Herbal Roulette

Health Canada Approving Dubious Claims for Supplements, According to CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter


Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) has been busy in recent years approving hundreds of sometimes startling claims for various herbs and botanicals. Thanks to the agency, companies can now market garlic to treat respiratory infections, licorice to relieve joint pain, pennyroyal to "reduce giddiness," and cornflower to strengthen weak eyes. Black horehound has been approved as both a sedative and a stimulant. According to an exposé in the current issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, it’s no wonder the NHPD is so eager to approve so many dubious claims: Of 13 members of its Expert Advisory Committee that evaluates such claims, six are practicing herbalists and a seventh runs a wholesale herb import business. Two have done scientific research on herbs and two have built academic careers promoting botanicals for health.

"Health Canada is trying to roll back the calendar to the 19th century and the era of snake oil," charged David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of Nutrition Action.

NHPD’s panel has approved more than 300 such health claims based solely on "traditional use," which need only be supported by two traditional sources, such as compilations of herbal folklore, even when the claim is contradicted by modern science. The champion botanical is a perennial herb called Heal-All, which the NPHD has declared traditionally effective for 23 conditions, including sore throats, backaches, coughs, colds, cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fevers. More than 8,000 more products are waiting for NHPD’s approval, and the supplement industry is expected to submit more than 30,000 products for approval over the next year or two. The article is available here.

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