There are literally tens of thousands of licensed natural health products (NHPs) available on the market in Canada.
Here’s how I decide which dietary supplements to promote
As a holistic health practitioner, there are many supplement products, companies, and affiliate opportunities to consider.
How do you decide which ones to promote?
I cannot speak for you, nor am I your legal or accounting representative.
This post documents my personal position on affiliating myself with particular supplement companies and products.
This is NOT a judgement of how you may choose supplements to promote!
As long as the products you recommend are being manufactured and marketed ethically and legally, I have NO issues with who you choose to align yourself with, or which products you choose to market/sell, become a spokesperson for, promote, or be sponsored by.
And, even if I did have an issue with something you do that is ethical and legal and that you firmly believe in, you probably shouldn’t care all that much what I say anyway!
Why the “hard ass” stance, Leesa?
Here’s where my “hard ass” stance comes from:
- I am a scientist at heart,
- I have a lot of experience in and respect for regulatory affairs (more about that later), and
- Both 1 & 2 above have really fine-tuned my (BS) meter when it comes to distinguishing between the marketing/sales information versus the scientific/medical information.
I stand with science.
Again, I AM NOT JUDGING YOU if you promote an ethically/legally manufactured and marketed product that you truly believe in.
Go for it!
Rock out your commission earnings and affiliate income.
But please don’t bother getting upset with my opinion on the requirements I put on MYSELF when it comes to this. I am not imposing anything on you.
We can still be friends, yet do things differently…right? 🙂
And, of course, I also withhold the right to change my position at any time, without notice.
My minimum criteria to consider aligning myself with a dietary supplement product or company:
- Step 1 – The company needs to be ethical and legal. That is, from product formulation and R&D, to sourcing raw materials, to product licence approval, manufacturing, labelling, marketing and sales; to post-market responsibilities such as adverse event management, ongoing quality assurance, withdrawal/recall management, etc.
- Step 2 – The company needs to have high-quality, peer-reviewed, published interventional clinical studies that demonstrate meaningful clinical end-points for its product. If it doesn’t, then it’s just like every other product in its category; meets the minimum standards, but nothing extra-special (I like extra-special!). 🙂
Step 1 – Legal and ethical – How do I know?
To get an NHP approved in Canada, you must meet minimum standards. I touched on those standards a tiny bit in this post .
I also created a video that gives a few quick tutorials to show you how to find exactly what those minimum standards are, as well as how to double-check the actual information Health Canada has approved for each individual NHP.
If you’re looking at a specific company, brand or product, go to the 42 minute mark in the video and watch the mini tutorial on the Licensed NHP Database (LNHPD) that outlines how to find the products that are actually licensed in Canada, and what they’re allowed to “claim” on each product’s label.
"Before you buy another supplement read this!”
Free supplement resource from you to your clients (8 expert tips). Edit and brand it as you like.
If any marketing/sales information contains products or claims that are not approved in the LNHPD, then I question the legal and ethical stance of that company. I just steer clear of them.
My recommendation to them is to remove references to unapproved products and claims from their websites, promotional materials, sales presentations, and especially the product labels.
Just fix it!
I mentioned experience in “Regulatory Affairs”(1). Basically this involves anything to deal with ensuring the company you work for complies with regulations (without necessarily being their lawyer).
Not only getting the site and product licences approved where necessary (in the case of Cdn supplements, approved by Health Canada); but Regulatory Affairs also helps to ensure the product labels, marketing/advertising material, adverse event management, manufacturing changes, withdrawals/recalls, etc. meet ALL of the requirements.
For example, I worked with:
- The company’s:
- Quality Control/Quality Assurance;
- Marketing and Sales;
- Legal departments;
- Liaised with Health Canada directly, hosted their inspections; and
- Involved other oversight bodies when applicable, such as Advertising Standards Canada (for product advertisements), for example(2).
Regulatory requirements are nice, but how do we know if they’re being met?
This is tricky to answer, because a lot of this is going to be confidential and proprietary. But there is some information available in the public domain that can give you either more or less confidence in a dietary supplement company.
The first place I check is Health Canada’s “Advisories, Warnings & Recalls” website(3). You can check out reference (3) below which also includes a handy search field so you can specifically look up the company name, or brand name.
You can see reference (4) to find out:
What’s the difference between an information update and an advisory? When are recalls issued? Learn how the Government of Canada communicates health risks and new safety information to Canadians.
Now, I don’t believe that having advisories or recalls is necessarily bad. It is always good character to quickly act to minimize any public health risk, even if that risk is not identified until after the product or lot is on the market.
Where I have serious issues is when there is deliberate attempt to bypass the system and market unsafe products. Particularly when “unauthorized” health products are being sold, or if there are “undeclared prescription drugs” added to a product.
These are serious issues, in my opinion.Two serious issues that supplement companies should never do #supplement #health #nhp #dontdothis Click To Tweet
There is also an independent company in the US that randomly purchases dietary supplements and has them tested by FDA-registered laboratories. They are called “LabDoor”(5). While the US products they test may or may not be identical to the ones marketed in Canada, their results can give you a sense of the quality standards of that dietary supplement company.
Unfortunately, I am not aware of a similar service available for Canadian NHPs, so if you know of one, please let me know in the comments below!
Step 2 – The science
If a product is already licensed in Canada and complies with all conditions of its licence, then we can move to step 2 – the science, namely high-quality, peer-reviewed, published interventional clinical studies that demonstrate notable clinical end-points.
