For thousands of years every village, every town, every tribe had their version of what we now call a pharmacist – a trained health care provider who is responsible for dispensing medicines. Often this role was combined with a spiritual healing or mystical insight role, i.e. you could get your herbal remedies and your spiritual healing as one stop shopping. Or you could get your diagnostic work up via mystical insight pre-MRI and CAT scan and well before any lab testing had been invented and then the healer would hand you over the right root to grind or tea to drink or leaf to put on your wound. In the present era of modern medicine pharmacists are often overlooked and not fully utilized and in some cases of viewed as sort of administrative/clerical folks who are just fulfilling the prescriptions generated by physicians. Pharmacists in the U.S. are very well trained and the ones I have worked with are incredibly dedicated and bright people who are looking to offer more than just a bottle of pills.
In our modern world the functional medicine pharmacist is in position to offer a wide range of services for their patients. Beyond just advice about how to and how not to take a medication, a functional medicine pharmacist can offer advice on foods and lifestyle factors that can help with a given condition such as stress reduction breathing exercises if you have high blood pressure. Functional medicine training for pharmacists opens up a whole new world for those I have seen enter into the field. Who knows better the benefits and shortcomings of our current prescription drug system than the local pharmacist? They (more than most) are in a perfect position to offer patients seeking help a broader range of potential solutions than just a single pill. For all the common conditions of our current era, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, IBS, thyroid disease and so on, there are simple functional medicine based programs that can replace or be used in conjunction with commonly prescribed medications.
I’ve had at least six pharmacists take my Kalish Method mentorship program and have gotten to know each of them well. They are not doctors, and in fact a person doesn’t have to be a doctor to participate in the field of functional medicine. In many situations a doctor can do the doctoring part of patient care while the pharmacist or other functional medicine trained practitioner can do the functional medicine components not attended to by conventional physicians.
There are a variety of approaches I’ve seen functional medicine pharmacists take while incorporating functional medicine into their work lives. Several of them who owned and ran their own pharmacies started to promote functional medicine solutions within the pharmacy. Often as simple as selling high quality professional brand probiotics for those receiving anti-biotic prescriptions. Or letting people know that if they take a statin it’s required to be on CoQ10 at the same time. The distribution of professional quality supplements that have great clinical impact is such an obvious fit with a business already selling medications to patients. It just makes sense to combine these two worlds. Additionally, the pharmacist has always played the role of educator, taking the time during your pharmacy visit that physicians don’t have during brief office visits to describe the proper use of whatever drugs have been prescribed. Again, common sense would say this includes the use of a probiotic while taking an anti-biotic and some B6 if you are on Parkinson’s medications. There are whole books written on this very subject of “Drug Induced Nutrient Depletion” and very few patients have access to this information and so many unnecessary side effects of long term medication use occur, which could be easily avoided had a pharmacist pointed out the obvious.
I love functional medicine not the least because we include so many diverse people with such varied professional training and the role of the pharmacist in functional medicine can be even more pivotal than their role in conventional medical practice. Functional medicine training for pharmacists just makes sense.