Regulators like Health Canada have tremendous power. They alone decide whether a drug or health product can be legally sold in Canada. With that power they have the authority to compel manufacturers to generate data to support their health claims, and they have the final word on the marketing statements a manufacturer can make about their product. If you don’t satisfy their requirements, you may not sell your product in Canada. Health Canada claims to have a rigorous review process, and they assure Canadians that their approval means (in their words) that a product is “safe, effective, and of high quality.” The system is designed for consumer protection purposes – regulations and rules for companies have developed over decades based in part on regulatory disasters like the thalidomide tragedy. So when you see a product that is approved by Health Canada that claims “Helps the body to metabolize fats and proteins”, then you might expect that claim to be backed by good scientific evidence. You’d be wrong. Regrettably, Health Canada has effectively eliminated regulatory requirements for anything that can be called a “Natural Health Product”. It’s a regulatory double standard that has allowed hundreds of useless and sometimes potentially dangerous products on to the Canadian marketplace.
Kudos to Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who discovered the newest health innovation that’s been deemed “safe, effective, and of high quality”, by the Natural Health Products Directorate. Halls Antioxidant Supplement Drops has the following “Recommended Use”:
Recommended Use or Purpose:
Vitamin supplement, mineral supplement, vitamin/mineral supplement multi-vitamin, multi-mineral or multi-vitamin/mineral. A factor in the maintenance of good health. Helps the body to metabolize fats and proteins. Helps in the development and maintenance of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums. Helps in connective tissue formation. Helps in wound healing. An antioxidant for the maintenance of good health.
And here are the ingredients:
List of Medicinal Ingredients: Medicinal Ingredients Quantity (Qty) Extract Potency Vitamin C 30.0 mg Vitamin E 3.45 mg AT 7.5 IU
I’d be interested to see the evidence that Vitamin E and C supplements help in the development of anything, in the absence of deficiency. And it’s curious why a supplement would be allowed to contain Vitamin E, when the benefit of supplementation ranges from dubious to concerning (although at these tiny doses, the worries are almost certainly minimal). It’s clear these vitamins have been added to meet Health Canada’s requirements. The result is a product that has an impressive aura of health (at least from the packaging), when it’s actually just vitamin-fortified candy.
But what’s more egregious than a company branding candy as a health product? It’s Health Canada which goes along, approving products like this and assuring us it will help heal wounds. So what makes this a “Natural Health Product” anyway? Here are the non-medicinal ingredients:
- Acesulfame Potassium
- Berry flavour
- Berry flavour
- Citric acid
- Diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides
- FD&C Blue #1
- FD&C red #40
- Malic Acid, DL-
- Mono and diglycerides
- Pomegranate flavour
- Pomegranate flavour
What’s “natural” about acesulfame potassium or Sucralose? They’re both artificial sweeteners. While there’s no reason to think any of these ingredients are harmful, it does seem strange that a hard candy, sweetened with artificial sweeteners, could still be considered by Health Canada as “natural health product”.
Health Canada’s Big Rubber Stamp of Approval
Sadly, this isn’t the first ridiculous (and ineffective) product approved by Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate. There’s a long list of other products (more from this post at Skeptic North) that it also considers to be “safe and effective”:
- Carcinosinum – Homeopathic cancer. NPN 80022612 (Homeopathy is a “remedy” system where the products tend to be diluted so extensively that they are completely inert – with no medicinal effects. In short, they are pure placebo.)
- Penicillinum – Homeopathic penicillin. NPN 80009432
- Homeopathic sea water — DIN-HM 80017767
- Homeopathic insulin — DIN-HM 80016480
- DNA – Homeopathic DNA from an unknown source. NPN 80016274
- Cholesterinum – Homeopathic cholesterol. NPN 80010019
- Orchitinum – Homeopathic wild boar testicles. NPN 80013901
- Dozens of homeopathic “nosodes” claimed by homeopaths and naturopaths be an alternative to vaccines
- Homeopathic insect repellant Mozi-Q, claimed to prevent insect bites but backed by zero published evidence
- Oscillococcinum, a sugar pill claimed to prevent and treat colds and the flu
This is just a sampling. The Skeptic North blog used to post two remedies each week – one “real” (i.e., approved by Health Canada) and one completely made up. It was difficult to tell the difference.
Health Canada has effectively removed the scientific barriers to products labelled as “Natural Health Products” giving rise to an absurd system that is “regulation” in name only, and a market that is growing with useless and dubious “natural health products”. The real losers here are consumers, and the overwhelming winners are manufacturers. Canadians expect regulators to test and approve products – after all, isn’t that what a regulator is supposed to do? At a a minimum, we should expect that a product approved for sale actually works. Health Canada’s claim that the Natural Health Products Directorate “assures that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality” is laughably and demonstrably wrong.