Dietary supplements came under fire today from an article printed in the Hamilton Spectator. The prestigious DNA Library at the University of Guelph tested 44 products from 12 dietary supplement manufacturers and found that nearly 60% of these products contained DNA from material that wasn’t even listed on the bottle. More than 20% of products contained fillers such as rice, soybeans and wheat that were also not listed on the label. Some companies even had flat out product substitution whereby a product said to contain Ginkgo Biloba was actually full nothing more than alfalfa. Disturbing? Let’s find out more.

Prior to 2006, much like our neighbours to the south (the US), supplement manufacturing was akin to the anarchy of the Wild West. There wasn’t any real governing authority regarding how supplements were manufactured, whether evidence was required to support health claims, whether contents had to be consistent with therapeutic dosage or what safety information was necessary to apply to labels. Sadly, this completely abysmal and unhelpful system is still in place south of the border, but here in Canada, things are looking up (depending on how you feel about regulation).

For it was in January 2006 that we saw a newly created branch of Health Canada called the Natural Health Product Directorate (or NHPD as they are called in the industry). The NHPD was Canada’s answer to the cry of Canadians who wanted a new system of regulation in place rather than the 2 that were being proposed (forced upon us) by our government at the time – to regulate natural health products as either FOOD, or DRUGS, both of which had serious pitfalls to the consumer’s right to accessing quality products. Thus the NHPD was born and modelled itself after highly strict systems such as the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) found in Australia and other state-of-the-art systems around the world.

The NHPD has been with us now for nearly 8 years and my overall assessment of the system has been generally positive despite my apprehension towards supporting government regulation of free markets. The NHPD requires evidence that the ingredients found in a product are effective for a specific health issue(s), are contained in appropriate therapeutic dosages and that any essential safety information is mandatorily highlighted on the label. Furthermore, regular sample testing and product licensing is an ongoing necessary (and expensive) process. The good news for Canadians is that natural health products are now being held to high standards and much of our past concerns regarding quality are gone. The bad news is that Health Canada has a huge back-log of products to inspect and license, some companies astoundingly ignore regulations outright, and Health Canada makes absolutely asinine decisions on fairly consistent basis which often negates the integrity of regulations in the first place. As a result, there is still a large degree of uncertainty that consumers face when purchasing a dietary supplement.

One of the first steps consumers should take is to look for NPNs (Natural Product Numbers) on their product labels. NPNs indicate that everything about the product; the contents, the label, the testing, the manufacturing process has been overseen and approved by federal regulators. While I don’t exactly embrace government regulation with open arms, I will admit that there has been some positive trends occurring since the NHPD arrived in 2006 including the revival of extremely useful products that had been taken off the market years ago for various (ridiculous) reasons.

Moreover, many brands are known for their insistence on quality control and go above any beyond the guidelines set by Health Canada. Not only do these companies utilize quality ingredients and controls, but their formulations are actually based on research and aren’t just thrown together in a way that looks appealing to consumers.

At Full Circle, every one of our products is screened and cross-analyzed versus its competition for a variety of variables including some key ones:

  • Ingredients (specific chemical name, species, standardized constituents etc)
  • Therapeutic Dosages in Accordance with Literature
  • Quality of Manufacturing (ISO 9001, GMP etc)
  • Safety and Quality of Non-Medicinal Ingredients and Encapsulation / Tablet Ingredients
  • Value to Competition (cost per gram of materials present in container combined with quality factors)

As I’m writing this, I think it goes without saying that our professionals here at Full Circle ensure that our products are of the highest quality, and we’ve even toured the facilities of many of our manufacturers to witness the process first-hand. As always, you’re welcome to stop by our dispensary and get a tour of what we offer and what products we’ve specifically chosen amidst the competition. The results might surprise you!