Let's Talk: Are pharmacies pushing supplements on us?

A Four Corners investigation has found pharmacies are recommending supplements and vitamins that might not be effective to their customers.

If you’ve ever gone into a pharmacy and been pointed in the direction of supplements or vitamins, you’re not alone.

A Four Corners investigation, which will air on the ABC tonight, is set to reveal that a third of pharmacists in Australia have been recommending you “complementary medicines” such as vitamins and supplements that might actually be ineffective. 

The program investigates a number of issues, including why pharmacists rely so much on selling you vitamins and herbal supplements.

As part of the investigation, consumer advocacy group Choice sent “shadow shoppers” into 240 chemists.

The “shadow shoppers” complained of stress and as will be revealed in the program tonight, most were told to buy a vitamin or supplementary product.

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For many of us it’s an all too familiar situation.

Choice’s head of campaigns and policy Erin Turner tells Four Corners that 49% of the shoppers were told the vitamin or supplement worked.

“46% of people were told to buy a vitamin B — and there is some evidence that a vitamin B can assist with the signs of stress,” she said.

“However it’s the 26%t of people and the 3 per cent of people who are told to buy things that just don’t work — Bach flower remedies [such as ‘rescue remedy’] — homeopathic options, that’s where this is really disappointing.”

The program digs into homeopathy, speaking to various experts and professors about their effectiveness – with some claiming there is no evidence homeopathy actually works.

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Other revelations that might surprise you in the program include claims that some complementary products such as vitamins and supplements don’t actually have effective dosages in them.

You might be wondering what the pharmacists have to say?

Well, the program also speaks to the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the heads of some of Australia’s biggest chemists.

The Pharmaceutical Society stated it doesn’t support the sale of homeopathic products but there’s no rule against it.

Meanwhile, Chemist Warehouse’s founder Damien Gance told Four Corners modern pharmacies in Australia “have to listen to its consumers”.

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“So if a retail pharmacy consumer wants complementary medicines then by all means pharmacies should provide complementary medicines,” he said.

The program is sure to spark a debate in the community and amongst pharmacists about the benefits of supplements and vitamins and whether or not they are actually effective.

Have you ever been recommended a vitamin or a supplement by a pharmacist? Do you believe this is an issue?