Framework for a Discussion on Natural Health Products

This is a guest blog by Kristen Schiener, she is a Managing Editor at Traditional Life Sciences

November 26th 2010

The health of Canadians as we age has been, and continues to be, an engaging and often heated topic for discussion. If our bodies are designed to live for 100 years or more (some say 130 years!), why is this not the case for the majority of people in North America? Why with all our medical advances are we seeing dramatic increases in chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease? Has the effectiveness of the current health care system plateaued, leaving us with ongoing infrastructure, medical procedure and prescription drug costs we will soon not be able to afford? Is there an alternative?

There’s a growing voice and body of evidence suggesting that natural health solutions, including lifestyle and natural health products, are a big part of the answer. An emphasis on natural health shifts the focus from illness treatment (sickcare – drugs & surgery) to illness avoidance. It brings with it three benefits:
1) a better quality of life as we age, e.g., minimizing and/or eliminating the need to suffer with many chronic illnesses;
2) increased life span (getting closer to the 100+ years of life nature intended for our bodies); and
3) a significant reduction in health care expenditures.

Illness avoidance puts more control for our health back into our own hands, and requires a level of support from government and the private sector that empowers Canadians to have this control.

There is a need to redress the imbalance in government spending on sickcare versus illness prevention. Why is the focus so overwhelmingly tipped towards illness treatment (drugs, hospitals, surgery) versus illness avoidance (diet, exercise, traditional health treatments)? In Ontario, for example, government health care spending was $72 Billion in 2009, while the 2010 budget for illness prevention (formally called “Health Promotion”) is $766 Million. That’s 1% on illness prevention, and 99% on illness treatment.

A TD Economics Report this summer estimated that by 2030 70% of all government tax revenue could be going towards health care – up from the current 46%. This would cripple us financially, and it’s the baby boomer generation that would be hardest hit. The report goes on to say, “Ultimately, the most effective way of lowering cost…will be to ensure that fewer people are in need of expensive care.”

It’s not all bad news. British Columbia is taking the lead in promoting better lifestyles. The Ministry for Healthy Living & Sport created an ActNow program to proactively encourage healthy lifestyles, including ActNow Seniors, focusing on healthy eating, physical activity, independent living and smoking cessation. This approach is proven to work. Evidence indicates that physical inactivity is implicated in 15% of heart disease, 19% of stroke, 10% of hypertension, 14% of colon cancer, 11% of breast cancer, 16% of Type 2 Diabetes and 18% of osteoporosis. In a consulting report to the government, it’s estimated that reducing inactivity levels by 10% would save the government $49 Million each year. Although the BC government appears to have the right strategy, the financial structure, again, seems to fall short, with $15 Billion in provincial health care spending, and only $56 Million for Healthy Living – it’s still a 99:1 ratio for cure versus prevention.

Some issues to consider in defining the role of government to support the use and availability of natural health products:

Best Practice: Why are Canada and the rest of North America so out of step with the rest of the world? Europe has recently embraced Natural Health Products, and the remainder of the world always has.

Program Funding – Natural Health Products should be on some type of even footing with synthetic drugs, when it comes to insurance coverage and government programs (this is the case in Germany, for example).

Safety – Both Natural Health Products and synthetics should be evaluated using the same standards, and this should include both side effects and post-release tracking

Purity – Both Natural Health Products and synthetics should be evaluated using the same standards

Product Access – Natural Health Products should not have restrictive patents that drive up cost and limit access by all

Information Access – Consumers should have ready access to information from trusted health professionals (not just medical doctors) about how to prevent various illnesses, and about how to select and assess the efficacy of Natural Health Products

“Kristen Schiener is Managing Editor at Traditional Life Sciences, and can be reached at [email protected] Traditional Life Sciences focuses on natural wellness for Canadians 45+, providing scientifically supported health information and 100% drug-free natural health products under the Zwell brand www.zwell.ca

Keywords: healthcare, costs