This is what would set a product apart from the rest of its competitors. This is what demonstrates that a company has gone above and beyond the minimum standards and truly has an excellent above-average product.
Let’s break this down:
High-quality, peer-reviewed, published
So, if a study is not in PubMed(6), I personally am not interested in it.
Studies done by a manufacturer that are not compelling enough to convince neither Health Canada, nor a scientific journal that the product deserves a unique health claim, are pretty much just for marketing claims.
I would prefer to align myself with a product whose claims have met the rigor of publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
As far as I’m concerned a dietary supplement company that meets the minimum standards for product approval is fine and good.
But, without studies, a product does not shine over and above its competitors. Or, at least, there is not much solid proof that it does.
Dietary supplement companies, should be doing their own internal testing of their products anyway.
If these tests are not of high-enough quality to be peer-reviewed and published, then these products are just as good, and no better than the other ones in the category. All companies have an opportunity to prove things over and above the minimum standards by doing more research, and better research, and that might even necessitate reformulations.
It is lovely to know that your product is the #1 recommended one in your category, but that’s a marketing claim, not a safety or efficacy or quality claim.
Interventional clinical studies
This means that the studies must have been done on people. Animal or tissues studies are interesting, and so are testimonials from satisfied customers. They are certainly nice to know, but they are not clinical studies.
Observational clinical studies are even more interesting. To see whether certain groups of people who’ve taken a certain product have experienced something over and above what people who have not taken that same product.
These studies are not interventional. They are observational. Interventional studies intervene in someone’s life by changing one relevant piece…such as starting to take a supplement that they would not normally have done.
It is not simply observing what naturally happened. That is an observational study.
For a great summary of the types (and strength) of different scientific evidence, check out this infographic, which happens to be one of my most favourite infographics in the history the internet(7).
Note the increasing strength of evidence as you go down the table. The type of studies that would begin to impress me are the randomized controlled “experimental” (interventional) ones (second from the bottom).
Demonstrate notable clinical end-points
If taking a dietary supplement increases the blood levels of nutrients in someone’s blood, it is nice to know that the active ingredients are absorbed into the blood.
But what is the notable clinical endpoint? To me, blood levels are not notable.
But disease “prevention” or “treatment”…that’s notable.
I look for interventional studies that show that a particular product actually is associated with reducing the risk of something, or alleviating the issue of something else.
I’m not talking about “extrapolation” here – I am talking about actual association.
Extrapolation says that if A = B, and B = C, then A must = C.
This link is weak at best.
For example, if a product contains X (A), and it raises the blood levels of X (B). Then A = B.
If raised blood levels of X (B) is associated with reduced risk of Y (C); then B = C.
This does NOT mean that a product (A) reduces the risk of Y (C).
And while it may be quite legal that a product meets the minimum standards and are allowed by Health Canada to make this “structure-function” claim(8), this does not make a product superior to any other products on the Canadian market.
This means that any claims of superiority are strictly marketing, not based in science.
I know the supplement market is extremely competitive, and the “coming into force” of the NHP Regulations back in 2004(9) had a huge impact on the Canadian supplement industry.
I think it is important to conscientiously meet the minimum requirements.
But, for me to personally promote a product, I look for high-quality, peer-reviewed, published interventional clinical studies that demonstrate notable clinical end-points.
Here is a list of the products I currently support:
- They are independent, unbiased source of scientific information about supplements and nutrition. They look at thousands of peer-reviewed published clinical studies done on supplements, and evaluate and tabulate the results. They offer an amazing free resource online if you want to look up a supplement ingredient to see what the science shows it actually can do to help people reach their health goals. They also sell a few nutrition and supplement resources as well. I personally bought and use their Supplement-Goals Reference all the time. My affiliate link is here, a non-affiliate link is here
- They are a Canadian probiotic brand that has a few clinical studies published in peer-review journals(11) that show their product actually reduces the risk of gastrointestinal side effects and hospital-acquired C. diff infections in people who take antibiotics. They are not the “run of the mill” probiotic. I recommend their product to be used daily throughout the course of antibiotics, and for 5 days afterwards. It is not necessary to take this (rather expensive) product on an ongoing basis. I have no affiliation with them…but maybe I should see if they offer one. 😉
- In the post where I distinguish the difference between eating turmeric and taking turmeric supplements, I have an affiliate link to the turmeric spice I personally use (here’s the non-affiliate link). It tastes good and I like it. It has no health claims, so I have no issues recommending it.
BOOK – Vitamania: Our obsessive quest for nutritional perfection (now called “Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food)
I wrote up an entire review of the book, from a Canadian nutritionists perspective. If you’re interested in getting your own copy of the book, you can click here (affiliate link):
For all of these companies and products, if I find out that there is a legal or ethical issue, a safety or efficacy or quality issue, I will definitely re-evaluate my affiliation with them.
"Before you buy another supplement read this!”
Free supplement resource from you to your clients (8 expert tips). Edit and brand it as you like.
What does this mean for you?
It means whatever you want it to. Feel free to do a bit of investigating into your own supplements, if you feel so inclined.
Either way, please go on being your awesome self and doing amazing work. Whether that is manufacturing, marketing/selling, promoting, or “science-ing”. Do what you believe to be the right thing and partner with companies who you agree with.
This is just my personal criteria to decide which dietary supplements to promote.
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I'm Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.
I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.