Melissa Benoit

Natural Health Products

Natural can be a confusing term. A natural health product (NHP) is a term used in Canada to refer to a group of complementary and alternative health products that can be used and marketed for specific health reasons. Among others, natural health products can include vitamins and minerals, homeopathic medicines, herbal and plant remedies, "traditional" medicine (i.e. Traditional Chinese medicine), or Ayurvedic medicine, amino acids or essential fatty acid products, probiotics, and some personal care products including mouthwash, other teeth-cleaning products)

How can NHP be hazardous?

NHP can be hazardous due to

• Contamination in the manufacturing (inadequate quality control, improper or unsafe dosage)

• Side effects

• Allergic reactions

• Interactions with food, drug, or other natural health product

• Promoting untrue claims and false or pseudo-science

Every person is different and may react differently to the same NHP, meaning that one person could have a change in symptoms while another may not.

Weighing the benefits and risks

• Are there strong studies to support NHP use?
• How long is the NHP active in the body?
• Are there any known interactions or adverse effects?
• What is the cost of this product?

Planning ahead is critical when considering NHP use

• National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): nccam.nih.gov
• Natural Standard: www.naturalstandard.com
• Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com

It is important to remember that just as medicine you take can cause side effects, natural health products are also capable of causing side effects. A common misconception is that "natural" is the same as "safe", however NHP must be rigorously tested to ensure its safety before it can be used by patients.

Please remember to discuss ALL changes with respect to NHP use with your CF care team. You should treat these substances as carefully and cautiously as you treat your regular CF medications.

This is how your health care team weighs the benefits and risks of taking NHP

• What is the response rate of the treatment? Is there proven benefit in CF patients?

• How will you know if it's working?

• How long do you have to take this NHP?

• How will you monitor for side effects?

• How will you manage any side effects?

• Make sure your health care team knows what you are taking

Where can I find unbiased, scientific information on natural health products?

There are several free-access websites that provide some reliable information on natural health products and complementary and alternative medicines:

• HerbMed: www.herbmed.org

• Newspapers, books, and the Internet (make sure you check the reliability of the source)

• Your health care team with qualifications (doctor, pharmacist, naturopath)

Health care providers may have access to databases with excellent information:

Homeopathic medicines

A common theme throughout homeopathic medicine is the known as the homeopathic premise. This premise is essentially that a small amount of something deadly will help your body cure certain diseases.

Personal Care Products

Some mouthwashes, and teeth cleaning products (oral hygiene) can have traces or active ingredients that are NHPs. Read ingredients and directions on sides of these products carefully. Accidentally ingesting these products can cause harm to the body. Exercise caution and consult your care team if you are unsure whether a product is safe. 

Tips

• Remember that "natural" does not necessarily mean "safe"

• Discuss all decisions regarding NHP with your CF care team

• NHP can have both health benefits and harms 

• Look out for and use only approved products

Check out the government website regarding NHP: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodnatur/index-eng.php