Natural Health Products: It’s still buyer beware

If you think you’re protected by Health Canada, think again

When it comes to natural health products, if it seems as though there’s a free for all out there, there’s a reason for that.  According to many health professionals, it is nothing less.

Companies manufacturing natural health products are self-regulating, according to the regulations of Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD), the division of Health Canada responsible for these products.

Besides concerns over what’s actually in these products, how companies promote their products can  also mislead the public into purchasing products.  (I reported on a study a few years back where University of Guelph researchers tested 44 herbal products sold by 12 companies and found that only two of the companies provided authentic products without substitutions, contaminants or fillers.)

Case in point:  statements promoting a product – Healthy SLEEPTM supplements by Jamieson Laboratories. The company’s website states:

“Jamieson Healthy SLEEPTM is the first-timed release, non-habit forming natural sleep aid formulated with melatonin, L-Theanine and herbs such as Skullcap, Rhodiola and Chamomile. The ingredients in our proprietary blend have been clinically proven to help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and improve sleep quality.”

I was intrigued by the statement about the clinical studies involving their proprietary blend. So I did my own search of published studies on their blend which came up blank. No studies on Healthy Sleep nor on any of the ingredient combinations in their blend.

But here’s what Jamieson says about this product on their website:

• Helps increase the total sleep time (aspect of sleep quality) in people suffering from sleep restriction or altered sleep schedule, e.g. shift-work and jet lag.
• Helps to prevent and/or reduce the effects of jet lag (e.g. daytime fatigue, sleep disturbance) for people travelling by plane easterly across two or more time zones.
• Helps to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep onset latency aspect of sleep quality) in people with delayed sleep phase syndrome. Helps re-set the body’s sleep-wake cycle (aspect of the circadian rhythm).
• Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve nervousness (calmative/sedative).
• Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as a sleep aid (in cases of restlessness or insomnia due to stress).
• Used in Herbal Medicine helps support cognitive function (such as mental focus and mental stamina).
• Used Herbal Medicine as an adaptogen to help to temporarily relieve symptoms of stress (such as mental fatigue and sensation of weakness).
• Provides antioxidants.
• Helps to temporarily promote relaxation

It’s a pretty long list indeed. It seems there are lots of promises but not a lot of substance. Here’s why I say this.

Since I couldn’t find any clinical studies, I went to the source, Jamieson Laboratories and asked them, via email, for their clinical studies on the product. After all, they did state that their proprietary blend have been clinically proven to help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and improve sleep quality. After not hearing back, I emailed again and was then told that their Research Department would get back to me.

Instead I heard back from their manager of  Nutrition Education who sent me a product monograph which had  research referencing the various individual ingredients.

Any studies on their particular proprietary blend? Not even one.

There was no clinical research on their various claims about sleep after taking their product nor was there any on their statements about it being non-habit forming or showing the product was without  the side effects commonly associated with over-the-counter sleep aids.

Just how do they know this? Who knows if these ingredients together- a chemical soup of sorts, even though they’re natural – don’t  have a synergistic or additive effect when combined? Should there not be an obligation for clinical testing on this product with its whole mix of various substances promoting relaxation and sleep?

When I asked again to be directed to the clinical studies on this proprietary blend, I was told that the research was on the individual ingredients. It appears there are none on the blend, even though they stated on their website they had clinical proof of its effects. Are there also brochures or other sales material about their “clinical proof”?

Jamieson’s answer back was:

“The studies referred to are on the individual ingredients that make up the proprietary blend. I am going to connect with our Website team and have them tweak the phrase you mentioned below to reflect that.”

“Tweak the phrase”?  How do you tweak an untruth?

And therein lies an example of  the problems of how natural health products in Canada are regulated.


Have you come across other examples similar to this where consumers should be wary of what they’re buying? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Food Safety, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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