessarily! The quality of the process used to transform and concentrate herbs into active ingredients can sometimes explain why some products are more expensive than others. Yet many other factors, such as advertising costs that must be recouped over time, also come into play. Pyramid sales techniques can also increase the price of products without adding anything in terms of quality. Health Canada’s regulation is there to help consumers make the right choice: all products with an NPN have been evaluated by Health Canada and are considered “safe, high quality and able to do what the label says.”
Source: Guide pratique des produits de santé naturels, Protégez-Vous, 2011 (In French only)
To learn more:
Grossesse et produits de santé naturels, Protégez-Vous, July 2012 (In French only)
Des produits de santé naturels pour prévenir le rhume et la grippe, Protégez-Vous, November 2011 (In French only)