Using natural health products can be a good way to maintain or improve your health. But just because a product is ďnaturalĒ doesnít mean it is safe for you to use.
This section will tell you more about:
Natural health products (NHPs) are naturally occurring substances that are used to restore or maintain good health. They are often made from plants, but can also be made from animals, microorganisms and marine sources. They come in a wide variety of forms like tablets, capsules, tinctures, solutions, creams, ointments and drops.
Natural health products, often called "complementary" or "alternative" medicines, include:
Many everyday consumer products, like certain toothpastes, antiperspirants, shampoos, facial products and mouthwashes are also classified as natural health products in Canada.
Fast fact: 71% of Canadians have used natural health products like vitamins and minerals, herbal products, and homeopathic medicines.
NHPs are used and marketed for a number of health reasons, like the prevention or treatment of an illness or condition, the reduction of health risks, or the maintenance of good health. They must be safe to be used as over-the-counter products. Products needing a prescription are regulated as drugs.
While natural health products are generally safe and have fewer side effects than medications, they are not risk free. Risks include:
Fast fact: 12% of Canadians who use natural health products report that they have experienced unwanted side effects (adverse reactions).
Health Canada responded to Canadians' concerns about these risks by creating the Natural Health Products Regulations in 2004. See What is Health Canada doing to protect me? for more.
Take these steps to minimize your risk:
To be licensed in Canada, natural health products must be safe, effective, of high quality and carry detailed label information to let people make safe and informed choices.
You can identify products that have been licensed for sale in Canada by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label.
A NPN or DIN-HM means that the product has been authorized for sale in Canada and is safe and effective when used according the instructions on the label.
You can search for licensed natural health products using Health Canadaís Licensed Natural Health Products Database.
Because Health Canada has not yet evaluated all natural health products currently on the market, products with exemption numbers can also legally be sold in Canada. The exemption number will be listed on the product label in the form EN-XXXXXX.
These products have not been fully evaluated by Health Canada, but have gone through an initial assessment to make sure that information supporting their safety, quality and efficacy has been provided, and that specific safety criteria have been met. This will allow Canadians access to the full range of NHPs they are used to while Health Canada continues to fully assess each product.
You can search for exempted natural health products using Health Canadaís Exempted Products Database.
You should report unwanted side effects (adverse reactions) to your health care provider and to Health Canada. To report a side effect now, see Adverse Reaction Reporting.
Reporting side effects is important because it helps Health Canada identify rare or serious adverse reactions, make changes in product safety information, issue public warnings and advisories, and/or remove unsafe products from the Canadian market.
Fast fact: Only 41% of Canadians who experienced unwanted side effects (adverse reactions) to natural health products reported them.
Health Canada assures that all Canadians have ready access to a wide range of natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality.
We assess all natural health products before letting them be sold in Canada. We also assure they are properly manufactured (without contamination or incorrect ingredients). And we do post-market monitoring to make sure that NHP Regulations are being followed.
For more information, please see About Natural Health Product Regulation in Canada.
For the most recent advisories, warnings and recalls about NHPs and other health products, see Advisories, Warnings and Recalls.