The uptick in dietary supplement use and integrative health and medicine practices in the United States creates both opportunities and concerns for pharmacists and health providers, who need to stay well informed to help patients avoid harmful effects. Some patients may seek vitamin or herbal supplements for health and wellness, often believing that these are safer than conventional OTC and prescription pharmaceutical products. However, so-called natural remedies come with their own set of health risks.
“Dietary supplements are very helpful and really needed when they are chosen correctly and properly,” said Farzana Kennedy, RPh, FACA, owner and president of Dalitso, an integrative pharmacy in Alexandria, Virginia. “Often, they can be harmful if not properly monitored or checked for interactions or contraindications in a patient who has preexisting conditions.”
Acting as Educators
Dietary supplement use has reached an all-time high, with 77% of Americans reportedly using these products, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. The increased patient demand for non-pharmacologic health options has created unprecedented opportunities for pharmacists to expand their interactions with patients.
Many patients consider community pharmacies the ideal place to purchase vitamins and other dietary health supplements. Pharmacists can positively affect the patient experience by:
- Providing supplement education Making supplement recommendations
- Assessing for interactions, contraindications, and toxicities Collecting a patient’s complete medication history, including supplements
- Assessing for drug-drug, drug- micronutrient, and drug- supplement interactions
- Helping patients evaluate natural products for quality-related issues
Pharmacists can also educate patients about the potential effects of taking dietary supplements on laboratory test validity and results.
“In general, validating and interpreting laboratory test results can be key tools in helping health care professionals optimize clinical decisions related to their patients’ health,” said Cathy Rosenbaum, PharmD, RPh, MBA, CHC, CDP, a holistic clinical pharmacist and founder and CEO of Rx Integrative Solutions in Blue Ash, Ohio. “Pharmacists are uniquely poised to prospectively educate the public on any laboratory test interferences with medications, supplements, or micronutrients to minimize safety risks.”