Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.
NFM: I’ve heard taking multivitamins can be dangerous for women. Should I stop taking them?
Store (natural foods chain in the West): Really? I’m not familiar with the research. We definitely recommend multivitamins for older women.
NFM: Can’t I get the same nutrients from a balanced diet?
Store: For most people, it’s really hard to eat enough fruits and vegetables. Also, a lot of the food we eat is genetically modified and highly processed, so that’s another hurdle. I’d be happy to show you some of the more popular options we carry for women in your age group.
How did this retailer do?
Our expert evaluator: Andrew W. Saul, PhD, founder of doctoryourself.com and author of Fire Your Doctor! How to Be Independently Healthy (Basic Health, 2005)
Since the retailer was not familiar with the mentioned research, it would have been a good idea to do a quick Google search right then and there to get up to speed. If time did not permit looking up the research, the retailer could have promised to contact the customer via email or telephone later that week. Being familiar with the study would have better assured the customer that the retailer is qualified to responsibly comment on its validity.
The retailer was correct in suggesting multivitamins to supplement the shopper’s diet. As he suggested, it can be difficult and expensive to eat enough fresh produce. Per nutrient per serving, multivitamins are cheaper sources of micronutrients than many foods. The retailer is also correct that food processing eliminates a substantial portion of vitamins and minerals.
Recently, there has been some research claiming that multivitamins are a waste of money and even harmful. Such studies tend to be statistical exercises in selectively combining data from a number of poorly designed studies into one large, poorly interpreted conclusion.
After examining “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women” from the Iowa Women’s Health Study the customer mentioned, the retailer could argue that there have been literally decades of quality research indicating: 1. most Americans eat diets that are deficient in one or more nutrients and 2. a deficiency of even one nutrient is unhealthy. A multivitamin is, as vitamin pioneer Roger J. Williams, PhD, put it, excellent “nutritional insurance.” Studies casting doubt on the value of multivitamins are ignoring the greater issue: What are the consequences of vitamin inadequacy? Vitamin supplementation is not a problem; it is a solution.
For more information, get a closer look at the findings from the Iowa Women’s Health Study.