Health Canada Approves… for September 1st

Welcome to Health Canada Approves... where we ask you to determine which products have been licensed by Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate.

Here are the results from last week’s poll.

  • Devil's Claw Secondary Tuber: Traditionally used to help treat inflammation of the joints. (62%, 91 Votes)
  • Reastatica: Homeopathic preparation used in the treatment of disorders of the nervous and phlegmatic systems. (38%, 56 Votes)
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The correct answer is Devil’s Claw Secondary Tuber, Natural Health Product Number 80000219.  We decided to start off easy on Health Canada, and picked an herbal preparation that’s actually known to do something.  Devil’s Claw is a plant native to South Africa, with tubers shaped like elongated sweet potatoes; it gets its colourful name from hooks on its fruit that help spread seeds by attaching themselves to animals.  According to Health Canada’s monograph, it’s used to stimulate the appetite and relieve both digestive disorders and osteoarthritis, though only this last claim is made by its vendor.  And for arthritis, it likely does have some efficacy, according to a recent systematic review which looked at several natural arthritis remedies.  In fact, it appears to act primarily as a COX-2 inhibitor like Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra.

So should we score one for Health Canada?  I’m not so sure.  First, there have been problems with some COX-2 inhibitors, notably Vioxx, which was pulled from the market due to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.  This despite years of staged trials and government approvals, none of which has Devil’s Claw been subject to.  While there’s no known reason to tar Devil’s Claw with that brush, it does make it doubly disconcerting that the Health Canada monograph doesn’t list any contraindications or adverse reactions.  The product information page does list a few, but they seem pretty incomplete compared to those of prescription COX-2 inhibitors, e.g. Celebrex’s lists here and here, respectively.

Such is the Catch-22 of natural remedies: only remedies without active ingredients can (possibly) be risk-free.  If they work, they’re pharmaceuticals, and if they’re pharmaceuticals they have risks.    Personally, I’d much rather have those risks be known so I can discuss them with my physician.

Now, for this week’s question.  And remember, the real product “has been assessed by Health Canada and has been found to be safe, effective and of high quality under its recommended conditions of use.”

  • Hepa's Wort: Ayurvedic remedy for liver imbalances. (69%, 68 Votes)
  • Vomitusheel: Homeopathic preparation to help treat nausea and vomiting. (31%, 30 Votes)
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Answers next week…naturally!

3 Responses to “Health Canada Approves… for September 1st”

  1. Kim Hebert says:

    Especially grating is that a longer contraindications list is often used as evidence that pharmaceutical drugs are inherently harmful, not that they are more thoroughly represented.

    “Devil’s Claw has NO side-effects. But just look at this shameful Celebrex, with an entire list of side-effects! Clearly natural is better.”

    Ooooooooor they are regulated differently.

  2. Dianne Sousa says:

    I think I’m a little confused. Does Health Canada maintain that that natural health products as they regulate them are safer that the pharmaceuticals they regulate? When they do not list any contraindications or adverse reactions do they maintain that there are no risks to the products use? Or perhaps they’re suggesting no known risks. I noted that in the product monograph is states “no statement required. Is there a way to challenge the validity of the monograph?

    • Erik Davis says:

      Don’t worry Diane, it’s perfectly reasonable to be confused by the NHPD regulations…they don’t make a lot of sense. There’s no formal hierarchy (or relationship of any kind, really) between the pharma regs and natural health regs, despite the fact that the same agency oversees them both. So you can’t say that one is safer than the other, because they’re on different planes entirely. Pharma requires years of staged clinical trials and mountains of disclosure, whereas all a natural health product needs is some proof that it’s been used as a traditional remedy before. So sources that predate germ theory are regularly accepted as proof of efficacy. The result is a worrisome mixed bag — placebo remedies like homeopathy mixed in with active pharmaceuticals that have undergone little or no testing. And all of it gets stamped as “safe, effective, and high quality” with a laughably low standard of evidence.

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  • Erik Davis

    Erik is a technology professional based in Toronto, focused on the intersection of the internet and the traditional media and telecommunications sectors. A reluctant blogger, he was inspired by the great work Skeptic North has done to combat misinformation and shoddy science reporting in the Canadian media, and in the public at large. Erik has a particular interest in critical reasoning, and in understanding why there’s so little of it in the public discourse. You can follow Erik's occasional 140 character musings @erikjdavis