Glossary of terms

The Swiss glossary is your guide to learning the language of natural health supplements.


The process by which nutrients are absorbed through the digestive tract into the bloodstream and made available to the body. Problems in absorption can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Acetic acid

A weak organic acid created by a bacterial fermentation of alcohol by Acetobacter spp. Vinegar is normally a 4 to 5 percent solution of acetic acid in water.


Acids have low pH, below 7, taste sour and are often corrosive. They can be either organic (acetic acid, malic acid, lactic acid) or inorganic (sulfuric acid) compounds.


Are usually herbs which produce necessary adjustments in the body, in order to normalize body functions. Adaptogens are eliminated or incorporated into the body without side effects, after they have completed their adjustment. Examples of common Adaptogens include: garlic, ginger, echinacea, ginkgo, ginseng, golden seal and pau d’arco.


A substance that induces an allergic response. Common allergens include dust, ragweed and grasses.

Allergic reaction

A response by the body’s immune system to an allergen. Allergic reactions can range from itchiness and rash to breathing difficulties.

Alpha linolenic acid

A long-chained fatty acid that is used by the body to form Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Doscosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Often sourced from flaxseed oil

Amino acid

The building blocks of protein, amino acids are nitrogen containing organic acids. There are 22 amino acids, 8 of which are essential to the human body (leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine).


A substance that counters excess acid in the esophagus, and stomach.


Substances that destroy or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms, like bacteria and/or fungi.

Anti oxidant

A substance which can prevent destructive oxidation reactions. Common anti-oxidants include vitamin C and E, the mineral selenium, and CoQ10.


A disease of the circulatory system that is characterized by a thickening and stiffening of the walls of arteries, which can slowdown or impedes blood circulation.


A blood vessel which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Ascorbic acid

An organic acid commonly known as vitamin C. Can be referred to as ascorbate.


A form of arteriosclerosis, which is caused by the fatty deposits in the inner linings of the arteries,

Autoimmune disorder

A condition in which the immune system is triggered into attacking its own bodies’ tissue. Examples of common autoimmune disorders include multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.


Single-celled micro-organisms that are found in all areas on earth, and exist in the human body. The majority of bacteria are friendly bacteria, which are present to help protect the body from harmful pathogenic bacteria. It also acts as an aid to digestion. Examples of friendly bacteria include Lactobacillus spp. and Bifidus spp.


Beriberi (pronounced Berry-berry) is a nervous system ailment caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the diet. Thiamine is involved in the breakdown of energy molecules such as glucose and is also found on the membranes of neurons. Symptoms of beriberi include severe lethargy and fatigue, together with complications affecting the cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, and gastrointestinal systems.

Beta carotene

Vitamin A precursor. A substance the body can use to manufacture vitamin A.


Refers to a group of biologically active flavonoids present in citrus fruit and rose hips. Bioflavonoids have antioxidant abilities and may help in the absorption and stabilization of vitamin C. While not technically a vitamin, they have been referred to as vitamin P.

British Pharmacopeia

This is a scientific publication which describes standardized methods for the analysis of herbal and other drugs for their active or inactive ingredients. This publication is acceptable by Health Canada.


Tubes that branch from the windpipe or trachea and form the passage way to the lungs.


The smallest of the blood vessels which allow the exchange of nutrients and waste by-products of metabolism between the circulatory system and the body’s tissue.


Organic substances composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and serve as the major source of energy in the diet. Carbohydrates include starches, cellulose and sugars.


The building blocks of tissue; cells are composed of a nucleus, cytoplasm, and a cell membrane. All living tissues are composed of cells.


Cellulose is an indigestible carbohydrate in humans and forms building blocks for fibre. Cellulose is found in the protective outer layers of fruits and vegetables.


A chemical process by which a mineral is surrounded by several other molecules, such as amino acid to form a ball. Chelation of a mineral improves the body’s absorption of the mineral.


A group of pigments found in plants, which give plants their green color.


A substance produced in all mammals to help carry and absorb fats throughout the body. Cholesterol is also the base molecule for the production of many hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. Too much LDL cholesterol can be harmful to health.


Another name for citric acid, a common acid found in citrus plants, such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits. This acid is joined with minerals to form a citrate salt improving the absorption of the mineral in the digestive system.

Co enzyme

A molecule that helps an enzyme perform its function in the body. Co-enzymes are necessary in the proper utilization of vitamins and minerals.

Cold pressed

A process by which food oils are extracted, without using destructive heat in order to preserve nutrients and flavor.

Complete protein

A dietary protein that contains all of the eight essential amino acids (see amino acids).

Complex carbohydrate

A carbohydrate such as starch which is made up of smaller sugar molecules, and will slowly release the sugar molecules into the body. Complex carbohydrates are also a fibre source.


Drug Identification Number. A numerical code assigned to each drug product marketed under or in accordance with the Foods and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations.


Substances that increase urine flow.


