Natural health products

Natural health products (NHPs) include vitamins and minerals, herbs, and other products such as homeopathic preparations. Some complementary therapy practitioners use NHPs as part of their therapy.

It’s important to remember that even if a product is natural, it isn’t always safe. Like all drugs, NHPs may have serious side effects. Talk to your healthcare team and to your complementary therapy practitioner before taking any NHP.

Natural health products during cancer treatment

It’s hard to know how taking an NHP during cancer treatment will affect you or your treatment.

  • We know that some NHPs can interact with conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Some NHPs could affect your cancer treatment so it doesn’t work as well as it should.
  • Some NHPs may help reduce or relieve side effects of conventional cancer treatment. But they can also interact with your treatment and cause more toxic side effects.
  • NHPs may also affect the results of tests you have to measure your response to treatment and monitor how you’re doing.

Let your healthcare team know if you decide to take NHPs. Your healthcare team and your complementary therapy practitioner can help make sure that the NHPs are safe to take during your cancer treatment. Your healthcare team may recommend that you stop taking NHPs before surgery or during treatment because of the risk of negative interactions. Or they may recommend that you take only certain products that are known to be safe and helpful.

What about vitamin and mineral supplements?

Check with your doctor before you use vitamin and mineral supplements. Most people can take a regular-strength multivitamin and mineral supplement designed for their age group every day.

Regulation in Canada

Health Canada’s Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate monitors NHPs sold in Canada. Its job is to make sure that products sold in Canada are of good quality, safe and effective. It also makes sure that NHPs are labelled correctly. The label should tell you what the product is for, how much to take and whether Health Canada knows of any possible reactions that could harm you.

All NPHs sold in Canada must have either an NPN (Natural Product Number) or DIN-HM (Drug Identification Number – Homeopathic Medicine). These numbers tell you that the product meets Canadian regulations and is licensed by Health Canada.

The Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate also:

  • maintains a database of the licensed NHPs in Canada
  • collects information about adverse effects (bad, negative or harmful effects or reactions)
  • issues public warnings about problems
  • recalls unsafe products

Health Canada’s rules do not cover NHPs bought in other countries or from Internet pharmacies. Health Canada does not regulate whole plants or herbs or products made by a practitioner. For example, if a naturopathic doctor or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner prepares a tea from herbs, that tea is not covered by these rules.

Report any side effects that you have while taking an NHP to your healthcare team, your complementary therapy practitioner and to the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate.

Expert review and references