Myths and Misconceptions About NHPs
November 2 to 8, 2015 is NHP Week, an annual celebration of the health and happiness that millions of Canadians receive from natural health products (NHPs). This year, the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) commissioned a national survey on popular natural health claims to see if Canadians can distinguish fact from fiction. They asked 1,500 Canadians from coast to coast 15 true-or-false questions to test their knowledge, with surprising results!
The Buzz about Honey
Statement1: Honey has antibacterial properties: True
Did you know that honey is the only edible substance on Earth that never expires? This wonder of nature boasts many benefits and Canadians are definitely curious. Our survey found that 84 per cent of Canadians knew that honey has antibacterial properties. Clearly, our country is crazy about honey. Researchers at the University of Guelph found that unpasteurized honey can be as effective as some medical creams and ointments at healing tissue and killing infecting agents. Honey’s magic ingredients include sugars, minerals and enzymes, that work together to disinfect and repair injured skin tissue. This means you can add honey to your family’s first-aid kit to apply on minor cuts and scrapes.
Skin care is another interesting use for honey. Its nutrients and natural antibacterial enzymes can help to gently clean dirt and bacteria from our skin. Try it yourself. Check out chfa.ca for a DIY honey face mask that is easy to make at home.
A spoonful of honey can be a tasty way to calm a cough or soothe a sore throat, too. Oh, honey, is there anything you can’t do?
Vitamin C and the Common Cold
Statement 2: Vitamin C can ward off the common cold: False
Vitamin C has long been touted as a cure-all for the immune system, but Canadians just can’t seem to get the facts straight. Only 22 per cent answered correctly when asked if vitamin C can ward off the common cold. Seventy-eight per cent answered true, but high-quality studies show that vitamin C won’t cure (or prevent) the common cold. Some smaller studies have found that vitamin C supplementation may reduce the duration and severity of a cold. Children who supplemented with one to two grams per day of vitamin C experienced colds 18 per cent shorter than average. However, these results haven’t been seen in larger, randomized control trials. All is not lost though — a recent meta-analysis, which combines many studies together, stated that "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial for them.” Despite mixed findings, vitamin C is still an important nutrient, and plays an integral role in the growth and repair of bones, teeth, skin and other tissues.
Probiotics and Prevention
Statement 3: Probiotics have been linked to immunity: True
We have an estimated 100 trillion bacterial cells living in and on our bodies, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. In recent years, Canadians have begun to appreciate and understand the vital role that they play in our overall health. About 70 per cent of survey respondents understand the link between probiotics and immunity. This link goes far beyond the gut, as probiotics are finding new applications in mental health, immune system support, and skin health.
The approach of the winter months means the rise of cold and flu season. Few people realize the strong connection between our healthy gut bugs and our immune system. Probiotics have been shown to play an important role in “priming” our immune system to track and eliminate invading winter bugs. A recent study of school children found that kids who were given a probiotic drink were significantly less likely to get the flu than their classmates who did not receive the probiotic (15.7 per cent vs. 23.9 per cent). So consider adding a probiotic to your routine and keep your immune system fighting fit this winter.
Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25294223 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25294223>
Statement 4: Tea can help us stay hydrated during the dry months: True
It is common knowledge that caffeine is a diuretic, but a cup of tea (even with some caffeine) can have an overall hydrating effect. Only 65 per cent of the 1,500 Canadians who answered our survey said they knew that tea can keep Canadians hydrated throughout the winter. Some studies have even found no difference in hydration between subjects who drank tea compared with those who drank water.
This ancient beverage can do far more than just hydrate. Some teas contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties from the bioactive plant compounds they contain called polyphenols.
When we drink tea enriched with polyphenols or apply tea products to our skin, the compounds work to reduce some of the damaging effects of sun exposure. This means that tea can help work against the development of premature wrinkles and prevent the loss of collagen in our skin.
Anti-wrinkle effects of tea: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25584148
Skin photo protection (green tea): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12871030
Polyphenols in cosmetics: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25712493
Source BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140402-are-coffee-and-tea-dehydrating
Secrets of the Sunshine Vitamin (D)
Statement 5: Vitamin D is naturally occurring in many whole food sources: False
Only 32 per cent of the Canadians we surveyed are aware that vitamin D is not naturally found in many food sources. This is the reason many products are fortified with vitamin D, to ensure that Canadians receive their recommended intake. Health Canada even recommends vitamin D supplementation during the dark winter months. An attempt by an average adult to get the required daily amount of vitamin D (600 IU) from foods alone may cause them to exceed their recommended caloric intake. For example, to get 600 IU of vitamin D from food sources, you would have to eat 15 eggs, or four cans of tuna, or drink about six cups of milk.
