Audrey Ball, BA, MSW
There is a popular belief that natural health products, vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements to daily diet should be regulated, but not as other drugs or food
There is a popular belief that natural health products, vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements to daily diet should be regulated, but not as other drugs or food. They should be in a category of their own the "third category." Proponents of this new regulation suggest that it will benefit both the manufacturer and the consumer. However, a regulatory body in itself cannot and will not protect natural health products due, in part, to current protocols that are biased and expensive.
Right now domestic and global forces are hampering the natural health industry's independence. Many believe this category doesn't address fundamental issues regarding natural health care and will ultimately have a negative impact on Canadians and their health choices, rights and freedoms.
The Office of Natural Health Products' recommendations raise more questions than they answer like labelling, health claims, current goods manufacturing practices, standardization, cost to industry, consumers and world wide harmonization and "safe" upper limits. What impact will these have on the natural health products industry, the consumer and what can be done to protect our right to choice?
This could be a step forward, but vitamin bottles are small. What else can be written on labels? There is currently no estimate on outright labelling costs. There are many hidden costs which will make it impossible for many small companies to compete with bigger conglomerates. We need to be able to compete with the larger companies to ensure that natural health products are affordable. Is labelling being done for consumers or companies?
The ability to claim homeopathic and alternative treatments on company health insurance plans is a long time coming. Natural products, unlike drugs, have so many health benefits that any one vitamin, mineral or herb could fill an encyclopedia. Drugs are appropriate for health claims because they are specifically focused for one particular health problem.
Natural health care products aren't covered under standard health plans yet, but you can claim the cost of vitamins, supplements and homeopathic remedies on your tax returns.
Goods Manufacturing Practices
These are currently used in drug assessment and use pharmaceutical protocols to assess quality, but what quality? The properties of nutritional supplements have increased due to competition. What about quality control and independent assessment labs? Consumers want these labs reinstated to continue to have independent and unbiased testing, which will help ensure quality, as well as support smaller businesses.
Standardization is used to guarantee a certain amount of the active ingredient of a drug or herb in a dosage. However, there is little attention given to the fact that herbal compounds work together. All compounds within the herb are needed for it to be kept in a balanced and natural state to allow the body to heal. Drugs work in isolation and suppress symptoms. They don't deal with the underlying healing mechanism of the body.
The difference in chemical standardization (chemically boosted ingredients to get to a certain level of compound) and natural standardization (fresh, whole, freeze-dried herbs, which when picked already have a certain level of compound), is important. In chemical standardization other synergistic compounds are destroyed and chemical residues are left behind. Drugs work on the premise of an active ingredient, whereas natural health products use all synergistic factors in healing (more than 100 to 500 compounds).
If the government uses standardization, they will likely focus on those used by multinationals (analogous to a prescription drug format) not those used by holistic and natural companies (such as farmers' companies who manufacture products) that are trying to provide a more natural and less tampered-with product.
The economic cost of standardization is great, but not as great as the human one. Standardization will benefit the drugs, not natural products. For example, the government believes that standardization is important, but it's not important to know herbal standards. We don't want our natural products broken down and placed into a drug assessment and protocol paradigm. When our natural products become pseudo-pharmaceuticals, they will become very expensive prescription medications. We need an immediate overhaul of our system and to truly support natural ways of healing, not mutilate our natural products into prescription drugs.
Costs to Consumers
There is also the cost of funding research into the claim that natural products, amino acids, vitamins and minerals heal certain diseases. No one "wonder supplement" can do this. It's more about the body becoming rebalanced and getting rid of toxins. Natural healing uses a very different paradigm, yet the Office of Natural Health Products doesn't totally recognize this.
I suggest that the government create centres across the country to educate people and give them a variety of perspectives. Access to information is important. Naturopathic medicine must be supported and should not be placed in a conventional medical paradigm. The government must deal with cracks in the underlying health care system and make the paradigm shift to support its citizens, not just use a band-aid approach.
"Safe" Upper Limits
This is a critical issue but has little to do with safety. It simply means that multi nationals and governments decide what's right for you and put limits on your supplements. They do this without consulting top scientists in the field of biochemistry and optimum nutrition.
Our recommended nutritional intakes (RNIs) and recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are notoriously low. When the body is sick (either mentally or physically) much higher levels of nutrients are needed to overcome illness and restore health. This has been demonstrated in many illnesses including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, attention deficit disorder, depression, manic-depression, schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, autoimmune disorders and cancer.
What we need is an optimum daily intake or even higher levels to combat illnesses a therapeutic daily intake. Both require 50 to 1,000 times more than the outdated standard RNIs and RDAs.
With "safe" upper limits only lower dose vitamins and minerals will be left on the shelves. The rest will be available only by prescription at very high prices. Vitamins and minerals are extremely safe and don't need pre-defined limits each person's biochemistry and need is different, especially when disease is present.
With the trend toward self-care and taking responsibility for one's health growing, it's our right to have access to high level nutrients. A third category will not protect us from international "safe" upper limits. Only political action can protect us from these unnecessary restrictions.
Education is the Key to Protection
The best way to preserve natural health products and our right to health care choice is to take an active role in learning more about vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and herbs. Go beyond mainstream media to uncover underlying truths about natural health products. Speak up for their protection and your right to freedom of choice in health care.
Also educate the government, insurance and health plan companies. Tell them you want your nutritional supplements for health problems to be covered (your drugs are covered, so should your nutritional supplements). Demand coverage for naturopathic doctors who provide full assessment, guidance and support. Since Canada doesn't have enough physicians and people are turning to naturopathic doctors, why not encourage this solution?
Canadians deserve to have a health care system that truly supports their choice. The Office of Natural Health Products, although attempting to deal with the problem, may actually be making it worse. Less access, higher prices, and an eventual move of these products into drug categories will turn natural health products into expensive prescription drugs.