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Drugs and Health Products

About Natural Health Products

The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) has changed its name to the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD) subsequent to its recently expanded mandate to include the oversight of non-prescription and disinfectant drugs in addition to natural health products (NHPs). Please note that we are currently modifying documents to reflect this change.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Using natural health products can be a good way to maintain or improve your health. But just because a product is natural doesnt mean it is safe for you to use.

This section will tell you more about:

What are natural health products?

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:

  • vitamins and minerals
  • herbal remedies
  • homeopathic medicines
  • traditional medicines like traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic (East Indian) medicines
  • probiotics
  • other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids

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.

Are there risks to using natural health products?

While natural health products are generally safe and have fewer side effects than medications, they are not risk free. Risks include:

  • manufacturing problems (like contamination, incorrect ingredients or dosage)
  • unproven claims, which can lead people to use the wrong products for serious conditions or to delay proper treatment
  • not enough information for people to make an informed choice (like incorrect instructions or no warnings that a product may not be suitable for certain groups)
  • interaction with prescription drugs or other natural health products
  • unwanted side effects, like allergic reactions

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.

How can I use natural health products safely?

Take these steps to minimize your risk:

  • Talk to a health care professional like a doctor, pharmacist or naturopath before choosing a product. This is especially important for children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, seniors, and people with serious medical conditions.
  • To prevent interactions, make sure your health care provider knows what other drugs and natural health products you are using.
  • Use approved products. Look for NPN / DIN-HM numbers that identify licensed products.
  • Be skeptical of health-related claims that seem too good to be true. Dont rely on ads: do your own research and talk to your health care provider.
  • Read and follow all instructions on the product label.
  • Report unwanted side effects (adverse reactions) to your health care provider and Health Canada.

How do I know if a product has been authorized?

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 Canadas Licensed Natural Health Products Database.

How do I report unwanted side effects?

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.

What is Health Canada doing to protect me?

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.

Where can I learn more?

Related advisories, warnings and recalls

For the most recent advisories, warnings and recalls about NHPs and other health products, see Advisories, Warnings and Recalls.

More about natural health products

Additional resources