The actual amount of vitamin D in many whole foods varies dramatically, making it difficult for Canadians to reach their recommended dosage of this vital nutrient. Supplementation with vitamin D is almost universally recommended.
Bacteria, They Aren’t All Bad
Statement 6: All bacteria are bad: False
When it comes to Canadians’ understanding of the role bacteria plays in our health and happiness, 97 per cent of reported that they understand bacteria can be both good and bad. It is estimated that we have 100 trillion bacterial cells living in our intestines, outnumbering our human cells by ten to one. Many of these bacteria are vital in maintaining good health. The term “probiotic” refers to living microorganisms (bacteria) that provide a health benefit when taken at sufficient doses. Regular supplementation can lead to significant improvements in health and is effective at re-establishing a balance of good gut bacteria. Our gut microbes exert a powerful effect on our immune system, keeping it primed and ready to respond to invaders and ward off common infections.
NHPs and Evidence
Statement 7: NHPs must be supported by proper evidence before they are licensed for sale in Canada: True
Three out of five respondents understood that NHPs produced and sold in Canada are highly regulated to ensure safety and quality. Before ending up in the hands of consumers, these products are assessed and licensed by Health Canada. The licence can only be obtained if companies provide evidence that supports the products’ health claims. In Canada, NHPs include vitamins, minerals, probiotics, herbal products and homeopathic remedies.
NHPs manufactured outside of Canada must be evaluated and licensed by Health Canada before they can be sold in the Canadian market. All products licensed for sale in Canada have an 8-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number-Homeopathic Medicine (DIN-HM).
Calcium, Beyond Bone Health
Statement 8: Calcium is only important for strong bones and teeth: False
Calcium is not just for bones. True, 99 per cent of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones, but the other one per cent plays an extremely important role in overall health. Canadians are keen to this fact, with over 75 per cent reporting an understanding that calcium’s importance goes beyond our bones and teeth. Calcium plays a critical role in regulating blood pressure, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, blood clotting, ensuring a balanced body pH, and also works to aid thousands of enzyme and hormone reactions. With all these benefits it should come as a surprise that, according to a Health Canada, more than 80 per cent of Canadians over 50, male or female, reported inadequate intakes of calcium from food. This makes calcium the single most inadequately consumed mineral among Canadians of all ages. We encourage you to speak with your health care practitioner to see if a calcium supplement might be right for you.
Sleep and the Power of Protein
Statement 9: Consuming protein before sleep can boost strength: True
Three-quarters of Canadians answered this question incorrectly. Conventional wisdom suggests that eating before bed packs on the pounds. For active Canadians looking to add muscle, taking a protein supplement before bed might help achieve those goals.
An active weight-training routine is essential to stimulate new muscle growth, but your body needs protein, the building blocks of muscle, to fuel those gains.
The timing of your protein supplement intake is essential for best results. A recent study found that men who were actively weight training had more muscle gains when they took a powdered protein supplement before going to sleep.
Protein-rich whole foods include: lean meats, eggs and fish; vegetables such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds; and grains like quinoa. The convenience factor of high-protein supplements has made them a hit among gym-goers across Canada.
Kick Up Your Performance with Caffeine
Statement 10: Caffeine improves exercise performance: True
Caffeine is often considered a vice and our findings reveal that most Canadians still think the only benefit of this stimulant is that it wakes us up in the morning. Only 34 per cent of Canadians responded correctly when asked about caffeine’s impact on exercise.
Scientists are constantly finding new applications for this common drug that can do so much. Gone are the days when caffeine was relegated to a morning cup of joe. Extensive research has shown that a dose of caffeine before a workout can improve endurance, mental clarity and performance. The most common dose used in scientific studies is 6 mg/kg of body weight, taken an hour before exercise, allowing time for the caffeine to be absorbed. A typical large coffee can deliver anywhere from 120 to 360 mg of caffeine. The options are endless, but speak with your health care practitioner about adding caffeine to your workout routine.
When it comes to taking your workout game to the next level, make sure you reflect on your own performance. Paying attention to your body’s needs during exercise can not only improve how you feel, but help you achieve new goals.
