Natural Health Product Safety

Throughout history we have been using natural health products (NHPs) like herbal products, vitamin and mineral supplements, traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines, and homeopathic preparations.  Many products have been used without any concern but because of the popularity of it now there has been some concern with adverse effects.  

We all want to become and stay healthy and a key component to optimal health is by managing our nutrient intake and what’s a better way to manage it than to supplement with a daily dosage in a pill? When a NHP is used appropriately it is a great way to help manage or improve health, but just because it is a “NHP” people assume that the product is also “safe.” Any NHP, or drug can have potential serious side effects, which is why Health Canada feels that NHP safety should be something to consider.

As of 2004, new regulations have been made into effect to allow for individuals interested in taking NHPs to be sure that the product is safe and effective and also instructions on how to best use them. Now, new regulations that are also still in process cover the way products are manufactured and brought to market, and the information that is on the label. Also what it should be used for, the recommended dosage, the length of time you should take it, the ingredients, any known risk factors associated with the product and other information.

“Natural health products that have been approved under these regulations will either have a NPN or DIN-HM on the label (Natural Product Number or Drug Identification Number- Homeopathic Medicine). A NPN or DIN-HM lets the user know that the product has undergone and passed a review of its formulation, labelling and instructions for use (Health Canada, 2004).”

Some Health Risks

When we shop for NHPs or medicines there is such a wide selection that precautions should be taken especially since possible risks and side effects can cause adverse effects on your health.

  • Taking a product for a self-diagnosed condition that may be serious
  • Not having proper supervision for a medical treatment
  • Interactions with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or other herbal products that can result in the other drugs having enhanced or reduced side effects or overdose
  • Allergic reactions

Other considerations to consider are that possible plant species have been misidentified, or that the amount of an active ingredient may vary as from stated on the label or between batches, or that the health claim is not appropriate for the ingredients.

How to Minimize your Risk

Take these cautious steps before you decide to take a NHP to help promote optimal health instead of causing negative effects.

Ask yourself:

  •  Why are you taking the certain NHP?
  • What are the benefits or the results you wish to get from taking the NHP?
  • Is this the best approach to get the benefits you wish to have? Or are there better alternatives?
  • What is the evidence that supports the safety and effectiveness of taking the NHP?
  • What are the risks associated with taking this NHP?

If you are unsure of any of these questions it is advised that you speak to your doctor or a pharmacist.

Here is a list of steps to follow if you are unsure:

  • Tell your doctor about what you are taking and why
  • Use products that are approved. Look for a DIN, NPN or DIN-HM on the label
  • Be sceptical.  Consult your doctor if you are unsure about any health related claims of serious side effects
  • Do not rely on advertisement of the company or directions on the package
  • Be aware of any possible reactions and report any adverse side effects
  • Consult a doctor before giving a NHP to a child
  • If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or an older adult with a serious condition, are scheduled for a surgery, consult your doctor before taking a NHP

Also, to help others, if you do have any negative side effects from mixing medications it is advised that you report this to:

Health Canada at this toll-free number (866)234 2345 or by fax at (866) 678-6789, or contact your Regional Adverse Drug Reaction (ADR) Centre:

Any suspected adverse reactions can also be reported to: Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring Program (CADRMP) Marketed Health Products Directorate Health Canada:

Address Locator: 0701C
OTTAWA, Ontario K1A 0L2
Tel: (613) 957-0337
or Fax: (613) 957-0335

Information on reporting adverse reactions can be obtained from the following Web site:

Health Canada’s Role

“The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) of Health Canada has developed regulations to ensure that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity. The NHP Regulations require that NHP health claims be supported by specific standards, and that products are made according to good manufacturing practices in licensed facilities (Health Canada, 2004).


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