What to know about natural health products as Canada considers new regulations

By Tom Yun/Writer of

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Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — Canada’s senators are discussing new regulations that would require closer monitoring of side effects from “natural health products.”

Part of Bill C-47, which implements several commitments made by the federal government in Budget 2023, would integrate natural health products, such as herbal remedies and supplements, into the Vanessa’s Law, which requires hospitals to report any adverse reactions associated with products.

Here’s what you need to know about natural health products, the risks associated with these products, and Canada’s proposed regulations.


Health Canada defines natural health products as “natural substances used to restore or maintain good health”. Also called “alternative” or “complementary” medicines, they can come in the form of tablets, capsules, tinctures, solutions, creams, ointments and drops.

Examples of natural health products include vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic and traditional medicines, and probiotics.

According to Health Canada, some common consumer products, such as toothpaste and shampoo, can also be defined as natural health products in Canada, provided the product is involved in:

– the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder or abnormal physical state or its symptoms in humans; – restore or correct organic functions in humans; or – altering organic functions in humans, such as altering those functions in a way that maintains or promotes health.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF USING NATURAL HEALTH PRODUCTS? Health Canada says these products are “generally safe and have fewer side effects than drugs,” but notes that the products are “not risk-free.”

According to the health agency, the risks include manufacturing issues, unproven claims, lack of consumer information, interaction with other medications or natural health products, and possible adverse side effects.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the US government agency that regulates these products south of the border, also notes that just because an ingredient is of “natural” origin and has not been synthetically made that it is totally safe.

For example, the agency says kava, a plant native to the South Pacific that has been used as a dietary supplement, may be associated with serious liver damage.

Some critics say Health Canada hasn’t done an adequate job of keeping potentially dangerous products away from consumers. A 2021 report from the Office of the Auditor General found that 88% of natural health products reviewed were advertised with misleading product information. Some of the products had unproven and unauthorized health claims, incorrect dosages, incomplete ingredient lists, or illegible information on the product label.

HOW WILL CANADA’S PROPOSED REGULATION AFFECT NATURAL HEALTH PRODUCTS? Since 2014, hospitals have been required to report adverse health effects associated with any pharmaceutical product after the federal government passed Vanessa’s Law.

At the time, natural health products were excluded from these reporting requirements. But these new regulations proposed under Bill C-47 would put natural health products in the same framework as Vanessa’s law.

The Canadian Health Food Association, which represents the natural health products industry, says it feels blindsided by the proposed regulations, arguing that the proposals have not been properly studied or debated, but that they instead are locked into an omnibus budget bill.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Pharmacists Association has come out in favor of the regulation and said natural health products should have been included when Vanessa’s Law was passed in 2014.

With files from The Canadian Press

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