Natural medicine education on the rise

Along with the rise in available consultative pharmacy services being provided today, pharmacy education opportunities that address natural health-related areas are increasing as well, enabling health practitioners to have a more robust conversation around a patient’s health.

One-of-5 botanical research centers supported by the National Institutes of Health, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy recently accepted a five-year, $2.1 million grant to train graduate and postdoctoral students in natural product drugs and dietary supplements. The grant, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is in support of studying the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements and for the discovery of new therapeutic agents from natural product sources.

“In terms of botanical supplements and all other areas of pharmacognosy and natural products research, there’s renewed interest,” observed Richard van Breemen, director of the UIC/NIH Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research. “Those few schools that have always carried out botanical research are enjoying more exciting research and activity than they have in decades.”

The UIC research center does help inform the educational curriculum for pharmacists at the college, van Breemen said, especially with regard to botanical-drug interactions, which is another research track pursued by UIC. “We chose [that track of research] because we thought it was an emerging issue in 2010,” van Beemen said. “NIH programs officers and others are recognizing that [botanical dietary supplements] is an important area.”

The lectures delivered by UIC’s botanical researchers are popular among pharmacy students, van Breemen added. “Our courses are all team-taught,” he said. “We’re able to give some real experiential examples — it’s more interesting to students. … Then, during the question and answer period, we can talk about our experience and our own research.”

Already, the majority of community pharmacists are talking to their pharmacy patients about supplements overall, including botanical supplements. In fact, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 93% of pharmacists recommend supplements to the patients they counsel.

Pharmacists also noted in the survey that when they did speak to customers about supplements, two-thirds reported that customers had initiated the conversation. With regard to which supplements pharmacists were most often asked about, the top three mentioned by respondents were omega-3/fish oil (mentioned by 73%), calcium (73%) and glucosamine/chondroitin (70%).