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Natural health products and children

Highlights
  • Just because a product claims it is “natural” doesn’t always mean it is safe.
  • Even if a product is safe for adults, it may not be safe for children.
  • Always talk to your child’s doctor before giving her a natural health product.

What are natural health products?

'Natural health products’ is a term used to describe herbs and other supplements made from natural sources. They are sometimes called “complementary” or “alternative” medicines. They are sold to prevent illness or promote health. There are many different types, including:

  • vitamins and minerals,
  • herbal remedies,
  • homeopathic medicines,
  • traditional medicines (traditional Chinese medicine, traditional East Indian [Ayurvedic] medicine, etc.),
  • probiotics, and
  • amino acids and essential fatty acids.

You can buy natural health products in pharmacies and other stores without a prescription, or you can get them from a care provider.

Are natural health products safe?

Because there are so many different products available to buy, there is no one answer to this question. It is important to remember that just because a product claims it is “natural” doesn’t always mean it is safe. Some can be harmful if you take too much, while others can cause side effects or allergic reactions.

It’s also important to remember that even if a product is safe for adults, it may not be safe for children. Children are still growing and developing, and their bodies may respond differently to a product or medicine than an adult’s body.

Can my child take natural health products if she is already taking another medication?

Some natural health products interact with other drugs, even non-prescription drugs. They can make the product more dangerous. This can cause one medication to be less effective because your body eliminates it too quickly, not quickly enough, or because it blocks the medication from doing what is supposed to do. 

Always talk to your child’s doctor before giving her a natural health product.

Are natural health products regulated in Canada?

Health Canada has a Natural Health Products Directorate that regulates products for sale in Canada. If you want to know about a specific product, check the label.  Products that have been licensed for sale in Canada will have an 8-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label. A NPN or DIN-HM means that the product has been authorized for sale in Canada and is safe and effective when used according to the instructions on the label.

The Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada regulates products that have a wide margin of safety. It’s working to develop labelling on products for children and youth that will help guide parents.

Where can I find out about advisories and warnings about natural health products?

Health Canada keeps a listing of recent advisories, warnings and recalls about natural health products.


Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Drug Therapy and Hazardous Substances Committee

Last Updated: May 2013