Health Canada recently recalled several popular health supplements due to contamination, which led many to question the safety and efficacy of their natural health supplements.
This is an important subject to discuss, as the popularity of natural health products such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs continues to rise. A 2010 survey reported that 73% of Canadians use natural health products.
Does Natural Equal safe?
There is a common misconception that if something is 'natural' (i.e. comes from nature) it is safe. This is a dangerous assumption to make, especially combined with the "if a little is good, a lot is better" mentality. Natural substances such as vitamins and herbs exert a physiological effect on the body, and can interact with other pharmaceutical drugs and cause harm. And as noted by the Renaissance physician Paracelcus, taken in excess, anything can become a poison.
Just as the quality of the food you eat can vary greatly (think Mcdonalds vs. well, anything else), so too can the quality of your supplements.
Many patients wonder why they should pay for professional brand supplements when they can get a lifetime supply of the "same" supplement at Costco. This is to ensure that quality control measures are met, such as testing the raw ingredients for heavy metals or pesticides, and testing the finished product for any contaminants. There is also a big difference in the quality of raw materials, potency, and effectiveness of different health supplements. So while it may be cheaper to stock up at Costco, in the end you get what you pay for.
How to choose a safe and effective health supplement
It can be a daunting task to walk into a health food store and choose from the wide variety of products. Naturopathic Physicians have extensive training in clinical nutrition and the use of supplements. It is always best to consult with a naturopathic physician to determine what supplements are actually necessary, and which products are the safest and most suited for your particular needs.
Yours in health,
Dr. Tomah Phillips, ND