Natural health products in Canada: What you need to know

Senators in Canada are considering new regulations that would require closer monitoring of the side effects of “natural health products”.

Part of Measure C-47, which implements several federal government commitments under Budget 2023, would incorporate natural health products, such as herbal medicines and supplements, into the Vanessa Law , require hospitals to report any adverse reactions related to the product .

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


Health Canada defines natural health products as “natural substances used to restore or maintain good health.” Also called “alternative” or “free” drugs, 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 treatments, homeopathic and traditional medicines, and probiotics.

Health Canada says some everyday consumer products, such as toothpaste and shampoo, can also be defined as natural health products in Canada, as long as the product is not infringing. :

  • diagnose, treat, minimize or prevent disease, disorder or abnormal physical condition or symptoms in humans;
  • restore or correct organic functions in humans; or
  • modifying organic functions in humans, such as modifying those functions in a way that maintains or promotes health.


Health Canada says the products are “generally safe and have fewer side effects than drugs,” but noted that the products “are not without risk.”

According to the health authority, risks include manufacturing problems, unproven claims, lack of information for consumers, interactions with other drugs or natural health products, and adverse effects. Undesirable side effects may occur.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health—the U.S. government agency that administers these products south of the border—also notes that just because an ingredient is of “natural” origin and not manufactured Synthetic export doesn’t mean it’s completely safe.

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

Some critics argue that Health Canada has not done a good job of keeping potentially unsafe 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 false product information. Some products have unproven and unauthorized health claims, wrong dosages, incomplete ingredient lists, or illegible information on product labels.


Since 2014, hospitals have been required to report adverse health reactions related to any medication after the federal government passed the Vanessa Act.

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

The Canadian Health Food Association, which represents the natural health products industry, said it felt blindsided by the proposed regulations, arguing that the proposals had not been researched or debated. properly, instead included in a budget bill.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Pharmacists Association has come out in support of the regulations and said natural health products should be included when the original Vanessa Law was passed in 2014.

With files from the Canadian Press


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