An Edmonton woman who manages her multiple sclerosis symptoms with natural remedies will have to do it without a tax break from the federal government.

Mary Synnett, a production and marketing specialist in her 50s, lost an appeal Thursday to have the Canada Revenue Agency reassess her 2014 tax return.

She was trying to claim about $6,000 in medical expenses for alternative treatments such as massage therapy and reflexology, and supplements like magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin B12.

"Being proactive in my health care, I feel that not only am I able to remain a contributing member of the tax system, I'm also keeping myself from being a burden on the health-care system," she said.

Synnett doesn't take prescription drugs. She exercises, avoids processed foods and rarely goes to the doctor, she said. 

Mary Synnett

Mary Synnett relies on alternative practices like massage therapy and reflexology, and supplements like magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin B12 to treat multiple sclerosis. (CBC)

All of these things, she feels, saves the health system money, unlike a reactive health-care system that treats symptoms when sickness strikes.

"Everything I'm taking does make a difference in my basic motor processes," she said. "So we really have to listen to our body and what it needs to heal, not what it needs to just hide."

Justice Diane Campbell at the Tax Court of Canada upheld the CRA's assessment and denied Synnett's claim.

"Any claim of efficacy or any claim of benefit should be supported by real scientific evidence, not just anecdote." - Timothy Caulfield, University of Alberta

Under the Income Tax Act, practices such as massage therapy and reflexology aren't on the list of regulated and recognized medical professions.

That means people are not eligible for tax rebates on natural supplements.

'Creeping legitimization'

Campbell commended Synnett for her seeking alternative treatments and noted that in 17 years on the bench, she's heard similar stories from people using alternative medicines.

"I expected the government would amend the legislation," Campbell said. "But nothing has changed." 

Tim Caulfied

University of Alberta professor in law and public health Tim Caulfield is worried about 'creeping legitimization' of practices that don’t have a lot of evidence to back them up. (University of Alberta)

Tim Caulfield, director of research at the University of Alberta's Health Law Institute, agrees with the current law.

He said he's worried about the "creeping legitimization" of practices that don't have a lot of evidence to back them up.

"It's good that there are some bounds around what the government considers legitimate health-care practices and what the government considers practices that don't have science behind it," he said.

Caulfield said Health Canada should be more strict in sanctioning supplements.  

"Any claim of efficacy or any claim of benefit should be supported by real scientific evidence, not just anecdote." 

Health Canada allows natural supplements to be sold, he said, but the standard for regulating natural health products is much lower than the standard for pharmaceuticals.

Synnett said she wasn't surprised by Justice Campbell's decision to deny her appeal, adding that she sees both approaches to health care eventually working together.

"A marriage of the two — natural medicine and traditional medicine — because really we need both," she said.

"We don't need one against another …  We need them to join forces to become functional medicine."

Synnett said the country needs an ombudsperson to evaluate the role of natural supplements and practices in the health-care system.