Volume 93, Issue 37

Thursday, November 4, 1999


Alternative medicine's homegrown rating

Alternative medicine's homegrown rating

By Jill Sutherley
Gazette Staff

We live in a world where the challenge of maintaining a healthy, disease-free body weighs heavily on the public's collective mind.

Not too long ago, "taking care of your health" presumably meant going to the doctor for regular checkups. However, with the increasing amount of information available to the public concerning issues such as preventative, complementary and alternative health practices, Canadians are being encouraged to make their own educated choices about health care.

One need only visit a local supermarket or drug store and look on the shelves to realize the popularity of natural health products has taken over.

Nadia Tymoshenko, a doctor of naturopathic medicine at the Health Quest Centre, a natural health clinic in London, attributed the trend towards alternative medicines to people's desire for greater control in the health care process. "People now are more knowledgeable about health issues and they want to make informed choices about their own health. This has resulted in a growing interest in natural methods of preventative health care and an increased demand for naturopathic doctors."

Tymoshenko explained the main areas in which doctors of naturopathic medicine work are clinical nutrition, herbal medicine, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy and other physical therapies.

"My clients range through the whole life span. Predominantly they're in their 20s to 50s and seeking guidance that is formulated and regulated," she said.

"Naturopaths try to find and treat the underlying cause of disease by enhancing the body's own natural healing abilities. Preventative health is a big part of it. That's an important reason why people come and see me. Instead of waiting until they're sick, they don't want to get sick in the first place."

Michael Luce, owner of the Body, Mind & Spirit store on Richmond Street, which specializes in herbal and homeopathic products as well as natural body care products, agreed natural health products are good for those looking for natural alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs and for those who want to participate in their own health care.

"I'm a facilitator for those people who have opted to look after themselves," Luce said. "The store offers a wide range of herbal and homeopathic products which provide various different effects on the systems. For example, specific herbs help with digestion while others have relaxing or stimulating effects."

Luce, who opened his store five years ago, said he finds the public to be more accepting of alternative health practices now more than ever. However, he admitted mass acceptance of holiistic and natural medicine moves slowly. Luce added he is optimistic about increasing media attention, which will aid immensely in the field's expansion in the near future.

However, even with the general acceptance of the public, there are still areas for concern.

Derek Kent, spokesperson for Health Minister Alan Rock, said a major concern about natural health products, also referred to as complementary medicines or traditional remedies, was the lack of knowledge about how they work and interact with each other as well as alongside conventional medicines.

Previously subject to the Food and Drug Regulations, natural health products occupied an ambiguous regulatory position, as they fell under both the food and drug category, Kent said.

"Upon hearing the concerns expressed by Canadians that the people be allowed access to safe products without reducing their choice, Minister Rock asked the standing committee on health to conduct a thorough examination of natural health products and the legal regime governing them," Kent explained.

He added that in March of this year, Rock accepted all of the recommendations presented by the standing committee following their review.

Members of the committee performed extensive consultations across the country and presented their results in a report on natural health products, Kent said. "Most significant, was the recommendation concerning the establishment of an office of natural health products," Kent said.

He explained the new office will be allocated $7 million over the next three years and will be staffed by experts in various fields of natural health care. It will also have the authority to approve natural health products for the Canadian market. "The office will provide people with access to safe products, without reducing their choice," Kent said. "As of now, a transition team has begun work – the process is underway."

Kent said the products which fall under the authority of the new office include traditional herbal medicines, homeopathic preparations and vitamin and mineral supplements, as examples. In addition, Rock also announced that $3 million over the next three years will be allocated to research funding for natural health products and complementary medicines.

Steve Trujillo, chair of the health sciences department at Western, said it is an obligation to inform students about the growing interest of alternative and complementary health care practices.

"Eighteen to 20 per cent of Canadians are using alternative and complementary health practices now and benefiting from them. We have to inform our students about how these practices work and how they fit into the big picture of health," he said.

Trujillo added plans are in progress to introduce a new course to the health sciences department at Western which will focus specifically upon alternative and complementary health practices.

"The course is to be offered to third-year and honours students beginning in January of 2001. I suspect that Western is probably among the first universities in Canada to offer such a course fully dedicated to the study of these health practice issues."

Renée Couturier, communications and issues manager for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said herbal remedies and natural medicines are a significant growth market in the pharmaceutical industry.

However, Couturier said the growth of herbal products also poses a problem for pharmacies, because much of the packaging does not contain credible information on the product nor does the labelling clearly indicate product ingredients or possible adverse reactions.

Couturier explained there have been certain cases where herbal remedies have interfered with traditional medicine. She added the Canadian Pharmacists Association has been pressuring the government for many years to have clearer labelling and better research done on herbal products.

"What we recommend consumers do, is talk to their pharmacists and make their choices based on the information," Couturier said.

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