If you take a vitamin before leaving for work in the morning, drink a protein shake after a workout, or use a zinc supplement to help with your cold symptoms, you’re among the 79 percent of Canadians who rely on natural health products as part of their healthy routine.
Also known as “NHP,” a natural health product can include vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, traditional and homeopathic medicines, probiotics and enzymes, and more. In Canada, the key indicator of the safety, efficacy, and high quality of an NHP is the Natural Product Number.
But what does it take to get this number, and what does that mean for you?
The regulatory process—currently
Before NHPs can be legally sold on the shelves of your local health food store, Health Canada reviews and licenses them to ensure that they do what their labels say they’ll do. For this process, manufacturers provide evidence—such as clinical trial data, published studies, journals, pharmacopoeias, and traditional sources—to support any claims made.
Not all products require the same amount of support. The type and amount of evidence required for each one is dependent on both the health claim made and the product’s overall risks, although many NHPs have a long history of safe use, with a large and growing body of scientific research.
Once Health Canada has approved the product for sale, it’s licensed with an eight-digit Natural Product Number—you can find this on your NHPs by looking for the shortened “NPN” printed on the label. This assures you that the product’s claims have been verified, it’s safe for you to use when following the directions on the label, and it’s made with ingredients and in a place that’s appropriate.
To add an extra layer of transparency, 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, ingredients, approved claims, and more information.
However, this could change soon.
The regulatory process— proposed changes
Last year, Health Canada proposed changes to the way self-care products could be regulated, which may affect NHPs, non-prescription drugs, and cosmetics. This is raising concerns about the future availability of these products that the majority of Canadians rely on.
Throughout 2017, consumers and industry experts engaged in open consultations with Health Canada across the country, where they had the opportunity to learn more about the proposal, provide feedback, and voice their concerns.
Based on the feedback it has received, Health Canada continues to work on its proposed policies. It has taken into consideration some of the concerns raised, but there’s still a lack of clarity in other areas and many topics that need to be discussed.
If you rely on NHPs for maintaining your health, join the Canadian Health Food Association in celebrating the benefits they provide for a majority of Canadians during this year’s NHP Week, from November 12 to 18. Learn about what’s being proposed, consider becoming involved, and share your perspective with Health Canada. To find out more, visit chfa.ca.