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Advice can be a danger.

HERBAL remedies are often seen as natural and gentle alternatives to conventional medicines, but poor service in health food shops could be putting customers at risk.

A Which? report has found that many health food shops are giving poor or wrong advice about their products. This could lead people to take unsafe combinations of herbal and conventional medicines, says Amanda Bristow, author of the report.

Bristow said: "The advice people receive is very poor, even when staff have received some in-house training."

She warned that those who buy supplements and herbal remedies from Britain's 1700 independent health food shops must take care.

She said: "Customers must be aware that staff are not specifically trained to deal with their complaints and should check symptoms with a GP first."

You should also tell the assistant of any existing illness or condition, or if you are taking herbal or conventional medicine. And always read the label, as some supplements and aromatherapy oils are not suitable during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

The Which? researchers visited 30 health food shops and found that 25 provided inadequate or misleading advice.

In half the shops, researchers asked for something to relieve indigestion and the other half asked to buy kava, a herbal remedy that alleviates mild anxiety.

For indigestion complaints, Which? experts said customers should be advised to see a GP in order to rule out serious conditions such as cancer.

In practice, only two shops did this. Two more gave this advice, but also sold products to the researchers.

In the case of kava, which has sedative qualities, customers should be warned not to take it with tranquillisers. Nor should they just stop taking tranquillisers, as this might cause withdrawal symptoms.

But half the shops sold kava without question. Even when customers said they were taking tranquillisers, three shops still sold them kava.

Maurice Hanssen, president of the Health Food Manufacturers Association said: "Health food shops must learn a lesson from this survey.

He said that they are good at giving advice for chronic conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism. But he added: "If I wanted advice on anything else I'd go to a GP."
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Mallon, Margaret
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 11, 1999
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