CAM EducationHerbalsObesity

Herbals for weight loss: Counseling by pharmacists and nonpharmacists

Researchers at Midwestern University, in Glendale, Arizona, assessed the extent of appropriate counseling provided by pharmacists and nonpharmacists in retail settings.

First, the details.

  • Pharmacists and nonpharmacists (eg, cashiers, sales clerks, pharmacy technicians) working in retail locations (eg, grocery stores, health food stores, pharmacies) selling herbal dietary supplements participated in the study.
  • Researchers posing as patients sought herbal weight loss supplement product recommendations and counseling on potential safety, drug interaction, and adverse effect issues.
  • Levels of knowledge regarding safety and efficacy of herbal dietary supplements for weight loss were recorded.

And, the results.

  • At 52 sites, 27 unique product recommendations were given.
  • Counseling by pharmacists vs nonpharmacists varied significantly except when asked about expected weight loss or use of herbal supplements during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
  • Pharmacists were more reluctant to recommend herbal products for weight loss than nonpharmacists and tended to question the safety and/or efficacy of these products or refer the patient to an alternate health care provider.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Counseling that investigators/patients received regarding herbal products for weight loss in various retail settings from both pharmacists and non-pharmacists varied greatly.”

They recommend that the medical and herbal communities take steps to ensure that patients are adequately informed about herbal products at the point of purchase.

There’s good reason to be cautious about using herbals for weight loss.

Despite patient perceptions that herbal remedies are free of adverse effects, some supplements are associated with severe hepatotoxicity, as describe here.

Researchers at Sapienza University of Rome, in Italy, recently reported that women are most likely to experience side effects due to herbal dietary supplements for weight loss. Reactions affected mainly the cardiovascular system, skin, digestive system, central nervous system, and the liver. A large proportion of side effects were serious.

8/4/11 21:49 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.