An editorial in Monday's Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling on the federal government to crack down on natural health products, which the author argues are poorly tested and can do patients more harm than good, compared to conventional medicines.
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"They simply have to show that someone, somewhere once used this as therapy for something," Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, the journal's deputy editor, told CBC Toronto.
The editorial urges Health Canada to stop makers of natural health products from claiming that the products are remedies, because they are not as rigorously tested as conventional, over-the-counter drugs.
"The double standard perpetuated by both regulators and retailers that enables the deception of unsuspecting Canadians must end," the editorial states. "Alternative medicines with claims based on alternative facts do not deserve an alternative, easy regulatory road to market."
Supporters of alternative medicines are disputing the editorial's claims.
Shawn O'Reilly, executive director of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, said the editorial doesn't accurately reflect the standards that natural health products must meet before they can be sold to the public, which she called "robust."
And Mike Hannalah, a Toronto pharmacist who dispenses both traditional and natural remedies, said no natural health product can be placed on his shelf until it has received a "natural product number" from Health Canada, which is only issued once the federal government has approved the medicine for therapeutic use.
"So to me, it's the same kind of safety measures," he told CBC Toronto. "I do feel comfortable as a practitioner, as a pharmacist, to dispense those natural health products that met those requirements."
However, the editorial states that some natural health products are allowed make claims that have not been tested by Health Canada.
"If consumers are unable to separate products with no scientific proof behind them from products supported by evidence, then we need to separate them in stores," the editorial states. "Natural health products should be pulled from the shelves where they are mixed with nonprescription drug products and confined to their own separate section."
Stanbrook also wants Health Canada to be given the power to remove natural health products from shelves — a power it currently doesn't have.
Can recall 'a bag of chips' but not a natural remedy
Health Canada is currently reviewing the regulations that govern the sale of self-care products, including natural remedies. At a recent stop in Toronto, Manon Bombardier, Health Canada's director general of natural and nonprescription health products, said under the current rules, she has no authority to remove from shelves a natural remedy that proves to be harming people.
"We need to change that," she said. "Health Canada has the power to recall a bag of chips, but does not have the power to to recall an unsafe natural health product."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Canadian Medical Association Journal called for a crackdown on "naturopathic remedies." In fact, the editorial referred to natural health products.Jun 26, 2017 4:17 PM ET