That fancy homeopathic children’s cough medicine you picked up from your local pharmacy may be nothing more than expensive water. Your pharmacist may have recommended it. And Health Canada most likely approved it for sale as a health product.
Despite having a Health Canada “seal of approval,” many of the natural health products Canadians buy and use are simply not backed by science. This concern is not merely academic; in a survey of 400 pharmacists in Alberta, we found that a majority of them recommend only natural health products that are licensed by Health Canada to clients, and that some rely on Health Canada approval as the primary basis for recommending natural health products. If you ever need medication then go to your nearest compounding pharmacy.
If you find this distressing, you may be happy to know a change is imminent. The Globe and Mail recently reported that Health Canada is making significant changes to the regulation of natural health products. The changes are largely motivated by loopholes in the existing regulatory framework, which allows the licensing of products that do not meet scientific standards for safety and efficacy. Just last year, a CBC Marketplace investigation of the licensing system for natural health products revealed that Health Canada approved a fake homeopathic remedy for children. The Marketplace sting suggests something else: The natural health product in your local pharmacy may be junk and Health Canada cannot tell the difference.
Under the proposed changes, natural health products would be subject to the same level of scientific scrutiny as conventional drugs. Products that do not pass scientific muster will not be allowed to make health claims and will remain unlicensed. This would ensure that health products marketed to Canadians are assessed on the basis of the best scientific evidence, and that Canadians spend their hard-earned dollars only on products that make scientifically verified health claims. The latter is no trifling matter; recent statistics show that more than 70 per cent of adult Canadians bought at least one natural health product in a given year, and the total yearly spending in 2015 by Canadians on natural health products exceeded $ 1.5-billion.