Health food shops `give unsafe advice'

MOST HEALTH food shops are giving poor or wrong advice to customers, which could delay people with serious conditions getting proper medical treatment, according to a Which? report published today.

The advice might lead people to take unsafe combinations of herbal and conventional medicines, the report states. "Generally, the advice people receive is very poor even when the staff have received some in- house training," said Amanda Bristow, author of the report.

"Customers need to be aware that staff are not specifically trained to deal with their complaints and they should check any symptoms with their GP first," she added.

Thousands of people buy dietary supplements, herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies from health food shops every week.

There are about 1,700 independent health food retailers in Britain. But staff are not required to have any training in advising customers. In the Which? survey six researchers, each over 50 , visited 30 health food shops. Half were asked to inquire about remedies to relieve indigestion and the other half to buy kava, a herbal remedy that alleviates mild anxiety.

A GP and two experienced researchers in complementary medicine devised the scenarios and assessed the advice given.

In the first scenario, the correct advice to someone over 40 who experiences indigestion and weight loss is to tell them to go to a doctor because it could be a serious condition.

The researchers said that they had been suffering from indigestion for a few weeks and had not seen their doctor and were not taking any other medication. The shop assistants should not have attempted diagnosis or tried to sell them any products, as they could relieve symptoms and so delay impoprtant medical advice, according to the experts.

Only one shop gave the correct advice. Two shops gave reasonable advice, but the rest gave poor advice, selling the researchers herbal "treatments".

In the second scenario, the researchers asked to buy kava, a herbal drink that has a calming and relaxing effect. Research has shown that it is helpful in the treatment of mild anxiety but it also has sedative properties and should not be taken at the same time as prescription tranquillisers.

Someone taking tranquillisers should not suddenly stop because that could cause withdrawal symptoms.

The researchers said that they had been feeling anxious, were taking tranquillising medication, had seen their GP but wanted to try something natural. Again only one shop, Holland & Barrett in Newcastle upon Tyne, gave the correct advice. One researcher was told to stop taking the tranquillisers immediately, and the rest sold the product with poor advice.

"Health food shops need to learn a lesson from this survey," said Maurice Hanssen, president of the Health Food Manufacturers Association. "Health food shops are very good at giving advice for chronic conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, general tiredness and depression. If I wanted advice on anything else I would go to a GP," he added.

Check any symptoms with your GP first.

If you are taking any medicines, consult your GP before trying a herbal supplement or remedy.

Mention in the health food shop if you have an existing illness or condition, or are already taking herbal or conventional medicine.

Always read the label.

Some vitamins, supplements and aromatherapy oils are not suitable for pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding.

How To Avoid

The Dangers

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy