12.08.2005

question

Do any Canadians here use nutritional supplements, like vitamins, herbal products, or homeopathic remedies? If so, perhaps you can help me out.

In the US, the over-the-counter supplement industry is completely unregulated. Disreputable companies can put anything in a capsule, put anything on the label, and as long as they have an FDA disclaimer, market it as anything they want. If the bottle says, for example, 600 milligrams of garlic extract, there might be 600 milligrams in a capsule, but there might be 300. Or none.

Consumer advocates have tried, and are still trying, to put some standardization and quality controls on the industry. When they do, the industry uses scare tactics, claiming that "the government wants to make you get a prescription for your vitamins," which, to my knowledge, has never been the case.

Because of this, in the US, if you take nutritional supplements of any kind, it's very important to buy from a reputable brand. I take a few different supplements, which have been allowed me to decrease or avoid stronger prescription medication. I made sure we moved up here with a good supply of everything we need, but the time to re-stock is approaching.

So, does anyone know (a) if nutritional supplements in Canada are regulated, and therefore more reliable, and (b) what are some good brands to look for?

21 comments:

Marnie said...

AFAIK, and I really should pay more attention to this kind of thing, there was a fairly recent crackdown on labels for supplements, remedies etc.

What I would do is find a good natural-health-type store (the Big Carrot is near me, and I trust them, but I wouldn't trust just any ol' health-store employee) and ask some questions. They should be up on the latest regs. Noah's is another popular store (Bloor and Spadina), but I don't know of anything handier to your neck of the woods.

L-girl said...

Thanks. There are quite a few pharmacies in Port Credit that stock huge amounts of natural supplements, including a big place that specializes in that. They have a few employees who are supposed to be "consultants" - but they carry so many different brands, none familiar to me. It was confusing.

But you're right, I'll have to find a good store (whether here or in Toronto) and go with recommendations. A leap of faith, I suppose.

I wouldn't mind stocking up when I come into Toronto - perhaps when we come in to buy wine at the flagship LCBO. Buy all the medicines at once. ;-)

Marnie said...

Health Canada website.

Here's the Big Carrot Dispensary. Their page says:

"Health Canada is in the process of implementing regulations for natural health products. They will begin overseeing product licensing, good manufacturing practices, clinical trials, labeling and packaging requirements, and adverse reaction reporting. This framework, which will gradually take into effect over the next six years, has been received with mixed reviews. At this point we do not know what effect it will have on the industry."

L-girl said...

Cool! Thank you, Marnie. That looks like a great place. It's on The List...

James said...

In the US, "nutritional supplements" are unregulated largely because of a Congressman who was big on homeopathy. Since all clinical trials of homeopathic remidies had failed to show any effects, he added text to an FDA bill exempting homeopathic remedies and related stuff from having to undergo clinical trials.

Which basically means that anyone with a quack remedy can get it onto store shelves by simply relabelling it to use the exemption.

Ferdzy said...

Hi!

I discovered your blog a few days ago and have enjoyed reading it.

Just off the top of my head, Jamieson and Swiss Herbal are two brands that are readily available and have a good reputation.

Closer to (your) home (I think) than The Big Carrot, there is a great health food store in Oakville. Darn. I forget the name. It's hard to miss though; it's the biggest in town, or was 10 years ago when I was last there.

L-girl said...

In the US, "nutritional supplements" are unregulated largely because of a Congressman who was big on homeopathy.

It's a little more than that. They have powerful industry lobbyists, and they rally consumers to their cause with scare tactics. A Congressperson on their side helps, for sure.

L-girl said...

Hi Ferdzy! Thanks for stopping by.

Do you know where that store in Oakville is? We'll be going down there occasionally because I've just discovered there's a Whole Foods in Oakville - my favourite store in New York.

Thanks for the tip on the brands, too. That's very helpful.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

It's a little more than that. They have powerful industry lobbyists, and they rally consumers to their cause with scare tactics. A Congressperson on their side helps, for sure.

Really? They're not regulated here yet, but nobody made a huge stink about Health Canada's decision to start regulating it. The whole push for regulation didn't have anything to do about the bottle's labelling. I.E. I haven't heard anything like:

and as long as they have an FDA disclaimer, market it as anything they want. If the bottle says, for example, 600 milligrams of garlic extract, there might be 600 milligrams in a capsule, but there might be 300. Or none.

What people were worried about was that there's no verification of the health claims of the products or their potential side effects.

L-girl said...

but nobody made a huge stink about Health Canada's decision to start regulating it.

Probably because Canadians aren't afraid of govt regulation like people in the US.

The whole push for regulation didn't have anything to do about the bottle's labelling. . .

What people were worried about was that there's no verification of the health claims of the products or their potential side effects.


The difference is that health claims and side effect disclosures are already regulated under FDA guidelines. ("This product has not been proven to treat, and is not intended to diagnose..." blah blah blah)

But honest product labelling - stating what the supplements actually contain - is the crux of the issue in the US.

Ferdzy said...

Well, hurray for Google. The name of the store is Alternatives. Google also tells me... there is now one in Port Credit, so you have probably already been there!

Just in case not, the one in Oakville is at 579 Kerr Street, and the one in Port Credit is at 170 Lakeshore Road East at Hurontario.

