In Defence of Digestive Enzymes

John BiggsLast September, in an unprecedented move, Health Canada has sent out letters to Natural Health Product suppliers indicating that due to a “lack of data” supporting safety and efficacy, any enzyme product claiming to aid digestion may not be licensed. Furthermore, despite their popularity and long-term safety record, digestive enzymes may not be safe when used consecutively for more than three days, according to Health Canada. These rulings would apply to any enzymes marketed for digestive purposes, including pancreatin, bromelain, papain, amylase, etc., excluding only lactase.

To support their conclusions, Health Canada consulted ONE naturopath named Dr. George Tardik. After an evidence review, he has given his opinion that enzymes cannot be established as safe when used continuously for more than three days, due to the possibility that they may shut down the body’s own enzyme production.

But, as pointed out in the Citizens for Choice in Healthcare letter to take to your MP, (see below), due to digestive challenges, including food intolerances, Celiac disease, IBS, etc., many people don’t produce their own enzymes properly anyway. For these people, digestion can be very painful, producing inflammation and resulting in illness and dysfunction. Such dysfunction can often be quickly addressed by using digestive enzymes.

Moreover, how can one naturopath’s opinion be used to justify ignoring four decades of safe use?

What is being presented is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to turn control of digestive enzymes over to doctors, likely including both naturopaths and MDs, putting the enzymes under the control of the pharmaceutical industry, making them more expensive, and using up more health services.

By abusing NHPs’ classification as a subset of “Drugs,” Health Canada bureaucrats can send out such decisions while never moving from behind their desks. Health Canada’s basis for assessment regarding digestive enzymes is 100% to do with the “lack of data,” and makes no mention of the fact that countless millions of bottles have been safely sold to Canadians since the 1970s.

In other words, it doesn’t appear to matter if enzymes (or any other NHPs) are actually safe or effective; what matters is if documented evidence in humans can be produced to prove it – in other words, it is just a paper-chase that has nothing to do with reality. This is a hypothetical process that does not consider how many Canadians may be deriving benefit from a given health product.

And the reason there is a lack of documentation is that until 2004, NHPs were classified as “Foods.” So no one spent the money doing expensive human trials, since there was no point. There was no legal requirement, and the non-patentable status of NHPs was a disincentive.

Health Canada knew all of this when they forced NHPs into the “Drug” category in 2004. It’s not too far a stretch to realize this is why they did it. Meanwhile, the Health Minister is allowing caffeine-containing energy drinks like Red Bull, Jolt, and Rockstar to be sold as “Foods,” and Nicorette Gum has been licensed as a Natural Health Product.

If any of you are shaking your head as you read this, you are not alone. As we watch regulatory actions around the world restrict access to natural health products by forcing them into the “Drug” category after decades of safe use, and then eliminating them using mechanisms like the above (this is currently happening in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the European Union, and recently the U.S.), then look at the headlines delivering ever-more fearful news about vitamin supplements, it should be secret to no one what is really going on. Given the burgeoning tidal wave of interest in non-pharmaceutical health strategies, it seems obvious that what we are witnessing is simply a “one-two” punch on natural health designed to hand control over to the “Big Boys” – Big Food and Big Pharma – who have pivotal influences over government bureaucracies, the media, and scientific research.

Recommendation – Contact Your MP. If we don’t stand up now, and contact our MPs to let them know that what is happening is unacceptable, the incremental march to eliminate our ability to care for ourselves will make our democratic process and freedoms a thing of the past. Big business will run the whole show. So I recommend the following: (1) Download this letter; (2) contact your MP with it, and politely bring it to their attention that the Health Canada bureaucracy is once again wiping out our freedoms, and that health is a provincial jurisdiction; and (3) urge them to become educated on the matter by reading the CCHC Report prepared for MPs at, entitled “Why the Natural Health Product Regulations Should be Suspended and Revised.”

About the Author

More Articles by John H. Biggs, BSc, NCP

John H. Biggs, BSc, NCP is president of Optimum Health Vitamins, a leading retailer of supplements based in Edmonton. To view more of his comments, go to: To find your MP, go to: /HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

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