Changes to Natural Health Products

By Glauce Fleury

I’ve been treating health issues with homeopathy since 2002. Back then, I knew about it as a health reporter, not as a patient. Now, 14 years later, I can say it has improved my quality of life and reduced my expenses.

At the time, I was struggling with heavy cramps due to fibroids (myomas) — a type of benign tumour growing within the muscle tissue of the uterus. I was told I’d need surgery. I got scared and never went back.

Sharing my concerns with a friend, she told me wonderful things about her doctor, so I set up an appointment with him. Specialist in gynecology, homeopathy and acupuncture, he saved me from constant doses of painkillers, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

The new prescriptions improved my overall health. Instead of taking strong medicines all the time as a way to alleviate conditions such as cramps, headaches and sore throats, I switched to natural products. They all worked well and had no side-effects (nothing I’ve noticed).

Why am I telling you all this? Health Canada is currently consulting Canadians on the regulation of self-care products. The proposed changes could affect how Natural Health Products (NHPs) are regulated.

The proposal would alter the risk classification system of NHPs. For example, homeopathic and natural products would be placed under a “Lower Risk Self-Care Products” category. This means Health Canada:

  • Would no longer review, license or approve these products.
  • Would no longer review health claims (about diagnosis, treatment, prevention, mitigation or cure).

On their website, Health Canada says the institution is not trying to “limit or restrict” access to self-care products, but to “provide consumers with access to a wide range of choices” and “make the necessary information available to support informed decision-making.”

It’s not how the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) understands. Trade association dedicated to natural health and organic products, CHFA doesn’t approve the suggested changes. “This proposal is trying to fix a system that is not broken and will be a step backward instead of forward,” they state on their website.

According to CHFA, the regulations already in place in Canada are among the best in the world. Currently, all NHPs are licensed by Health Canada before being sold. The companies selling them have already provided evidence to support any health claims.

To receive a Natural Product Number, these companies must provide data that supports the efficacy of a product — information currently assessed by Health Canada. Besides, to receive a licence, documents about the items below have to be submitted:

  • Medicinal ingredients
  • Non-medicinal ingredients
  • Source material
  • Dosage
  • Potency
  • Recommended use

So all these steps were already taken before the NHPs were placed on the shelves.

CHFA explains that, if companies are now required to provide for NHPs the same level of evidence required for drugs, the prices will increase. “Claims based on previously accepted evidence may no longer be allowed and would be removed from the label,” the association states. This change will potentially limit the amount of information we receive.

Give your feedback to Health Canada about this proposal. The online consultation is open until this Monday, October 24. Alternatively, you can voice your opinions through your Member of Parliament (MP).

To read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Health Canada’s proposal, go to the CHFA website.

Photo credit (Ginkgo biloba): © Autan under Creative Commons via Flickr.

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