Home Pharmacy practice How Healthcare Professionals Can Help Consumers Supplement Smarter

How Healthcare Professionals Can Help Consumers Supplement Smarter


In an age where the trusted voice of a single influencer can turn a trend into a phenomenon, supplement industry insiders might be asking this key question: what influence do healthcare professionals have on the use of dietary supplements by their patients? And how might their authority and expertise suggest smarter, or even more effective, supplementation strategies?

These are questions worth asking given the supplementation boom brought about by COVID-19. And given that doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are likely increasingly curious about supplements themselves, it’s a question the answer to which could open new doors for supplementation and for better human health.

mom is the word

As Medical Director of the Meno Clinic–Center for Functional Medicine (Wilson, WY), Mark Menolascino, MD, MS, ABIHM, ABAARM, IFMCP, is already curious and knowledgeable about supplements. But he also has a background in primary care medicine, and it may be through that training that he understands why supplement use “skyrocketed” at the start of the pandemic.

“Apart from masking and isolation,” he explains, “primary care medicine didn’t offer many concrete steps to protect a person’s lungs, optimize their immune system, or improve their detox.” . The result: supplements came to the rescue.

Yet while 29% of Americans are actually taking more supplements now than before the pandemic, survey finds1 conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Samueli Foundation, that same survey found that less than half said they consulted their healthcare providers before taking them.

The reasons for this reluctance, according to the survey, ranged from doubt that respondents’ providers would be interested in their supplement regimen (35%) to fear that said providers might even judge them for it (26%).

But “I can tell you, as a practicing family physician, that health care providers are interested in the supplements their patients take,” insists Wayne Jonas, MD, executive director of Samueli Integrative Health Programs (New Alexandria, VA). Additionally, he says, “health care providers are the best source of information about what is appropriate and safe for patients.

“The key,” bets Jonas, “is for practitioners to engage in open, non-judgmental dialogues with their patients to develop plans that support healthy lifestyles.”

Healthy skepticism

But how can such dialogues take place when the health practitioners involved are in fact making judgments about supplementation, as many do?

For example, David Foreman, RPh, ND, founder and president of Herbal Pharmacist (Oceanside, CA), says fellow pharmacists tend to be “very skeptical of the supplement industry,” he says. “There is a definite distrust of the quality, efficacy and safety of natural products, and when you add the potential for drug interactions, you can see why my brothers and sisters in pharmacy are skeptical .”

And while certifications from organizations such as NSF International, ConsumerLab, and the US Pharmacopeia help allay some clinicians’ qualms, Jonas adds, “At a high level, we know there are many alternative therapies and supplements on the market that make outlandish claims. And often the science just isn’t there.

Thus, patients may find themselves “left alone to sort through the Internet”, laments Menolascino, “often unaware of quality or effectiveness”. And this is a state of affairs that serves no one well. “Even my patients who are familiar with supplements don’t always know exactly why they’re taking them,” he concedes. “And that’s where it’s so important for people to do their research and talk to medical professionals.”

Open minds

Alas, many medical professionals aren’t any more savvy about supplements than their patients, which is why even Foreman, the skeptic, says, “Supplements aren’t the boogeyman; it is usually a lack of knowledge that makes a practitioner anti-supplement.

Indeed, Menolascino recalls receiving little nutrition instruction in medical school, and none about nutritional supplements. “I like to say we had three hours of nutrition lectures that mostly revolved around scurvy and rickets,” he says.

It was only through training in functional and integrative medicine that he “learned that food really is medicine,” he says, “and that the quality of nutritional supplements is important. And in my medical practice, I have found that administering high quality supplements in the right doses helps patients reverse complex symptoms and regain energy and vitality.

Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, wellness expert for NOW (Bloomingdale, IL), shares this open mindset. Although some of his colleagues still view supplements as “overly available,” he says, he believes the products can be “great tools for correcting deficiencies and encouraging the healing process,” he says. “There is plenty of solid medical research readily available online that supports the benefits of many natural supplements.”

Can we talk?

To provide additional educational support, the Samueli Foundation has compiled what Jonas calls “basic information about supplement use that providers and patients need to know” on its website DrWayneJonas.com.

“We know that many doctors want information about how best to work with patients to understand their supplement use,” he says, and he says the site offers actionable tools to do that, like a questionnaire that doctors can use to ask patients about everything from their lifestyles and behaviors to social and emotional issues and, of course, supplement use.

For practitioners willing to engage with the topic of supplements, this could be just what the doctor ordered. As Foreman says, “It would be great to have practitioners initiate the conversation when someone makes a purchase or is interested in supplements. We need to ask consumers more questions, even the basics. »

For example, he wants to know if patients are taking “the right product for the right condition,” he says, as well as whether the product will interact with their current condition or their medications, which brand they choose — “to assess quality,” he says and if they are taking the right dose.

On that last point, Cole encourages his patients “to listen to their bodies,” he says, “and if they have to start at a lower dose than recommended on the label, that’s fine.”

Menolascino even asks his clients to bring “all their medications and supplements” to appointments so he can tell them “exactly what to take and what not to combine,” he says. . The clear reason? “Supplements are rarely one size fits all.”

They’re not panaceas either, which is why Cole advises patients to keep their expectations in check. “You can’t get yourself out of a bad diet with supplements,” he says. “If you’re lacking in nutrients because you’re not eating the right foods, supplementation can’t replace what you need in food. I always want to make sure the food comes first.

Patient proactivity

This underlines the important role played here by the consumers themselves. And while this role involves doing their health homework – and applying what they’ve learned in their own lives – it also involves asking questions of practitioners.

Foreman welcomes “simple questions like, ‘What should I take? Is it safe to take it with my medication? How much should I take? Does it have side effects? How long will it take to work? he says. “I would like them to always ask these questions, but I offer them the information before they ask anyway. It takes the worry away and reassures them.

This is exactly what practitioners should do. As Jonas says, “With more people taking supplements, we need to make sure they have the information they need to make informed, healthy decisions – and industry can be a major enabler by providing truthful information. and clear about the products.” Equally important, “Individuals should speak with their doctors. They are partners in care and they will know what is safe and best for their personal health goals.


  1. Marrapodi A. “More U.S. Consumers Are Using Dietary Supplements During the Pandemic, but Fewer Are Consulting Their Healthcare Professionals About Their Use, According to Harris Poll.” Nutritional Perspectives. Published online July 22, 2021.