The practice of functional nutrition views food as medicine, in an individualised, patient-centred approach.1 The focus is on identifying the root cause of health problems, and then addressing these through nutrition or diet.
Pharmacists can be powerful allies in this approach. In fact, studies have demonstrated that, in some countries, in some countries, patients are up to 4 times more likely to interact with their community pharmacists, than their GPs.2 & 3 Patients don’t need to make an appointment to see their pharmacist, or to get reliable information about medication, supplements and even diet and nutrition. What’s more, pharmacists are among the most trusted professionals and thus, are well-positioned to play a role in disease prevention.4, 5 & 6
Speaking at the 2006 Food Marketing Institute Pharmacy Conference, Dr Carl Keen stated: “The pharmacist of tomorrow must look beyond the prescription counter and consider how the food products that are available in an entire store should be considered in the development of dietary advice for their clientele”. 7 In addition, pharmacists should understand that they play an important role in ensuring that functional medicine is implemented correctly and adequately, if the benefits are to be realised.
The theme for World Pharmacists Day (on 25 September 2021) is Always trusted for your health. 8 Here’s how pharmacists can be empowered, to support functional nutrition/medicine and promote patient trust:
- “Enabling people to change their lifestyle and control their health through nutrition education and counselling is a great opportunity for community pharmacists to promote health”. 9 To this end, pharmacists are encouraged to seek out reliable and accurate information about nutrition and diet, the associated myths and misconceptions, as well as functional nutrition for disease management. 10
- Pharmacists are encouraged to complete training that enables them to provide screening and testing (e.g. blood glucose testing to detect diabetes). 10
- Pharmacists can share simple tips and advice that they can share with patients, to help them achieve healthier lifestyles. 11
- Pharmacists can advise patients on food/drug interactions that may prevent the effectiveness of medication. 12
- Pharmacists can refer patients to doctors or healthcare specialists, when necessary (e.g. where a patient has lost or gained weight suddenly). 6
Empowering pharmacists to meet goals for universal healthcare cover
Beyond improving nutrition and wellbeing, pharmacists have a role to play in the pursuit of global health cover. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 include the achievement of universal health coverage, providing access to safe, effective, quality and affordable health services and medications/vaccines.6 In line with this, the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) has developed a set of 21 global development goals, to support global pharmacy development and transformation. 13 The focus is to ensure the global pharmacist workforce is trained and prepared for the world’s changing healthcare needs. The FIP declared 2021 as the first year in a decade of action, in the implementation of these goals. 14
Countries around the world can use FIP’s goals as a framework for the development of their respective pharmaceutical sectors. Africa, however, faces distinct challenges in this regard, as “the unavailability of sufficient, high-quality and competent health workers, including a pharmaceutical workforce, has placed public health at major risk”. A third of Africa’s population does not have access to quality medications or pharmaceutical services. 15 It is therefore imperative to support access to quality education and training of pharmacists. The FIP’s recommendations include addressing economic and gender inequities; building partnerships among academic institutions (both within Africa and beyond); and the establishment of an African Association of Pharmacy Schools. 15
It’s estimated that the global shortage of healthcare workers will continue to intensify so it’s becoming increasingly important that “pharmacists are working to their fullest potential to improve health and support the efforts of other members of the healthcare team”. 5
With this shortage in mind, pharmacists can take the initiative to learn more about healthcare, including functional nutrition, focusing on identifying the root cause of health problems and solving them by using healthier diets. Nestlé Nutrition Institute Africa (NNIA) delivers many articles and tips on functional nutrition, in the following articles:
- Could Functional Nutrition Address Africa’s Growing Prevalence of Food Allergies?
- Supporting mother & child during pregnancy with functional nutrition
- The link between nutrition in early life and brain development
- Wentz, D., 2019. Pharmacists in Functional Medicine - Dr. Izabella Wentz. [online] Dr. Izabella Wentz, PharmD. Available at: <https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/pharmacists-functional-medicine/> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Douglas, P., McCarthy, H., McCotter, L., Gallen, S., McClean, S., Gallagher, A. and Ray, S., 2019. Nutrition Education and Community Pharmacy: A First Exploration of Current Attitudes and Practices in Northern Ireland. Pharmacy, [online] 7(1), p.27. Available at: <https://www.mdpi.com/2226-4787/7/1/27> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Tsuyuki, R., Beahm, N., Okada, H. and Al Hamarneh, Y., 2018. Pharmacists as accessible primary health care providers: Review of the evidence. Canadian Pharmacists Journal / Revue des Pharmaciens du Canada, [online] 151(1), pp.4-5. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5755826/> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Damman, E. and Salem, A., 2021. To the root: An introduction to functional medicine and its potential in community pharmacies. [ebook] Association for CPE, pp.1-9. Available at: <http://www.ncpa.co/issues/APDEC18-CE.pdf> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- 2021. Nutrition and weight management services: A toolkit for pharmacists. [ebook] International Pharmaceutical Federation. Available at: <https://www.fip.org/file/4986.> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Jordan, M. and Harmon, J., 2015. Pharmacist interventions for obesity: improving treatment adherence and patient outcomes. Integrated Pharmacy Research and Practice, [online] p.79. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5741031/> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Pharmacy Times. 2006. IS THERE A NUTRITION ROLE FOR PHARMACISTS?. [online] Available at: <https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/2006-07-5667> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- 2021. World Pharmacists Day 2021 Theme Announced. [online] Available at: <https://ajp.com.au/news/world-pharmacists-day-2021-theme-announced/> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Medhat, M., Sabry, N. and Ashoush, N., 2020. Knowledge, attitude and practice of community pharmacists towards nutrition counseling. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, [online] 42(6), pp.1456-1468. Available at: <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11096-020-01106-0> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- International Pharmaceutical Federation, 2021. Nutritional approaches to the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases. [video] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uTvW54AZy0&t=1855s> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- Balick, R., 2020. Prescription for food: What pharmacists should know about nutrition. Pharmacy Today, [online] 26(2), pp.18-19. Available at: <https://www.pharmacytoday.org/article/S1042-0991(20)30097-9/fulltext> [Accessed 6 September 2021].
- Yaheya, M. and Ismail, M., 2009. Drug-Food Interactions And Role Of Pharmacist. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research, [online] 2(4). Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228659131_Drug-food_interactions_and_role_of_pharmacist> [Accessed 7 September 2021].
- 2020. The FIP Development Goals: Transforming global pharmacy. [ebook] International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP). Available at: <https://www.fip.org/file/4793> [Accessed 9 September 2021].
- Andalo, D., 2016. FIP draws up first global pharmacy workforce development goals - The Pharmaceutical Journal. [online] The Pharmaceutical Journal. Available at: <https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/news/fip-draws-up-first-global-pharmacy-workforce-development-goals> [Accessed 9 September 2021].
- 2021. FIP pharmacy education in sub-Saharan Africa. The FIP-UNESCO UNITWIN Programme: A decade of education partnership across Africa. [ebook] International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP). Available at: <https://www.fip.org/file/4812> [Accessed 9 September 2021].