Background: Herbal/nutrient weight-loss complementary medicines (WLCMs) are widely available in community pharmacies and are popular with Australian consumers. Pharmacists have an obligation to ensure they provide appropriate advice to consumers about complementary medicines as they do with registered prescription medicines.
Aims: (i) To assess community pharmacists’ knowledge regarding current evidence for the efficacy, potential side effects, and drug interactions of commonly sold/recommended WLCMs. (ii) To ascertain whether self-reported level of knowledge is a reliable predictor of WLCM knowledge.
Method: Pharmacists from a randomly selected sample of 214 community pharmacies in the Greater Brisbane region, Australia, were invited to complete a knowledge-based questionnaire relating to three commonly sold/recommended WLCMs – garcinia, green tea and chromium.
Results: Ninety-nine pharmacists completed the questionnaire (51% response rate). Approximately 20% selected the appropriate efficacy ratings for garcinia and green tea, with only 10% selecting the appropriate response for chromium. A mismatch was observed between what pharmacists recognised as adverse effects and interactions for the three common WLCMs compared to published findings, with a bias toward nervous system (i.e. insomnia and headache) and gastrointestinal side effects, and interactions with warfarin. Pharmacists who reported a good working knowledge were statistically able to identify only one of 14 adverse effects (insomnia associated with green tea) more than those reporting knowing little/don’t remember/never heard of these WLCMs, yet were more likely to recommend the WLCMs green tea and chromium.
Conclusion: Irrespective of pharmacists’ perceived levels of WLCM knowledge, there is a need for targeted education interventions focusing on commonly sold WLCMs that have potential safety concerns. Pharmacists should also understand the regulatory landscape for listing CMs in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) and its implications relating to product efficacy, which may affect their decision to supply WLCM products.