Health Product Buzzwords: Buyer Beware

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in Health Signals, Safety Concerns |

More people than ever are looking for “health foods” and dietary supplements to help with chronic problems, and to take a more active role in their own health. The exploding demand for these products has spawned many new terms in the media. But what do these buzzwords actually mean?

“Organic” means that no synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bio-engineering or ionizing radiation have been used on produce. Organic meat comes from animals that were not given antibiotics or synthetic growth regulators. Producers who market “certified organic” products must meet Canadian government standards to be allowed to use this title. Other products – for example, those described as “pesticide-free” or “free range” – may have positive benefits, but are not  necessarily “organic”.

Antioxidants – such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene – slow down or prevent oxidation in the body by destroying free radicals, which are the byproducts of many natural processes in the body.  Oxidation can damage the cell wall, cell structures or the genetic material of the cell, and appears to be one of the causes of many degenerative diseases. Active debate continues regarding evidence that antioxidants can influence aging itself. However, there is growing evidence that antioxidants offer some protection against specific diseases.

For many people the words “natural foods” imply that a product or its ingredients have not been processed. But currently there is no standard definition where “natural” appears on food labels.  Recently a soft drink company attempted to attach the moniker “100% natural” to its product because it had removed artificial preservatives from the soft drink. The drink still contained fructose/glucose syrup, a sugar made from highly processed corn syrup.

In 2004 Health Canada developed a new regulatory framework for natural health products (NHPs) including: vitamins and minerals; herbal remedies; homeopathic and  traditional medicines; probiotics; and amino acids and essential fatty acids. Products having a Drug Identification Number (DIN), a Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number – Homeopathic Medicine (DIN-HM) have been assessed by Health Canada.

Currently there are no regulations governing marketers’ use of the term “anti-aging”.  In terms of supplements, warns that “anti-aging” has no scientific definition.  The product may help boost or maintain your health, but not necessarily reverse or prevent the aging process. 

This area is continually evolving. Before buying,  take into account the agendas of producers, marketers, regulators and other participants in the food and supplement industry. In many cases, it’s still…buyer beware!

For further information, visit these websites:
BC Health Guide:


Vol.2, No.18; © ElderWise Inc. 2006

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