Natural Products

Ask A Pharmacist

Natural Products: What You Need to Know

"Natural" does not mean "safe" or "benign"

  • 25% of drugs come from plant sources (natural sources)
    Image of Poppy Opium Poppy is a natural source used to extract opium refined to morphine and codeine (common opioids)
  • Many natural products (herbs) are dangerous.
  • The body can not tell the difference between a "natural" chemical and a "synthetic" chemical.

"Safe" and "Effective"

  • Natural products do not require proof that they are safe or effective.
  • In contrast, drugs must be proven safe and effective through rigorous testing before they can be marketed.

"Detoxify your body"

  • No evidence exists about toxins building up in the body or a need to cleanse or detoxify.
  • No proof that natural products can "cleanse" or "detoxify" the body.

Contents of the Product

  • Examine the label of the product carefully.
  • In Canada, the Natural Health Products Regulations began in 2004 which requires a product licence to be sold (companies are in the process of obtaining licences). This ensures sound manufacturing processes, listing of medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients, source and potency.
  • Ensure the product lists a DIN, NPN or DIN-HM number which means the product has been reviewed and approved by Health Canada.
  • Products without these number designations have no assurance that they are a quality, safe or effective product.
  • These products may have varying amounts of ingredients that do not need to be listed on the label. They may be adulterated with toxic substances (heavy metals) or prescription drugs. A big unknown!
  • If you are considering a product from a naturopath, homeopath or Natural health product centre ask the individual what education they have had in this field.

Few natural products have undergone unbiased scientific trials

  • The dose and dosage form needed for safety and effectiveness is largely unknown.
  • Long term effects are unknown.
  • Generally no information used in patients with kidney or liver disease or other disease states.
  • Limited or no information on their use in children, pregnancy or lactation.
  • Limited or no information on what effects they have when taken with medications (non-prescription and prescription).

*** IF YOU ARE TAKING A NATURAL PRODUCT it is very important to mention it to your health care professional (doctor, pharmacist, nurse) ***

Janice Sumpton RPh., BScPhm.       February 7, 2010