Also known as deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA is the building block of the body’s genes. The DNA is the blue print which allows the body to determine how a cell will develop and form tissue and organs.

Doscosahexaenoic acid DHA

Long-chained fatty acids. High concentrations are found in fish oil.


Impairment of the power or function of digestion; usually applied to epigastric discomfort after meals.

Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA

Long-chained fatty acids. High concentrations are found in fish oil.


Refers to one of the approximately 108 elements that make up all matter. For example, ferrous chloride is made up of two elements, iron (ferrous) and chlorine (chloride).

Enteric coated

Some products are not suitable for release in the stomach as they may be unsettling or ineffective. Enteric coating allows the tablet or capsule to bypass the stomach to the small intestine where they are dissolved.


Proteins that are essential in initiating or speeding up chemical reactions in the body and are not used up during the reaction.


Expectoration is the coughing up and spitting out of material from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea


Process by which a substance, usually an herb is soaked in a liquid to isolate chemically active substances. Extracts are stronger than tinctures, which are diluted extracts.

Fat soluble

A substance that has the same chemical properties as fats, and will mix with fats.

Fatty acid

A building block of fats and oil.


Parts of plant matter that cannot be digested, and contribute to the bulk portion of a healthy diet.

Flatulent Colic

Abdominal Pain due to Gas

Free radical

A highly chemically reactive molecule that has unpaired electrons. These compounds are formed constantly in the body and can be destructive as they will join readily with other substances creating disturbances in metabolism.

Free radical scavenger

A substance that can neutralize free radicals. (See anti-oxidant)


A group of micro-organisms that include yeasts, molds and mushrooms. Some fungi, such as Candida albicans, are capable of causing disease.


A galactogogue is a substance which is used to increase the production of milk.


A simple sugar that is the principal source of energy for the body’s cells.


A protein found in many grains, including wheat, rye, barley, and oats.


Good Manufacturing Practices.

Heavy metal

Metallic elements such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury which are extremely toxic.

House standard

This is a verified laboratory method for the analysis of the active or inactive ingredients of an herbal or pharmaceutical drug product. The house method is developed and validated by the manufacturer. This is acceptable to Health Canada if no published laboratory method exists.


Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein


Excessive calcium in the blood; the primary symptom is that neuromuscular activity diminishes. Symptoms include lethargy, muscle weakness (which, as the level of calcium increases, can progress to depressed reflexes and hypotonic muscles), constipation, mental confusion, and eventually coma.


Is an abnormally increased activity of the parathyroid gland; it may be either primary or secondary. Since hyperparathyroidism is a common cause of increased calcium levels, hypercalcemia discovered during routine testing often leads to diagnosis of the condition. An excess of parathyroid hormone leads to alteration in the function of cells of bone, renal tubules, and gastrointestinal mucous membranes. It may result in kidney stones and calcium deposits in the renal tubules; in generalized loss of calcium of bone (osteomalacia), with bone pain and spontaneous fractures; and in hypercalcemia that can cause muscular weakness and gastrointestinal problems.


High blood pressure. This so called silent disease usually has no noticeable symptoms. Hypertension is diagnosed by having several resting blood pressures over 140/90.

I U International Unit

Standardized unit of measure of vitamin activity accepted world wide. To determine the mg equivalents use the following. 1000 i.u. of Vitamin A = 0.6 mg 1000 i.u. of Vitamin D3 = 0.025mg 1000 i.u. of Vitamin E  as d-alpha tocopherol = 671 mg as d-alpha tocopheryl acetate = 735 mg as d-alpha tocopheryl acid succinate = 826 mg as d-beta tocopherol = 1333 mg as d-gamma tocopherol = 6667 mg as d-delta tocopherol = 20,000 mg

Immune system

A complex system including the liver, lymphatic system and the bone marrow that attempts to identify and eliminate foreign substances such as harmful bacteria or allergens that have invaded the body.


The inability to sleep which can lead to serious disease.


A hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the metabolism of glucose (sugar) in the body.

Intestinal flora

The bacteria present in the intestines that are essential for the digestion and metabolism of nutrients.


Different from an allergy. Intolerance is the inability to digest a particular food, usually due to a lack or deficiency of certain enzymes. An example of this is lactose intolerance.


An enzyme that converts the milk sugar lactose into glucose and galactose. Lactose intolerant people lack or have a deficiency of lactase.


Bacteria that are characterized by their ability to ferment lactose to lactic acid. These are bacteria which are present primarily in the small intestine and aid in the digestion of nutrients. The two species of lactobacilli most commonly available in supplement form are L. acidophilus and L. bulgaricus, the bacteria used in the manufacture of yogurt. A mixture of phospholipids found in all living cells. It is composed of fatty acids, glycerol, phosphorus.


A mixture of phospholipids found in all living cell membranes. It is composed of fatty acids, glycerol, phosphorus, choline and inositol.


Another name for fats, oils. Lipids are nutritionally important for cellular processes.


A substance that combines proteins and lipids. Lipoproteins help transport the lipids through the lymph and blood systems.