L-girl said...

The name of the store is Alternatives. Google also tells me... there is now one in Port Credit, so you have probably already been there!

Alternatives! It is literally down the street from us, right on our corner! That's hilarious.

It's not a great store here, though. It's an ok health food store, with a small selection of most things. Perhaps the one in Oakville is more extensive.

Thanks a bunch, Ferdzy. Much appreciated. (And yes, hurray for Google.)

Ferdzy said...

The one in Oakville is definitely quite large!

James said...

In the US, "nutritional supplements" are unregulated largely because of a Congressman who was big on homeopathy.

It's a little more than that. They have powerful industry lobbyists, and they rally consumers to their cause with scare tactics. A Congressperson on their side helps, for sure.


The original exemption for homeopathic and related "medicines" is quite old -- around 100 years, IIRC. The powerful lobbyists have been active more recently, maintaining and expanding the exemption.

L-girl said...

The original exemption for homeopathic and related "medicines" is quite old -- around 100 years, IIRC. The powerful lobbyists have been active more recently, maintaining and expanding the exemption.

Interesting! The history of the snake-oil salesman is an interesting one. I find a piece of it in every culture I read about.

L-girl said...

Not that I'm equating homeopathy with snake-oil!

James said...

Unfortunately, for the most part, homeopathy is snake oil. It was invented by Samuel Hahnemann in 1810 based on a form of sympathetic magic affecting "vital forces", and has about as much supporting evidence as phrenology (which developed around the same time). The basic idea was that an extremely dilute solution of something that can cause symptoms similar to those of a disease will cure the disease -- where "extremely dilute" often means "diluted to the point where there is none of the ingredient".

The really silly thing is that, these days, you will actually find fake homeopathic medicines in pharmacies, which actually use concentrations of their ingredients that are potent enough to have an effect. So the fake homeopathic medicines, which violate the basic principles Hahnemann developed, are more likely to have an effect than the real ones.

Oana said...

I second the Jamieson and Swiss Herbal suggestions. Do you have a Shoppers Drug Mart in Port Credit? They usually carry all kinds of supplements, and the pharmacists are fairly knowledgeable.

L-girl said...

Unfortunately, for the most part, homeopathy is snake oil.

Well, I disagree with this. I don't discount something just because western science has been unable to prove how it works.

The evidence might be anecdotal, but there's a mountain of it. I'm not saying it all works, but many things do. I treated myself for plantar's warts, for example, with a homeopathic remedy. I did my own experiment, and it absolutely worked, the results were not coincidental, not attributable to anything else, and repeatable - several times on myself, and on many other people. (Initially recommended by a podiatrist who heard about it from a client.)

If there are hundreds, thousands of stories like this - verifiable, repeatable - I think there is something to it, despite a lack of studies.

Do you have a Shoppers Drug Mart in Port Credit? They usually carry all kinds of supplements, and the pharmacists are fairly knowledgeable.

Oh sure. We go there all the time, right next to our Loblaws. I never thought of asking there - I associate those kind of stores with non-knowledgeable employees, but of course the pharmacists might be good. Thanks for the suggestion, and for the thumbs-up on those brands.

And welcome to wmtc! :)

James said...

Well, I disagree with this. I don't discount something just because western science has been unable to prove how it works.

How it works is largely irrelevant. There are many things that we know work even though we don't know how they work.

The real problem is that no-one has been able to prove that homeopathy works any better than a placebo.

That is, if you treat some people with a placebo and some with homeopathic remidies, you get the same rates of recovery in both groups -- so long as none of the patients are aware which kind of treatment they're getting.

As far as anecdotal evidence goes, I've treated myself for plantar's warts by doing nothing at all, and they cleared up. But that can hardly be taken as evidence that doing nothing is a good remedy.

L-girl said...

As far as anecdotal evidence goes, I've treated myself for plantar's warts by doing nothing at all, and they cleared up. But that can hardly be taken as evidence that doing nothing is a good remedy.

James, I greatly simplified my experience with homeopathic remedies for the sake of this blog and for other readers.

I had a long, long history with these plantars warts, and had tried every treatment available, over-the-counter, prescription, surgery. The experiment the podiatrist and I performed was controlled - different verucas received different treatments. The results were clearly not a placebo effect - nor a coincidence, as they have been repeated on me and many others for whom other treatments did not work.

I wholeheartedly agree that it doesn't matter how things work (or, for that matter, who believes that they work), what matters is that they do work. And work they do.

Again, I'm not saying all homeopathic remedies are real or that they all work. But some of them clearly are, and are clearly not placebos.

Often lack of proof (vs placebos) is nothing more than a lack of studies. For example, my medical doctor (former, in NYC), recommends red rice yeast to help lower cholesterol. It's believed to be a "natural statin," similar to the drug Lipitor but without harmful side effects.

She sees a very good effect in many of her patients for whom diet and exercise did not effect cholesterol levels (I am one of them). No studies have been done to test red rice yeast extract. There's no money in it, so no one has bothered. But the marked changes in blood cholesterol levels can't be attributable to anything else.

Technically, there's only anecdotal evidence, no proof. But there's also common sense - so she continues to recommend it.

I think many natural supplements and homeopathic remedies fall under this general framework.