Health Canada Approves…for October 13th

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.

  • Kripps Heal-All: Traditionally used as a stomachic (51%, 22 Votes)
  • Bhagavad Vitae: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medecine as a rejuvenative tonic (49%, 21 Votes)
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It was a dead heat this week, with the fictional Bhagavad Vitae losing out to Kripps Heal-All — Natural Health Product Number 80001502 — which edged it out by a nose.

The last few entries in this series have focused on homeopathic remedies, so I decided we’d go back to an herbal product this week.   To be honest, after last week’s “short hares” fiasco, I felt I had to give Health Canada a fighting chance to redeem itself.

Heal-all, also known as self-heal or heart of the earth, is the pretty plant to your right, and is traditionally used as a cure for just about everything.  The NHPD entry only pertains to its use as a stomachic however, so I typed stomachic and “heal-all” into PubMed to see what I could find.

And the answer is: nothing.  So I tried using its latin name stomachic and “prunella vulgaris”. Still nothing.  Then, by accident, I hit Search with just stomachic in the search field.  In all of PubMed, there were only 46 hits.  Clearly there was something odd about this term.  A quick trip to Wikipedia helped clarify things:

A stomachic medicine is one that serves to tone the stomach, improving its function and increasing appetite. While many herbal remedies claim stomachic effects, modern pharmacology does not have an equivalent term for this type of action.

This was confirmed by a chat last night with Skeptic North’s resident pharmacist, who indicated that “stomachic” as a term of art was meaningless, and that the only thing he’s ever tonified is his gin.

Prunella Vulgaris as a search term (without stomachic) pulled up 82 hits on PubMed, but very few were on point.  Most of the hits were related to cancer, AIDS, arthritis, herpes, and a host of other illnesses.  Still there were a few that did actually relate to stomach function — one suggesting an anti-hyperglycemic effect in mice, for example, and another suggesting anti-lipase properties. These were hardly staged pharmaceutical trials, and I was somewhat skeptical of their publication in Chinese medical journals. Still, I am always aware in writing this column of the limits of my expertise in evaluating medical research, so I turned to a source I trust — the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent, science-based database of natural remedies.

It states that “there is insufficient reliable information available about the effectiveness of self-heal,” and I can’t say I’m all that surprised.  At least it doesn’t seem to have any significant safety concerns.

So why does Health Canada deem this product to be effective?  Luckily we have an answer to that.  The NHPD publishes a series of monographs on common herbal ingredients separate from the registration extracts for specific products, and it turns out that heal-all is one of those covered.  That monograph actually cites 13 sources, and claims that another 13 were reviewed in preparing the document. That’s a lot of data sources for something with next to no research in PubMed — so where’s the disconnect?

It’s called standard of evidence.  As Kim found out when reviewing Bryce Wylde’s homeopathy research, a plethora of citations does not evidence make.  The 26 sources quoted in the monograph include materia medica, herbalist dictionaries, publications by herbalist societies — an echo chamber of mutual reinforcement based on traditional usage and little, if any, science.

I think you all know how I feel about it — there aren’t enough sad emoticons in all the chat rooms on the internet to express my displeasure at Health Canada.  Though if there was one wee bit of redemption in all of this, it was the opportunity to peruse the website of Kripps Pharmacy, maker of this heal-nothing heal-all.  While clicking around, I stumbled on the latest issue of their newsletter — also the first issue, published 3 years ago now.  If you’re wondering why the followup has taken so long, it might be because the first one was such a tough act to follow — it clocks in at 135 pages, two of which are dedicated solely to “How to navigate our newsletter most usefully.”  Say what you want about their products, they’re certainly committed.  Or perhaps should be.

What does Health Canada have in store for us this week?  Check your choices below to find out.  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.”

  • Gammadyn I: Oligotherapy Remedy to be used on the advice of your health care practitioner. A factor in the maintenance of good health. Helps in the function of the thyroid gland. (77%, 17 Votes)
  • Sushininum 18: Torotherapic treatment for improvement of fatty belly. Use on advice of your health care practitioner. (23%, 5 Votes)
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Answers next week…naturally!

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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