Natural Health Products (NHPs)

Want to improve your knowledge of NHPs?  Using natural health products can be a good way to maintain or improve your health, but just because a product is natural doesn’t mean it is safe or you to use.

What are natural health products?

Natural health products (NHPs) are naturally occurring substances that are used to restore or maintain good health. They are often made from plants, but can also be made from animals, microorganisms and marine sources. They come in a wide variety of forms like tablets, capsules, tinctures, solutions, creams, ointments and drops.

Natural health products, often called “complementary” or “alternative” medicines, include:

  • vitamins and minerals
  • herbal remedies
  • homeopathic medicines
  • traditional medicines like traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic (East Indian) medicines
  • probiotics
  • other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids

Many everyday consumer products, like certain toothpastes, antiperspirants, shampoos, facial products and mouthwashes are also classified as natural health products in Canada.

Fast fact: 71% of Canadians have used natural health products like vitamins and minerals, herbal products, and homeopathic medicines.

NHPs are used and marketed for a number of health reasons, like the prevention or treatment of an illness or condition, the reduction of health risks, or the maintenance of good health. They must be safe to be used as over-the-counter products. Products needing a prescription are regulated as drugs.

Are there risks to using natural health products?

While natural health products are generally safe and have fewer side effects than medications, they are not risk free. Risks include:

  • manufacturing problems (like contamination, incorrect ingredients or dosage)
  • unproven claims, which can lead people to use the wrong products for serious conditions or to delay proper treatment
  • not enough information for people to make an informed choice (like incorrect instructions or no warnings that a product may not be suitable for certain groups)
  • interaction with prescription drugs or other natural health products
  • unwanted side effects, like allergic reactions

Fast fact: 12% of Canadians who use natural health products report that they have experienced unwanted side effects (adverse reactions).

Health Canada responded to Canadians’ concerns about these risks by creating the Natural Health Products Regulations in 2004. See What is Health Canada doing to protect me? for more.

How can I use natural health products safely?

Take these steps to minimize your risk:

  • Talk to a health care professional like a doctor, pharmacist or naturopath before choosing a product. This is especially important for children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, seniors, and people with serious medical conditions.
  • To prevent interactions, make sure your health care provider knows what other drugs and natural health products you are using.
  • Use approved products. Look for NPN / DIN-HM numbers that identify licensed products.
  • Be skeptical of health-related claims that seem too good to be true. Don’t rely on ads: do your own research and talk to your health care provider.
  • Read and follow all instructions on the product label.
  • Report unwanted side effects (adverse reactions) to your health care provider and Health Canada.

How do I know if a product has been authorized?

To be licensed in Canada, natural health products must be safe, effective, of high quality and carry detailed label information to let people make safe and informed choices.

You can identify products that have been licensed for sale in Canada by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label.

A NPN or DIN-HM means that the product has been authorized for sale in Canada and is safe and effective when used according the instructions on the label.

Reference

To obtain more information, go to:  The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) which has changed its name to the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD) subsequent to its recently expanded mandate to include the oversight of non-prescription and disinfectant drugs in addition to natural health products (NHPs).