When Fibre Falls Short
Statement 11: Most Canadians get enough fibre: False
Over 90 per cent of Canadians know that we are simply not getting enough fibre in our diets. A Western diet full of processed foods means whole foods are sadly lacking, and fibre intake falls far short of the recommended 25 grams a day for women and 30 to 38 grams a day for men. The benefits of fibre include blood sugar regulation, weight maintenance, and improved heart and gut health, so it’s important to fill this gap.
How can we get more fibre? Understanding its sources can be a key factor when increasing intake. Fibre comes in two major forms: soluble and insoluble, and both are necessary for optimal health. Insoluble fibre, found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to keep things moving through your digestive tract. Soluble fibre, found in chia seeds, barley and black beans, can trap dietary cholesterol and fats and carry them through the intestines unabsorbed. It can make you feel fuller for longer, helping to maintain a steady weight. It’s also great for feeding and supporting good gut bacteria. If you find it difficult to increase your fibre intake through dietary sources, many supplements that provide various forms of soluble and insoluble fibre are available at your local CHFA member health food retailer. Speak with your health care practitioner about which fibre supplement might be right for you.
The Gut Brain Connection
Statement 12: 95 per cent of our “feel-good hormone” serotonin is produced in the gut: True
The gut has an amazing “second brain” — an intricate network of neurons that communicates with our brain.
What most Canadians don’t know — 72 per cent answered incorrectly — is that 95 per cent of the body’s serotonin, our “feel-good” hormone, and 50 per cent of the body’s dopamine are produced in the gut! Research shows that bacteria in the gut can influence the production of “neurotransmitters,” which are signalling molecules used by our neurons to pass messages around the body. Serotonin and dopamine are the two neurotransmitters most closely associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.
For optimal health, consider speaking to a natural health practitioner about adding a probiotic to your supplement regime.
There is a Multi for Everyone
Statement 13: Multivitamins are only important for pregnant women: False
Many Canadians struggle to meet their nutritional needs through diet alone — a multivitamin is a safe and effective way to bridge that nutritional gap. When surveyed, most Canadians — 81 per cent to be precise — understood that multivitamins aren’t just for pregnant women.
Multivitamins play an important role in the health of men and women of all ages. Studies have found benefits including a reduced risk of some cancers and other chronic diseases, and improving symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Having a specially formulated multivitamin before and during pregnancy is essential for meeting your body’s changing nutritional needs. A high-quality multivitamin can provide folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in early pregnancy. Other essential nutrients for pregnancy, often included in a multivitamin are omega-3s, beneficial for brain and eye development, iron for increased blood capacity, and proper levels of vitamin A.
Visit your local CHFA member health food store for multivitamins formulated specifically for your age, gender and needs.
The Benefits of Going Organic
Statement 14: Eating organic foods significantly reduces exposure to pesticides: True
The media are full of mixed messages about the benefits of choosing certified organic foods. This confusion is evident as almost 40 per cent of Canadians answered incorrectly when asked about organics and pesticide exposure.
Certified organic products are produced and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), hormones or antibiotics. By following a simple guide, “the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15,” (link) developed by the Environmental Working Group, you can minimize your consumption of pesticides by as much as 80 per cent, leading to cleaner diet for you whole family.
Purchasing certified organic foods also supports sustainable farming practices and animal welfare standards. In Canada, organic products can be identified by the Canada Organic logo. Organic produce often carries a “9” before the four-digit product number on produce stickers. Being informed about organic products can lead to real benefits for you and our environment.
Go Organic For the Greater Good
Statement 15: Products with the official Organic logo are required to contain at least 95 per cent organic ingredients: True
Canada’s organic standards are among the most widely recognized in the world, and Canadians are becoming well-acquainted with the benefits of these products. Over 60 per cent of Canadians answered correctly when asked about the contents of products carrying the official Canada Organic logo.
Certified organic products that use the Canada Organic logo must contain a minimum of 95 per cent certified organic content and ingredients. This certification places strict limits and prohibitions on the use of toxic and persistent pesticides; synthetic fertilizers; the routine use of drugs, antibiotics or synthetic hormones; animal cloning; genetic engineering; sewage sludge (“biosolids”); and irradiation. Organic standards also forbid the use of artificial food colours, flavours, sweeteners, preservatives and many other processing aids and ingredients in processed foods. Guided by these and other standards, organic is now the most heavily regulated and scrutinized food system in Canada. Going organic allows you to help our environment while also choosing great-tasting, healthy food for you and your family.
For more information on how you can celebrate NHP Week and to see how Canadians scored on the other survey questions, please visit us at chfa.ca.