Alternatives: Complementary Therapies and Natural Health Products

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Increasingly, alternative therapies are becoming more common and well-known. Individuals may be interested in learning about or trying herbal remedies, diet regimes, or holistic practices such as homeopathy or naturopathy in conjunction with or in isolation of western medical treatments.

The decision to try or utilize alternative therapies is a personal one, but it is recommended that you inform your Family Physician and Specialists of your choice so that they can be aware of any possible interaction between your therapies.

In 2003, the Federal Minister of Health announced the adoption of the Natural Health Products Regulations. Natural Health Products (NHPs) are defined in the Regulations as vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines such as Traditional Chinese Medicines, probiotics, and other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids. Under the new Regulations, the product must be safe for consideration as an over-the-counter (OTC) product. Natural Health Products are available for self-care and self-selection, and do not require a prescription to be sold.

All natural health products in Canada will now require a product licence before being marketed. Obtaining a license will require detailed information about the product submitted to Health Canada, including medicinal ingredients, source, potency, non-medicinal ingredients and recommended use. Once a product has been assessed by Health Canada, the product label will bear a product licence number preceded by the distinct letters NPN, or, in the case of a homeopathic medicine, by the letters DIN-HM. The product licence number on the label will inform consumers that the product has been reviewed and approved by Health Canada for safety and efficacy.

With improved, standardized labelling, consumers will be able to make more informed decisions about the natural health products they buy. Labels will be required to specify directions for use, the recommended use or purpose (health claim), medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients, and any cautions, contra-indications or known adverse reactions associated with the product.

In making health claims, industry relies on a variety of standards of evidence, such as history of use or traditional references, observational studies, expert committee reports and clinical or trial data. However, ongoing research continues to be necessary. To address this need for more research, Health Canada has committed $5 million over 5 years to create the Natural Health Products Research Program. Funding for this program will be drawn from the existing fiscal framework. The Natural Health Products Research Program has been developed over the past 2 years through active dialogue with all relevant stakeholder groups. Working closely in partnership with the community at large and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Health Products Research Program will support the creation of a sustainable national natural health product research presence, which meets the needs of Canadians.

For more information about Natural Health Products Directorate, visit the Health Canada website.

For more information about alternative therapies, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website on complimentary medicine.

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