Shouldn’t you know that the pills you are paying for are safe, and actually do something?
This week’s post will revisit a topic I recently covered, but it’s time-sensitive and needs your input. Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent to the US Food and Drugs Administration, is considering revisions to the way in which it regulates dietary supplements, which are called “natural health products” in Canada. It is rare that a regulator acknowledges that a regulatory system isn’t working, and publicly expresses a commitment to being more science-based. There is a time-limited opportunity for the public (including all of you non-Canadians!) to provide comment on how supplement regulation could be more closely aligned around scientific principles, rather than the supplement industry’s priorities. Whether you take dietary supplements or not, we can probably all agree that consumers should have access to safe products as well as credible, relevant information about these products, in order to make informed health decisions. It will likely not surprise you that these ideas are seen as threats to supplement manufacturers, who benefit from little regulatory oversight and few restrictions on what can currently be claimed about any product’s effectiveness. Since my last post, there have been some new reactions to the consultation that are worth discussing. (more…)
Unsubstantiated claims could be on their way out in Canada
When it comes to regulating and selling dietary supplements, should consumer interests be higher priority than those of manufacturers? While regulations are seemingly created to protect consumers, governments around the world have consistently given manufacturers the upper hand, prioritizing a company’s desire to sell a product over a consumer’s right to a marketplace with safe, effective products. Nowhere is this more the case than in Canada and the United States, where similar regulatory approaches have led to an industry boom and massive sales, but also a confusing marketplace for consumers and no persuasive evidence that all those supplements have any meaningful effects on our health. Drug store shelves in 2016 are packed with hundreds of products with unsubstantiated claims and untested products, and little credible information to guide selection. Since its beginnings, the contributors to this blog has been consistent in calling for more appropriate regulation: one that puts consumers first, not manufacturers, and evaluates all products (drugs, supplements or otherwise) with a consistent standard of science and evidence. Today, it looks like one regulator is preparing to move in that direction. Health Canada, Canada’s equivalent to the FDA, has proposed a new regulatory approach that is expected to block manufacturers from selling products with unsubstantiated and often misleading health claims. And they are asking for your input. Carly Weeks in The Globe and Mail writes: (more…)
Do you believe in magic? It might surprise you to learn that some people believe sugar pills have healing properties. This belief system, called homeopathy, is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, and it’s growing. While there is no convincing evidence to demonstrate that homeopathic treatments are more effective than a placebo, many consumers and even some health professionals accept homeopathy as a legitimate health treatment, and its providers as legitimate health professionals. Responding to the perceived consumer demand for these products, government regulators have had a difficult decision to make: They could ignore homeopathy as a health practice, treating it like we might think of astrology: firmly outside of medicine. Or they could choose some form of regulation, targeting the providers (homeopaths) or the product (homeopathy), possibly with the goal of managing its use, or perhaps limiting harms to consumers. The risk of regulating nonsense, as has been described before, is the perceived legitimacy that recognition and regulation implies. Regrettably, regulation in many countries has had that exact effect. What’s worse, regulation often seems to have prioritized the commercial interests of homeopaths over the public interest, leaving consumers with little understanding that homeopathy lacks scientific credibility as a health practice. Consequently, homeopathy has attracted regular criticism from SBM’s bloggers, science and health journalists, and other science advocates over the years. It appears this advocacy is finally having an effect. Regular readers will recall several posts over the past few weeks, describing the possibility of new regulation of homeopathy by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And just recently, Health Canada announced two important changes to its homeopathy regulation, which may signal a new direction. Are we witnessing the beginning of more sensible regulation of this prescientific practice? (more…)
Alternative medicine is ascendant in Canada. From the dubious remedies that are now stocked by nearly every pharmacy, to the questionable “integrative” medicine at universities, there’s a serious move to embrace treatments and practices that are not backed by credible evidence. Canada’s support for alternative medicine, and for its “integration” into conventional health care is arguably is worse than many other countries. Canada’s drugs regulator, Health Canada, has approved hundreds of varieties of sugar pills and declared them to be “safe and effective” homeopathic remedies. Some provinces are even moving to regulate homeopaths as health professionals, just like physicians, nurses and pharmacists. Given the regulatory and legislative “veneer of legitimacy” that homeopathy is being granted, you can see how consumers might be led to believe that homeopathic remedies are effective, or that homeopaths are capable of providing a form of health care. The reality is far uglier, and the consequences may be tragic. Canadian homeopaths are putting the most vulnerable in society at risk by selling sugar pills to consumers, while telling them that they’re getting protection from communicable diseases. (more…)
The Canadian Parliament, hypothetically protecting consumers since Confederation.
One of the most pervasive yet appealing health myths is the idea that natural equals safe. It’s a statement that’s repeated constantly by manufacturers of supplements and “natural” health products. It’s been the primary argument used, with considerable success, to give these products completely different regulatory structures than exist for drug products. Weaker regulation of supplements and natural health products has been a boon to manufacturers, but the same can’t be said for consumer protection. It’s effectively a buyer-beware marketplace in most parts of the world, with little accurate information available to consumers. But supplement manufacturers aren’t content with the minimal regulation that’s currently in place – they want health “freedom”. In this case, “freedom” means the right to sell any product, while being exempted from safety and regulatory requirements. New Canadian legislation is poised to raise safety standards for drugs and enhance the ability of regulators to recall dangerous products, yet consumers of natural health products are left behind. The legislation proposes to exempt anything considered a “natural health product”. This is not only bad public policy, but it has the potential to cause avoidable harm. After all, shouldn’t users of supplements and natural health products be entitled to the same safety and quality standards as those that use prescription drugs? If the supplement industry gets its way, the answer will be “no”. (There is an opportunity until June 10 for you to provide feedback on this legislation – see below.) (more…)
As a group blog, Science-Based Medicine brings a variety of perspectives to issues of science in medicine. However we align around a few core principles which define what science-based medicine is, and how it should be practiced. One principle we emphasize is the importance of subjecting the evaluation of all health interventions and treatments to a single, science-based standard. One of the biggest successes of the alternative medicine industry, worldwide, has been the embedding of different regulatory standards for the evaluation and approval of so-called “non-drug” products such as supplements, herbal products, and non-scientific treatment systems like homeopathy or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The implications cannot be overstated: this different and lower standard is now so firmly entrenched in most health systems that few seem to question its rationale, or consider the consequences. As a practicing pharmacist I spent the first decade of my career working within this regulatory framework without ever stepping back to question why we regulate some products differently. I started reading, took the red pill, and here I am today. (more…)