Alternative Health Care Risks

When people use self-selected health products, whether conventional medicines or NHPs, there are possible side effects or risks that must be considered. Some of these are as follows:

  • taking a product for a self-diagnosed condition that may be serious
  • absence or delay in receiving effective supervised treatment
  • for a medical condition
  • interaction with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, or other herbal products, which can result in other drugs having reduced or enhanced effects, including side effects or overdose
  • allergic reactions

With NHPs, there are additional aspects to consider, such as the possibility that a plant species may have been misidentified, that the amount of an ingredient may vary from that stated on the label or between batches, or that the health-related claims may not be appropriate for the ingredients. The new regulations are intended to address these risks.

The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) of Health Canada has developed regulations to ensure that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity. The NHP Regulations require that NHP health claims be supported by specific standards, and that products are made according to good manufacturing practices in licensed facilities.

Minimizing Your Risk

Natural health products can have potent effects on the body. While the intent is for positive health effects, there is also the potential for side effects. Therefore, before you take any self-selected or over-the-counter product, including a natural health product, you should take steps to be sure it is the correct product for you. You may wish to ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Why would I take this product?
  • What are the benefits or results that I am seeking from taking this product?
  • Is this the best product or approach to achieve those results, or are there better alternatives?
  • What is the evidence that supports the safety and effectiveness of this product?
  • What are the risks associated with taking this product?

If you are unsure of the answers, or uncomfortable with your understanding of some of the issues, you should talk to a health care professional, such as your doctor, pharmacist, or complementary/alternative health care provider.

You can reduce your risk of adverse effects by taking the following steps:

  • Tell your doctor what you are taking and why.
  • Use products that are approved. Look for a DIN, NPN or DIN-HM on the label.
  • Be skeptical about health-related claims for potentially serious conditions. Consult your doctor about the appropriate use of these products. Do not rely on company advertisements or package information.
  • Be aware of any reaction or interactions with other drugs you are taking. Report any adverse reaction to your doctor.
  • Consult your health care provider before giving a natural health product to a child.
  • Consult your health care provider before taking a health product if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you are a senior, have been diagnosed with a serious disease or significant previously diagnosed medical condition, or are scheduled for an operation.
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Alternative Health Care Risks