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Bad Advice From Health Food Store Employees

Most health food store supplement aisle employees have little or no training and make wildly dissimilar recommendations. Even when they’re consistent, the levels of active ingredients in supplements may not be. We should not assume the multi-billion dollar supplement industry has our best interests any closer to heart than the pharmaceutical industry.

June 1, 2012 |
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You’ll notice on foods and supplements that it’s actually illegal to claim they can prevent or cure disease—that’s why you’ll just see so-called structure and function claims like “supports immunity.” And federal law basically prohibits people from diagnosing and prescribing without a medical license, yet you can probably walk into any health food store and get all the claims, diagnosing and prescribing you could ever want, and the question is how good is that advice.
 “Health information provided by retail health food outlets.” What if you go in and pretend your 6 year old just got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease? 23 stores, 30 different recommendations, including a myriad of untried and perhaps deleterious treatments.
 What kind of training did these health food store employees get? Most got absolutely none, or in-store training only. It is no secret that I’ve been very critical of drug companies biasing medical training— that was much of what my first book on medical education was about. But what do we think stores are teaching their employees to say?
 “Clinic at the health food store?” This one says more about the supplement industry itself than health food stores. Researchers went in feigning depression, and most were given St. John’s wort supplements, though at widly varying doses, without mentioning the significant drug reactions and side-effects like photosensitivity. Still, at least they were vaguely consistent with their recommendations. What was not consistent was the level of the active ingredient hypericin promised on the labels. 90% were wildly off, including 2 of the 13 they tested that had none at all.
In the United States dietary supplements are a $22 billion industry. That’s 10 times less than what we spend on prescription drugs, but still 22 billion is no small potatoes. Many of us rightly rail against the political influence and commercial bias of the pharmaceutical industry but are we to assume multimillion dollar supplement corporations are any less self-interested?

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena Mylchreest

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is the second of a four-part series on the quality of advice given by employees of natural food stores. See yesterday's NutritionFacts.org video-of-the-day Health Food Store Supplement Advice for part one. Of course doctors also know precious little about what people should be putting in their mouths. See, for example, my videos Do Doctors Make the Grade?, Medical School Nutrition Education, and Doctors Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition. Even worse than just getting inadequate training, the medical profession has actively lobbied against doctors getting more education on the topic of nutrition. See Nutrition Education Mandate Introduced for Doctors, Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training, California Medical Association Tries to Kill Nutrition Bill, and Nutrition Bill Doctored in the California Senate. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Please feel free to check out any of the other 1,000+ subjects I have videos about.

Please be sure to check out my associated blog posts: Health Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or WorstWatermelon For Erectile Dysfunction, and  Plant-Based Workplace Intervention, and How Should I Take Probiotics?

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    This is the second of a four-part series on the quality of advice given by employees of natural food stores. See yesterday’s NutritionFacts.org video-of-the-day Health Food Store Supplement Advice for part one. Of course doctors also know precious little about what people should be putting in their mouths. See, for example, my videos Do Doctors Make the Grade?, Medical School Nutrition Education, and Doctors Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition. Worse than just getting inadequate training, the medical profession has actively lobbied against doctors getting more education on the topic of nutrition. See Nutrition Education Mandate Introduced for Doctors, Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training, California Medical Association Tries to Kill Nutrition Bill, and Nutrition Bill Doctored in the California Senate. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Please feel free to check out any of the other 1,000+ subjects I have videos about.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Why is this, that Medical Associations Oppose Nutrition Training.  Are they backed by Big Pharma?  They are supposed to be Public watchdogs keeping people from harm.
      I know for a fact (some are my patients) that they themselves would rather eat healthy than start taking medications.  So what gives?  Why is everyone on these medical boards so afraid of teaching physicians about plant-based lifestyles and reversing chronic disease?  Are they afraid everyone in the world will heal themselves, so there will be no more sick people in the world and they will be out of a job?  I just don’t get it!  Why do we have to fight to help people get better?  Why do I have to risk ridicule (which happens on a daily basis and I don’t really care) to do no harm?
      These aren’t rhetorical questions, I want answers!  Damn it, I’m Mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore! (Great line from the old movie Network). 

      • HemoDynamic, M.D.

         Well I look at it this way–if they don’t change and mandate educating Physicians about nutrition, people like ourselves will become more highly sought after by persons in society who are sick of being sick and the obsolete policy makers will crate (yes Crate is the correct word) their own demise.
        Anyway, for the time being it is like Crabs in a Bucket ;-{  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_mentality

  • Stacy

    People complain about the price of healthy food but don’t seem to mind forking over big bucks for diet pills and other “quick-fix” remedies for their health.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Regarding pricing, have you seen the price of commercial cereal’s–they aren’t inexpensive.  Oh but they probably have a coupon to help pay for the box of “Sap, Crapple and Slop.” 

  • HPO

    Do you consider Agar Agar to be healthy?