A colorless liquid that bathes the body cells, and circulates as an independent network of vessels between blood and tissue to exchange nutrients and waste products.


The chemical processes that take place in the cells of living tissue. Metabolism involves two processes, catabolism and anabolism. They involve the break down of complex substances to simple compounds, and the building up of complex substances from simple compounds.


A measurement of weight equivalent to 1/1,000,000 of a gram or 1/1,000 of a milligram. It is usually designated as “mcg”.


A measurement of weight equivalent to 1/1,000 of a gram. It is usually designated as “mg”.


An inorganic substance required by the body in small quantities.


Natural Health Product Directorate, the regulatory authority of all Natural Health Products in Canada.


Natural Product Number. This number is issued by NHPD for natural health products including vitamins, minerals and herbal products. The manufacturer must apply for the NPN for each natural health product and provide adequate evidence for the safety and effectiveness of the compound before a NPN is issued. The 8 digit number is displayed on the front label of the product.


A food or food based product or supplement that has a specific clinical and/or therapeutic purpose.


A substance that is needed by the body to maintain life and health.

ORAC Value

Oxygen Radical Absorbing Capacity a method to measure antioxidant capacity against free radicals. 500 ORAC = antioxidant capacity of 1 serving of fruit.


Any product that is designated organic must be grown and processed to rigid standards that preserve as much of the product as it is found in nature. Standards for pest control, heat processing and extraction are some of the factors which are regulated.


Is softening of the bones, resulting from impaired mineralization, with excess accumulation of osteoid, caused by a vitamin D deficiency in adults. A similar condition in children is called rickets. The deficiency may be due to lack of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, inadequate vitamin D in the diet, or failure to absorb or utilize vitamin D.


A disorder that causes minerals to leach out of the bones causing them to become more porous and brittle.


A chemical reaction in which oxygen reacts with another substance, resulting in a chemical transformation. Many oxidation reactions result in some type of deterioration or spoilage.


A disease marked by dermatitis, gastrointestinal disorders, mental disturbance, and memory loss and associated with a diet deficient in niacin and protein


Hydrogen ion concentration. A scale used to measure the relative acidity or alkalinity of substances. The scale runs from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral; numbers below 7 denote increasing acidity and numbers above 7 denote increasing alkalinity.


Product that contains a combination of herb (phyto) and oil (lipid) from lecithin. This combination helps increase the absorption of the herb into the blood making it more effective.


Substances present in plants (phyto) such as fruits, vegetables and herbs that have various health promoting properties.


Complex compounds composed of amino acids which are constituents of all cells in the body. Proteins also form hormones and enzymes, and are created from the DNA blueprint. Proteins can come from plants or animals.


An accepted standard of production methods and manufacturing facilities, including the premises, equipment, in-process controls and tests during fabrication, packaging and labeling, to ensure consistent results in final products that are safe, effective, pure and stable.

Rheumatic Complaints

Conditions characterized by inflammation, stiffness or pain in muscles, joints or fibrous tissue.


Ribonucleic acid. A complex protein found in plant and animal cells that work with DNA to form protein molecules, the basis of all living cells.

Saturated fat

A fat, such as animal fat, or coconut or palm oil, which is characterized as being solid at room temperature.


Saturation refers to the chemical structure of the fatty acid molecules, specifically to the amount of double bonds present. The lower the number of double bonds the more saturated the fat. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature.


A neurotransmitter found principally in the brain, which is considered essential for relaxation, sleep, and concentration.

Serum Triglyceride

Is a compound consisting of three molecules of fatty acids bound with one molecule of glycerol; it is a neutral fat that is the usual storage form of lipids in animals. Elevated serum triglycerides are now considered as important as high cholesterol levels in the development of ischemic heart disease.


This is a process where particular active ingredients in herbal extracts are produced and analyzed to contain a specific amount. For example, standardized Feverfew is tested to ensure it contains 0.2% Parthenolide.

Time released

This is a process where the vitamins or minerals are encapsulated into thousands of tiny beadlets, which will break down over a 6-8 hour period of time, releasing the ingredients gradually.


Are diluted extracts. Please see extracts.

United States Pharmacopeia

This is a scientific publication which describes standardized methods for the analysis of herbal and other drugs for their active or inactive ingredients. This publication is acceptable by Health Canada and is most extensively used in the pharmaceutical and natural health products industries.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fats chemically have several double bonds. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats come from vegetable sources and are good sources of essential fatty acids. Examples include flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and primrose oil.


One of the blood vessels that returns the blood from the body tissues to the heart.


An anthelmintic, an agent that destroys parasitic worms.


One of approximately 15 organic substances that are essential in small quantities to maintain life and health. Most vitamins cannot be manufactured by the body, and need to be supplied in the diet.


A type of single-celled fungus. Certain types of yeast can cause infection, most commonly in the mouth, vagina or gastrointestinal tract. Common yeast infections include vaginitis and thrush.