With the anti-doping in elite sports making news headlines in recent months, it’s a timely reminder for all to ensure nutrition advice provided to customers, particularly around vitamins, minerals and supplements, is, well, clean.
In the March issue of the magazine we delve into the complex role of nutrition and the benefits of working closely with a dietitian.
The role of a dietitian
The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) states that dietitians are nutrition experts who “understand how the body works and how food and drinks help nourish both healthy individuals and those with medical conditions who are affected by or treated with nutrition”.
Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Sports Dietitian, Alicia Edge from Compeat Nutrition says one of the key reasons pharmacists should work closely with dietitians is the dietitian’s “ability to counsel and coach around the diet-and-disease relationship”.
“It’s something dietitians have that’s different to pharmacists, nutritionists, doctors, whatever [the case] may be: that innate knowledge around how food interacts in the body and how it can change … depending on the individual and the individual disease relationship or the current condition of the individual,” she adds.
Nutrition scope of a pharmacist
While dietitians are typically deemed the experts in nutrition, pharmacists also play a key role in this space, particularly in terms of providing basic healthy eating information to customers.
Pharmacies are often the first port of call for health advice and the places most frequently visited by those seeking guidance and information. This accessibility puts pharmacists and pharmacy assistants in a unique position, as Ms Edge points out.
“[Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants] are able to be there quite frequently for the [customer], because that’s where they’ll be coming in for their immediate support,” she said.
Christie Johnson, Sports Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian at SportsDietitian.com, an online nutrition consultancy, agrees that pharmacists have the scope to advise on healthy eating basics.
“I think it’s great that pharmacists can explain all the different supplements and vitamins and minerals, and explain the benefits of them if [a customer] is going to take them,” she says.
“But I think they also need to explain that this is the second level up – the first level [is about building] the foundations of healthy eating that’s right for that [customer].
“Supplements are, kind of, your icing on the cake, essentially. You need to be able to make the cake first before you can have the icing on top.”
Ms Johnson adds: “Asking [customers] who come into a pharmacy if they’ve seen a dietitian … or if they understand why they need to take these supplements [is important].”
Beware of complex situations
While giving out basic healthy-eating advice is within the realm of a pharmacist and pharmacy assistant, there are instances that certainly require dietetic input.
An example of this is within the sporting context.
“The interesting thing with this,” Ms Edge says, “is that we’ve had this issue in the past where pharmacists, naturopaths [and] supplement stores have actually given athletes, without meaning to, supplements that are on the banned list.”
Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants aren’t expected to know everything when it comes to specific situations and complexities – in these cases “there are experts that do have that knowledge” whom pharmacists can refer customers to.
Ms Edge explains that dietitians and sports dietitians are trained to know the “important things that need to be asked in terms of not only the medications an athlete is taking, but also in terms of the supplements they’re taking as well”.
Ms Johnson adds that when dealing with athletes who may walk into a pharmacy, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants “need to be aware of banned substances as well, and what … products may contain traces of them even if they don’t contain them as an active ingredient”.
“Keeping on top of WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] or ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority] or at least explaining [the risks] to athletes that come in [is important],” Ms Johnson advices.
“When possible, suggest products that have been batch tested or third party tested, because that will reduce the chances of getting tested positive.”
While keeping abreast of all the latest information comes with the territory in being a pharmacist and pharmacy assistant, Ms Edge suggests:
“As soon as you’re feeling that you’re going beyond healthy eating [advice], there should be a referral pathway available, or at least a recommendation made to the customer to reach out to a dietitian.”
For more information on banned substances, visit:
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