Children's Health & Safety Association

Issue 43: July 2018

Monday, 30 March 2015 23:38

Natural Health Products are Not So Healthy

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March 29, 2015 - To demonstrate how easy it is to obtain a licence for an over-the-counter health product from Health Canada, Marketplace, “Canada’s consumer watchdog”, created a fictitious children’s remedy called ‘Nighton’ claiming to reduce fever, pain and inflammation.

Marketplace submitted their application to Health Canada in May 2014 along with photocopied pages from a 1902 homeopathic reference book as supporting evidence to prove its efficacy.  In October 2014, Health Canada approved the application for ‘Nighton’ as a “safe and effective” treatment for fever, pain and inflammation. Marketplace received a licence with a homeopathic medication number for their health product. It was that easy – and that scary.

Marketplace’s investigation raised serious concerns about Health Canada, the government agency responsible for keeping our families safe and healthy. Because the product is on a shelf in a reputable or well-known drug store, parents are deceived into believing they have an authentic health product that will help their ailing child.

Parents who are choosing a natural health product to reduce their child’s fever should be very concerned.  If a product does not live up to its claim, a fever can lead to seizures or other serious health issues.

Last year, Health Canada licensed almost 10,000 natural health products including herbal remedies, traditional medicine and homeopathic products.   Some of these products are often stocked alongside the over-the-counter medications that make similar claims. How would you know which health product has scientific evidence to support and prove its claims? You wouldn’t.

While pharmaceutical drugs require many years of clinical research and scientific evidence before they are approved for consumers, Health Canada allows manufacturers of natural health products to make similar health claims based on traditional medicine or homeopathic use.

Health Canada advised consumers in 2008 that over-the-counter cough and cold pharmaceutical products should not be given to children under the age of six. Since then, an onslaught of alternative children’s health products has become available on the market.

Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) and assistant professor of medicine and health policy at the University of Toronto, stated to Marketplace that Health Canada’s licensing of ‘Nighton’ "really makes a joke of the regulatory process.” He further suggested there should be only one standard of approval for health products if a manufacturer wants to make a health claim on the packaging.

natural 07“Manufacturers can sell a product with implied health benefits without having to obtain the supporting scientific evidence that would be needed if it were sold as a drug,” added Stanbrook.

Parents who are choosing a natural health product to reduce their child’s fever should be very concerned. If a product does not live up to its claim, a fever can lead to seizures or other serious health issues.

Before you decide to purchase a natural health product, take into consideration that the print advertising on the box cover is intended to tell you everything you want to hear.

Under the ‘Natural and Non-Prescription Health Products Directorate’, Health Canada, since 2004, has been monitoring the safety of health products on the market. Some natural health products that aren’t based on homeopathic or traditional use require additional clinical evidence to obtain approval.

“Manufacturers can sell a product with implied health benefits without having to obtain the supporting scientific evidence that would be needed if it were sold as a drug.”

Dr. Matthew Stanbrook,  Deputy Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Health Policy at the University of Toronto

In recent months Health Canada has faced a lot of criticism from public health advocates over the licensing of nosodes - an alternative homeopathic treatment for vaccinations. There is absolutely no evidence to support their claim that nosodes provides immunity against disease. Health Canada licensed nosodes but states they are not approved as “a substitute for conventional vaccines." So, it begs the question. If nosodes is not approved as a substitute for conventional vaccinations, why approve it all? What are you telling the consumer?

Marketplaceinvestigated homeopathic practitioners selling nosodes as an alternative to conventional vaccines last fall and reported that some practitioners not only downplayed the dangers of infectious diseases but went on to say that nosodes was 95% effective against diseases including measles and whooping cough.

Manufacturers need a Health Canada licence number in order to sell their natural health product and once a product is licensed, manufacturers can claim it is approved as "safe and effective." There are three different kinds of licence numbers:

    image002 DIN - Pharmaceutical Drug

The Drug Identification Number (DIN) indicates a health product is a pharmaceutical drug. To prove the safety and efficacy of these drugs, manufacturers must submit scientific evidence and clinical trials to make their claims.

    image002 NPN - Natural Health Product

Some products that have an NPN (Natural Product Number) may have scientific evidence and clinical trials to support their claims, but not all health products require scientific proof. It would be very difficult for consumers to distinguish between products that meet Health Canada’s highest standard of scientific evidence compared to the ones that have the lowest standard.

When a health product states, "traditionally used for…,” it indicates that the remedy is based on traditional use such as Chinese medicine. These health products are licensed by Health Canada but don’t require scientific evidence to support their claims.

    image002 DIN-HM - Homeopathic Productnatural 09

Homeopathic health products are so diluted they may not contain any active ingredients. In order to get approval from Health Canada, manufacturers only have to submit evidence from homeopathic reference books and do not require additional scientific evidence to support their claims.

Health Product Safety Tips

  • If you are unsure about an over-the-counter health product, speak to the pharmacist or your family physician before you make a purchase.
  • Read the label carefully. Just because the product is licensed by Health Canada does not mean the product has scientific evidence to support its claim.
  • Manufacturers are known to change the ingredients used in familiar products. Different varieties and sizes of the same brand may contain different ingredients. If you are not sure of the ingredients, please check with your local pharmacist before purchasing.

Canadians spend $2.4 billion a year on natural health products.


Parents Beware – Some Ear Drops Contain Peanut Oil

Unintentional Medication Exposures are on the Rise


Drugstore remedies: Licence to Deceive – CBC Marketplace – Episode 42

Licensing of Natural Remedies “a Joke” Doctor Says – CBC Marketplace

Read 4640 times Last modified on Monday, 13 April 2015 14:30

1 comment

  • Comment Link her latest blog Tuesday, 14 April 2015 02:30 posted by her latest blog

    Just want to say that you have a very nice website with a lot of helpful information on children's health and safety. Thanks

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Children's Health and Safety Association's mission is to provide up-to-date health and safety information for every concerned parent.  We believe the most effective way of instilling positive change for children is through awareness and information programs.


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