Bad Advice from Health Food Store Employees

Bad Advice from Health Food Store Employees
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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 multibillion dollar supplement industry has our best interests any closer to heart than the pharmaceutical industry.

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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 these 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 six-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’s 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 wildly 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 two of the 13 they tested that had none at all.

In the United States, dietary supplements are a multibillion industry. That’s probably ten times less than what we spend on prescription drugs, but still tens of billions of dollars 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

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 these 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 six-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’s 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 wildly 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 two of the 13 they tested that had none at all.

In the United States, dietary supplements are a multibillion industry. That’s probably ten times less than what we spend on prescription drugs, but still tens of billions of dollars 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Nota del Doctor

This is the second of a four-part series on the quality of advice given by employees of natural food stores. For part one, see Health Food Store Supplement Advice. Parts three and four are, respectively, Dangerous Advice from Health Food Store Employees, and Pharmacists Versus Health Food Store Employees: Who Gives Better Advice? Of course, doctors also know precious little about what people should be putting in their mouths. See, for example, 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 DoctorsMedical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition TrainingCalifornia Medical Association Tries to Kill Nutrition Bill; and Nutrition Bill Doctored in the California Senate

And be sure to check out my associated blog posts: Health Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or Worst; Plant-Based Workplace Intervention; and How Should I Take Probiotics?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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