Demystifying Natural Health Products

More than half of Canadians use natural health products. Perhaps you are taking on now. When used properly, these products can play a role in getting and keeping you well. But natural health products are not risk-free. Learning how to use these products safely can be important to your health.

Find out if you are using a natural health product

Natural health products are naturally occurring substances that may improve or maintain your health. They are made from plants, animals, microorganisms or resources from the ocean. Natural health products, also called “complementary” or “alternative” medicines, include:

  •  Vitamins and minerals
  • Herbal, traditional and homeopathic medicines
  • Probiotics and enzymes
  • Essential fatty acids such as omega-3

Find out from your pharmacist if you are currently using a natural health product.

“Natural” may not mean safe

Any substance, whether natural or man-made, that has an effect on the body, has the potential to be a risk to your health. Natural health products are considered drugs and even if the product is labelled as “natural,” it does not always mean it is safe. In fact, about 12% of Canadians have reported side effects with these medicines. While many people use natural health products without issues, these products can still have risks, including:

  • Taking the wrong dosage
  • Unproven claims, which can lead people to use the wrong products for serious conditions or put off getting proper medical treatment
  • Lack of warnings on the label about who should avoid the product
  • Interaction with prescription medicines or other natural health products
  • Side effects, like allergic reactions

Learn how to use them safely

You can reduce your risk of unwanted effects and ensure you get the right natural health product by following these tips:

  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist everything you are taking, and why, to help prevent drug interactions.
  • Talk to your pharmacist before choosing a product, especially if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, over 65 years of age, have a serious medical condition or are buying the product for your child.
  • Only use Health Canada approved products.
  • Avoid products that make claims that seem too good to be true. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation regarding the condition you are trying to treat.
  • Read and follow all instructions on the product label.
  • Report any side effects to your doctor or pharmacist.

Canadians use natural health products to prevent or treat an illness, reduce health risks or maintain good health. If you are using or thinking about using a natural health product, ask for help. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you choose the right product and minimize your risks.

Article from The Costco Connection, March 2016 Edition