It is estimated that about one-third to nearly one-half of Americans routinely use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which includes dietary supplements (DS). Counseling patients on the use of these products is a major role of pharmacists. However, not much is known about pharmacists’ use of DS, their perception of DS safety and efficacy, or their patterns of recommendations to patients, family members, or friends.

A cross-sectional study examining pharmacists’ personal use of vitamins, minerals, herbals, and other DS, their reason for use, indications for use, demographic characteristics, as well as recommendation patterns for these products was recently conducted. All pharmacists licensed with the Arizona state board of pharmacy as of May 2015 were eligible for participation in this study. A questionnaire, which included 103 items and was based on the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, was sent via email to pharmacists to learn about their use of CAM and to whom they recommend these products.

The questionnaire, which was divided into four sections, sought to determine pharmacists’ use of a particular product, conditions that they were treating, and whether they would recommend the product to patients, family members, or friends. The second part of the questionnaire queried pharmacists about their use of 21 herbal and DS, including chondroitin, coenzyme Q10, creatine, fish oil, glucosamine, probiotics, and melatonin. In the third section, pharmacists were asked about their perceptions of the safety and effectiveness of DS and reasons why individuals used these products. Lastly, data were gathered on the participating pharmacist’s age, gender, type of practice setting, and location of practice setting (i.e., urban or rural).

Six hundred and thirty-nine pharmacists completed the survey. While female pharmacists used vitamin and mineral supplements more often than men (61% vs. 39%, P = .031), age and the type and location of practice setting did not affect use. Among the most commonly used vitamins and minerals were  multivitamins (91%), vitamin D (68%), calcium (67%), and B vitamins (63%). Pharmacists used these products for their general health and wellness. Pharmacists were least likely to use chromium and magnesium.

A similar pattern was seen in female and male pharmacists for herbals/other DS (64% vs. 36%, P = .039). Age was a significant factor, with older pharmacists being more likely to use these products. The most commonly used herbal/DS products were fish oil, probiotics, and fiber; least used were cinnamon and creatine.

When asked about safety and effectiveness, 59% of pharmacists thought that DS were safe, but only 32% perceived them to be effective. Fewer than 5% of pharmacists said that these preparations were not effective. Rather, pharmacists commonly endorsed the use of vitamin D for vitamin deficiencies, vitamin C for the common cold, melatonin for insomnia, and fiber/psyllium and probiotics for stomach or intestinal illness. In fact, up to 94% of pharmacists would recommend fiber/psyllium to patients, family members, or friends for the management of constipation.

Pharmacists are the health-professional gatekeepers of DS. This study helps pharmacists recognize their own use patterns and biases for or against the use of DS. This is important to acknowledge because there are robust data supporting the use of some DS such as vitamin D to prevent and/or treat vitamin D deficiency as well as the use of iron or vitamin B12 and folate to treat microcystic or megaloblastic anemias, respectively.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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