Pharmacists vs. Health Food Store Employees: Who Gives Better Advice?

Pharmacists vs. Health Food Store Employees: Who Gives Better Advice?
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The accuracy of medical advice given by staff at natural food stores is compared to that given by staff at community pharmacies, based on the balance of available scientific evidence.

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Yes, as we’ve seen, studies have shown over and over again that health food store employees, on average, didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. But maybe nobody does when it comes to supplements. Two North American studies were recently published—one in Canada and one here in the States—comparing the advice gotten from health food stores, compared to community pharmacies.

In Canada, researchers went in and asked questions like will ginseng give me more energy, will beta-carotene help me prevent cancer, will shark cartilage help cure my cancer?

What percentage of visits to 192 different health food stores were researchers given advice considered accurate, or at least fairly accurate, based on the balance of available scientific evidence? 100% of the time? Half of the time? No, 7% of the time.

Pharmacists did about ten times better.

In the U.S. study, they got actors to walk into pharmacies and health food stores, feigning classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes: excessive thirst and fatigue, unexplained weight loss despite overeating, peeing like crazy all the time. They asked the health food and pharmacy staff what they thought they had, what they should take, and whether they thought they should go see a doctor?

Given that type 1 diabetes can be fatal if untreated, the answer to that last question is yes, they should indeed go see a doctor, and all eight out of the eight pharmacists got that right; good for them.

But only half (six) of the 12 health food store employees thought it necessary, and two of the six naysayers explicitly advised against going to a doctor—the rationale being that the physician would, quote, “just give them Ritalin,” or miss the true diagnosis—which they felt was something like mold infestation or adrenal exhaustion, which, luckily, they had just the right supplements for, at a bargain—for only up to $200 a month.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Yes, as we’ve seen, studies have shown over and over again that health food store employees, on average, didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. But maybe nobody does when it comes to supplements. Two North American studies were recently published—one in Canada and one here in the States—comparing the advice gotten from health food stores, compared to community pharmacies.

In Canada, researchers went in and asked questions like will ginseng give me more energy, will beta-carotene help me prevent cancer, will shark cartilage help cure my cancer?

What percentage of visits to 192 different health food stores were researchers given advice considered accurate, or at least fairly accurate, based on the balance of available scientific evidence? 100% of the time? Half of the time? No, 7% of the time.

Pharmacists did about ten times better.

In the U.S. study, they got actors to walk into pharmacies and health food stores, feigning classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes: excessive thirst and fatigue, unexplained weight loss despite overeating, peeing like crazy all the time. They asked the health food and pharmacy staff what they thought they had, what they should take, and whether they thought they should go see a doctor?

Given that type 1 diabetes can be fatal if untreated, the answer to that last question is yes, they should indeed go see a doctor, and all eight out of the eight pharmacists got that right; good for them.

But only half (six) of the 12 health food store employees thought it necessary, and two of the six naysayers explicitly advised against going to a doctor—the rationale being that the physician would, quote, “just give them Ritalin,” or miss the true diagnosis—which they felt was something like mold infestation or adrenal exhaustion, which, luckily, they had just the right supplements for, at a bargain—for only up to $200 a month.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bexley Natural Market and Melonheadz.

Doctor's Note

This is the final video of my four-part series on the quality of advice given by employees of natural food stores. For the first three, see Health Food Store Supplement AdviceBad Advice From Health Food Store Employees; and Dangerous Advice From Health Food Store Employees. Health Food Store Supplement Advice covers the shark cartilage question. Is Vitamin D the New Vitamin E? mentions beta carotene. And I’ve yet to do a video on ginseng, but I will! In the meantime, check out my other videos on snake oil, including Dietary Supplement Snake Oil.

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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