I have recently started working in a pharmacy again, looking after a naturopath position for a wonderful friend of mine who has just had a baby girl. Being back in retail again is always an eye opener. While this store (Amcal in Stocklands, Burleigh), is really awesome in the fact that is stocks heaps of health food options, naturopathic products and has a consult room for me to work in, it also carries some of the common "off the shelf" brands you will see in all pharmacies, supermarkets or warehouses. By ‘off the shelf’ products, I am talking about those products you can walk into any health food store, chemist or supermarket, and grab right off the shelf. You don’t need to talk to a naturopath or nutritionist, you don’t need a prescription, you can just buy them as you please. Now, some of these products are great, but others are a little questionable if you really want to be doing the best thing for your body. Having worked in these kind of retail environments for many years, I find I often need to educate customers about the difference between off the shelf products, and naturopathic only products.
Bigger is Better?
I shudder when I am asked for the largest and cheapest bottle of fish oil or glucosamine I have. Seeing more elderly people on a tight budget in the pharmacy setting has brought this concern to light for me again recently. And I totally understand being on a budget. But at the end of the day you want to get value for money, and that doesn't always come down to quantity.
As a society we seem to be programmed to find a bargain. Why would you want 120 capsules of fish oil for $45.00 when you can buy 300 capsules for $9.95? It’s all the same, right? Absolutely not! I don’t want to just pick on fish oil here, but it seems to be the most popular in this category. When you buy your 300 cheap fish oil capsules, you can guarantee a few things.
Firstly, you are getting the lowest strength fish oil available. This means to be effective, you’d need to take MORE capsules. So to benefit from the anti-inflammatory effect of fish oil, you would need to take at least 10 regular, cheap capsules. With a higher quality (and more expensive product) you don’t need to take nearly that many! This may actually save you money. Your 300 will only last you a month if you take it in optimal levels, not ‘forever’ as you might have thought, taking one or two per day.
Secondly, you are getting a lesser quality product. In Australia we have strict guidelines of quality control of products, but there is a bit of leeway as to just how good the product might be. Picking on fish oil again, there are allowable levels of heavy metals found in fish oils in Australia. The more expensive fish oil brands have said “We know ‘this much’ mercury is allowable is fish oil, but we don’t want ANY in our products!” Therefore the purity and quality is much higher in the higher priced product.
And finally, product degradation. Usually, these huge sale items are shipped in to the shop in pallets, stored in warehouses and not always kept in the best environment possible to promote health. Products you pay more for will usually cold ship their products, ensuring that their oil is not damaged by heat or light on the way to the store in which you buy it. Good quality fish oil is best stored in dark glass, and kept cool, away from direct sunlight. Your 300 capsules are arriving in their plastic container, often heated from the transport truck. The oils inside can easily go rancid, reducing any benefits you might get in the first place, and often causing reflux and nausea.
So as you can see, saving some money to get the bargain vitamins might actually be damaging your health, as opposed to helping it. And helping you health is defiantly the aim right? So the next time a naturopath tries to show you a more expensive product, have a listen to what they have to say. We are not just trying to make a better sale. We want you to be healthier and we want you to notice the benefits of the supplement you have purchased.
There are a few more things to look out for when purchasing off the shelf products, I will continue with these in Part 2!