Natural health products are a part of many Canadians’ diets. Whether it be a vitamin or mineral supplement to maintain a well-rounded diet or a herbal supplement for the flu, these products are usually taken in attempt to improve or maintain one’s health. While the idea behind natural health products might seem sound, many of these products are not thoroughly tested. This article outlines what natural health products are, what they are made of, and what to be aware of when considering incorporating them into your diet.
NATURAL HEALTH PRODUCTS…WHAT ARE THEY?
As defined by Health Canada, natural health products (NHP’s) include many items such as:
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Homeopathic and Traditional Medicines
Probiotics, Amino Acids, and Essential Fatty Acid Supplements (1).
WHAT THEY ARE MADE OF?
NHP’s are concentrated, over-the-counter packs nutrients either created in a lab or extracted from food or other natural sources. For instance, vitamin D supplements are made synthetically in a lab whereas ajo (garlic) herbal supplements are made from garlic extracts.
ARE NHP’s REGULATED?
NHP’s are regulated in by Health Canada. Any approved product is labelled with either a Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM).
NHP’s can complement your diet. For instance, if you tend to have low iron levels and have been unsuccessful in increasing your levels thought dietary changes, iron supplements can help.
AND THE CONS…
Whether they are lab-made replicas of nutrients found in nature or extracts from real foods, NHP’s are highly concentrated sources of nutrients. This is in contrast to nutrients found in foods which are more dispersed, hidden, and sometimes used differently by the body. As a result, while NHP’s might make taking in nutrients easier, the nutrients in those products might not have the same effect as those found in food.
UNKNOWN NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS
While regulated, NHP’s are not thoroughly tested (unlike, for instance, prescription medications). It is for this reason that their negative side effects are discovered only when consumer cases arise. For instance, concentrated green tea extract NHP’s, such as Green Tea Triple Fat Burner by Applied Nutrition and Green Lite Weight Management by Origin, which claim to aid in weight loss, were found to cause liver failure, and in some cases, death (2).
INCREASED CHANCE OF OVERDOSE
The Institute of Medicine has outlined the recommended daily requirements (known as the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or adequate intake (AI)) and limits (known as the upper limit (UL)) of macronutrients (commonly known as the “macros”), vitamins, and minerals. These recommendations apply to nutrients consumed through food and supplements.
Given the concentrated nature of NHP’s, it is easy to take too much of one nutrient at once. (Like with everything, too much of something good can be bad!) For products such as iron and vitamin D supplements, taking too many pills can be toxic to the body.
I’M TAKING NHP’S… HOW DO I KNOW HOW TO USE THEM?
With the little research conducted on NHP’s, it is best to consult a doctor if you are considering taking one. Understanding potential side effects, whether or not you need the product, and how much you might need of it is critical to ensuring good health.
ALTERNATIVES TO NHP’S?
When considering taking vitamin and mineral supplements specifically, consider taking natural food options instead. It doesn’t get more natural than food! For food sources of different vitamins or minerals, check out this link.
Also, be sure to consult your local registered dietitian in order to ensure you are eating well-balanced meals that fit your nutritional requirements!