If health is wealth, then Canadians are, on the whole, a rather fortunate lot. Thanks to advances in medical science, the wide availability of health information and a relatively high standard of living, Canadians today are living longer and enjoying better health than people in many other countries, including the United States.
According to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing – a research project led by the University of Waterloo – health care access and a healthy environment are among the key factors that Canadians have identified as vital to a good quality of life. In a recent poll by Nanos Research and the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Canadians ranked health care as most important to the country's future – more vital than job creation, education and safe communities.
Given the national preoccupation with staying well, it's not surprising that millions of Canadians are embracing natural health products – supplements, vitamins, homeopathic remedies and traditional medicines made from natural sources – that aim to restore or maintain good health.
"Canadians are putting greater and greater emphasis on their health and proactively trying to reduce the risks of becoming sick," says Helen Sherrard, president of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), the country's largest trade association dedicated to natural health and organic products. "They are seeking out more natural alternatives as they become more aware of what they are putting into their bodies and the long-term implications."
More than 70 per cent of Canadians today regularly use natural health products, with 45 per cent using these products everyday, according to the CHFA. The association has also found that 85 per cent of people who use natural health products are doing so because they want to improve and maintain their health, and 80 per cent of natural health product users said they consider these products important to their families.
Lianne Phillipson-Webb, a Toronto-based registered nutritionist and author of Sprout Right, says natural health products are good for Canadians and also make sense for today's busy lifestyles.
"You can identify products that have been authorized for sale in Canada by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label."
Adam Gibson - is director general of the Natural Health Products Directorate at Health Canada
"Fast meals and snacks on the go are often not very nutrient-dense so you can really miss out," she says. "That's when natural health products can bridge the gaps in your diet."
Fortunately for today's health-conscious, albeit time-strapped Canadians, there's a wealth of options in natural health products, which are regulated for safety and efficacy by Health Canada. More than 70,000 natural health products are now available across Canada, and the category is expected to grow even more in the near future as Canadians increasingly look for ways to improve their health with natural, non-invasive products.
As more natural health products appear on store shelves, choosing which ones to put in the shopping cart might be a challenge. Adam Gibson, director general of the Natural Health Products Directorate at Health Canada, says studying product labels can help consumers decide which natural health products to take home.
"You can identify products that have been authorized for sale in Canada by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label," he says. "An NPN or DIN-HM means that the product can be legally sold in Canada and is safe and effective when used in accordance with the instructions on the label."
For those who are new to natural health products and don't know where to begin, Ms. Phillipson-Webb recommends starting with a core group of products that include Omega-3 supplements, probiotics or prebiotics, Vitamin D3 and age-specific multivitamins. Collectively, these products provide vital benefits such as strengthening the immune system and improving heart health, digestive functions, concentration and mental health, but it's always important to talk to a health-care practitioner before adding new supplements.
Ms. Sherrard says natural health products are no longer the niche items they used to be.
"Natural health products are definitely mainstream, from new families trying to keep their young children healthy to an aging population trying to maintain their quality of life," says Ms. Sherrard. "As more and more Canadians are experiencing positive results, they are sharing their success with friends and family, which has helped to boost consumer confidence and trust."
We often get into a routine of going to the same store and purchasing the same products every week. Perhaps it’s time to shake things up a bit? When was the last time you paid a visit to the local health food store?