Get Supplement-Savvy:
Government Guidelines & More

Supplements and prescription drugs have a lot in common. Both are used in an attempt to improve health. But “natural” remedies marketed as dietary supplements in the United States are regulated differently than their prescription counterparts. These supplements include: over-the-counter vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, herbs, plants in various forms, and combinations that are intended as additions to the diet and other products such as topical progesterone cream and other nonprescription hormone treatments.

In Canada, similar types of products are classified as natural health products (NHPs) and, in addition to vitamins, minerals, probiotics, amino acids and essential fatty acids, also include herbal products, homeopathic medicines, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Supplements can provide important nutrients that a woman’s diet alone may not. But before women consider making supplements part of their daily routine, here are some simple safety points and procedures:

  • Nutritional supplements should not be used to replace a healthy diet.
  • Just as people need certain amounts of nutrients to stay healthy, an excess of these nutrients may cause health problems.
  • Many dietary supplements have not been tested for effectiveness or safety. The United States and Canada have safety practices in place, but consumers must understand the limitations of these guidelines.
  • In the United States, demonstrating safety is not required before a dietary supplement is approved. The government regulating body must prove that a supplement is harmful before it can be removed from the market. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and the US Pharmacopeia (USP) are nongovernmental organizations that set standards for the quality and purity of dietary supplements. Approved products have labels marked with “NSF” or “USP.”
  • In Canada, all natural health products require a product license before they can be sold. This Natural Product Number (NPN) or NPN-HM for homeopathic medicine indicates to consumers that the product has been reviewed and approved by Health Canada for safety and efficacy. Products that have a valid drug identification number (DIN) designation have until 2010 to obtain a new NPN product license. 
  • Women should check with a healthcare provider before taking any supplement. Some may pose additional risks when combined with other medications or when taken by women with preexisting health problems. Some of these products should not be taken around the time of surgery.

For current information and advisories regarding supplements in the US, visit the FDA safety page.

For up-to-date health product warnings and recalls in Canada, visit the Health Canada safety page.

Last reviewed: September 2008

The Co-Editors of Menopause Flashes are Elizabeth Contestabile, RNC, BScN, Nurse Educator, Shirley E. Greenberg Women's Health Centre, The Ottawa Hospital, Riverside Campus, Ottawa, ON, Canada; and Marcie K. Richardson, MD, Co-director, Harvard Vanguard Menopause Consultation Service, Boston, MA.

This e-newsletter, developed under the direction of the Consumer Education Committee of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), provides current information, but not specific medical advice. It is not intended to substitute for the judgment of an individual’s healthcare provider. To unsubscribe, send us an e-mail request.
Copyright 2008. Distributing print copies of this e-newsletter, in whole or part, is strictly prohibited.
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)
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