The use of supplements or Natural Health Products (NHP) is a multi-billion dollar industry. Thanks to popular television shows and the internet, numerous products are promoted to well-meaning people hoping to positively influence their health. Unfortunately, conscientious consumers often choose supplements based on clever marketing, anecdotal evidence and testimonials, rather than on sound scientific evidence.
It is important to know that makers of supplements are not bound by the same rules as drug manufacturers, and do not have to show that their products are safe or effective before selling them. Fortunately, Health Canada responded to this concern by forming the Natural Health Products Directorate.
Regulations are in place to ensure that Canadians have ready access to NHPs that are safe, effective and of high quality. The regulations require that NHP health claims be supported by specific standards and that products are made according to good manufacturing practices in licensed facilities. Products approved will have a DIN (drug identification number), NPN (natural product number) or a DIN-HM (drug identification number – homeopathic medicine) on the label.
Supplements are a good option when you need them, but whole foods are best. Studies consistently show that vitamins and minerals in food are superior to supplements, so eating a well-balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains will provide most of the nutrients for maintaining health and well-being.
Supplementation of large amounts of some vitamins or minerals can have harmful effects. Your Copeman Registered Dietitian can advise whether or not you need to add supplements to your diet and help you navigate the claims made in popular media.
6 tips to help you make a safe and informed choice
If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. Are the claims exaggerated or unrealistic? Be skeptical about anecdotal information from people who have no formal training in nutrition or from personal testimonials about the incredible benefits or results obtained from using a product.
- Avoid chasing the latest headline. Sound health advice is based on a body of research and not a single study. Remember, science proceeds by conducting many studies that build toward a consensus.
- Natural does not mean healthy and safe. The use of “natural” on labels is not well-defined and can sometimes be used to imply unsubstantiated benefits or safety.
- Don’t assume that any supplement is harmless. When taken in high enough amounts, for a long time or in combination with other substances, all chemicals can be toxic.
- Discuss taking supplements with your doctor, as many supplements can interact with medications, be harmful to people with certain medical conditions, or be dangerous when undergoing surgery.
- Does the supplement have an NHP number? Check the label for a DIN (drug identification number), NPN (natural product number) or a DIN-HM (drug identification number – homeopathic medicine).