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Open Access Research article

Consumers of natural health products: natural-born pharmacovigilantes?

Rishma Walji1, Heather Boon14*, Joanne Barnes2, Zubin Austin1, Sandy Welsh3 and G Ross Baker4

Author affiliations

1 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Aukland, New Zealand

3 Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010, 10:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-8

Published: 25 February 2010



Natural health products (NHPs), such as herbal medicines and vitamins, are widely available over-the-counter and are often purchased by consumers without advice from a healthcare provider. This study examined how consumers respond when they believe they have experienced NHP-related adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in order to determine how to improve current safety monitoring strategies.


Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with twelve consumers who had experienced a self-identified NHP-related ADR. Key emergent themes were identified and coded using content analysis techniques.


Consumers were generally not comfortable enough with their conventional health care providers to discuss their NHP-related ADRs. Consumers reported being more comfortable discussing NHP-related ADRs with personnel from health food stores, friends or family with whom they had developed trusted relationships. No one reported their suspected ADR to Health Canada and most did not know this was possible.


Consumers generally did not report their suspected NHP-related ADRs to healthcare providers or to Health Canada. Passive reporting systems for collecting information on NHP-related ADRs cannot be effective if consumers who experience NHP-related ADRs do not report their experiences. Healthcare providers, health food store personnel, manufacturers and other stakeholders also need to take responsibility for reporting ADRs in order to improve current pharmacovigilance of NHPs.