Staff should receive training on vitamin D to boost the number of people accessing pharmacies for advice on supplements, according to a nutrition expert.
There was "not a great degree of awareness" about vitamin D among pharmacy staff, said Michael Wakeman, a pharmacist and brand consultant for supplements manufacturer Biocare.
But deficiency was a common problem and there was a good case for pharmacists providing advice in this area, said Mr Wakeman, who conducted a study on the subject across four pharmacies in March.
More than 90 per cent of the 50 pharmacy customers he interviewed for the study had never measured their vitamin D levels. Eighty-five per cent of participants, who attended one of the four pharmacies in south England, had not considered visiting a pharmacy for information on the subject, he said in the study published by Biocare last week (October 27).
Sixty-two per cent of the study's participants – who all underwent a vitamin D test in a pharmacy – were found to have insufficient or deficient levels of the vitamin and just 38 per cent had levels that were "satisfactory", he said. Patients whose vitamin D levels were deficient or insufficient were provided with advice from pharmacy staff about supplements and how to change their lifestyle.
Following the exercise, three quarters of customers said they would consider consulting their pharmacist about "vitamin-related issues" in future, said Mr Wakeman, who has an MA in nutritional medicine.
This study made a "really good case" for pharmacists to take on a greater role providing "meaningful advice" about the supplements available, Mr Wakeman told C+D on Friday (October 31). This would encourage people to consider buying their supplements from a pharmacy rather than a health food shop, he said.
Pharmacists could proactively approach people in at-risk groups – which included over 65s, pregnant women and those with darker skin tone – to provide them with advice about vitamin deficiency and which medicines could affect their vitamin D levels, he said. This was especially true of elderly patients, who may not receive much vitamin D from sunlight, he added.
"A lot of medications do impact upon vitamin D levels, so I think pharmacy has got a tremendously important role to play because they get the prescriptions. It's the perfect opportunity to engage with patients if they're over 65," he added.
In May, Nice suggested that the government should sell its supplements directly to pharmacies, in draft guidance on vitamin D.