Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Health Canada needs its own health warning

While on the subject of health, I also read a timely article about the much-ballyhooed claims of Cold-FX, and it comes as no great surprise to me that the claims are at best over-stated, and at worst downright misleading.
Cold-FX is a top-selling ginseng-based herbal remedy that boldly claims that it helps reduce the frequency, severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms, and furthermore that, when combined with a flu shot, it is clinically proven to reduce cold and flu symptoms. Health Canada have seen fit to allow these claims, and so obviously accepts the science provided by Cold-FX manufacturer Valeant Canada.
What the label (and the company website) fails to mention, though, is that, in order for any benefit to kick in, two pills a day must be taken for an absolute minimum of two months, and preferably four months (six months for seniors). Four months' worth of pills would cost well over a hundred dollars. Taking the pills when cold symptoms begin to be felt is completely useless and a waste of money. Even taking the pills for four months only reduces the average number of colds per year from 0.93 to 0.68, according to the developer's own studies, and.even this is based on self-reported data, which could include cold-like symptoms from other similar respiratory conditions such as allergies. The scientific basis of the claims that Cold-FX works even better when combined with a flu shot is, if anything, even rockier.
A new formulation, Cold-FX First Signs, actually specifically directs that it be taken "at first signs of a cold to help relieve cold symptoms and promote healthy immune function", when even its own research suggests that no instantaneous effects are possible. Again, Health Canada seem to have accepted this, arguing that the medication makes no specific promises about its effectiveness!
All of which begs the question of why Health Canada has accepted these scientifically questionable claims. The answer seems to be that the bar is, for some reason, set substantially lower for natural health products than for prescription drugs. Which suggests that there are probably a whole host of ineffective, and possibly even unsafe, natural health products out there, raking in the dollars while achieving little or nothing in the way of health benefits (zinc lozenges are another such cold remedy, once highly recommended, but now considered next to useless, and even positively harmful if taken in the kind of dosages required for its claimed effectiveness).
So, maybe Health Canada approvals need to come with their own health warnings?

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