Nutritional therapists: quacks or healers?

October 1, 2009 at 8:36 am

Some food for thought by nutritional therapist Sally Beare, dip BCNH

Does nutritional therapy work?  According to our detractors, it’s a load of old hogwash (organic, with fresh flax seeds and goji berries mixed in, of course).  My own quick answer to the question is: take 100 or more pairs of twins, and feed one of each pair on nothing but crisps, lollipops and bacon sandwiches for 60 years (if they live that long) and the other on a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, healthy proteins, the right carbs, and a good dose of superfoods.  Keep the first on the sofa in front of the TV and get the second out for a brisk walk each day.  If the bookies were taking bets on which group would live healthier, happier, longer lives, I know which I’d put my money on.

The logic behind nutritional therapy is merely an extension of this. Even the biggest skeptics can’t deny that if one food or nutrient is good for you and another is bad, it stands to reason that you can apply this principle to ALL nutrients.  Broccoli: good.  Sugar: bad.  We all know that.  It gets more difficult, though.  Yoghurt – good or bad?  That depends on the type of yoghurt, and the individual biochemistry of the person standing in front of the yoghurt shelf in the supermarket.  An organic spelt bun?  A pint of grapefruit juice?  A glass of red wine? Lamb chops? Whether or not these will harm you or help you depends on several factors and it is the job of the nutritional therapist to find out which.

That may sound like splitting hairs to some, but the impact on a person of what they eat can be so profound and life-changing that it inspires us nutritional therapists to keep going in the face of criticism from the anti-nutrition brigade.  Go ahead, throw your eggs and tomatoes at us – we’ll turn them into a lycopene-rich omelette with all the essential amino acids, so there.  It isn’t just about worshipping at the temple of our bodies but about preventing serious illness, enhancing quality of life, boosting our mental state, being there for longer for our families, and reducing the burden on the NHS – bearing in mind that even the medical profession acknowledges that the vast majority of illnesses are diet-related.

Medical science can be lifesaving and invaluable – I’m thinking back to that wonderful surgeon who pushed my daughter’s nose back into shape after my son broke it with his head – but it also has its shortcomings.  Iatrogenic death, otherwise known as death by doctoring, kills an estimated 90,000 people in the UK annually, largely through adverse effects to pharmaceutical drugs, and let’s not even start on superbugs, vaccinations, and ‘the tests don’t show anything is wrong, maybe it’s all in your mind’.

Rather than throwing drugs at the problem, nutritional therapists seek to find the root cause of symptoms and use nutrients to enable a person to regain optimum health.  Digestive disorders, obesity issues, poor immunity, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, headaches, inflammatory conditions and other ‘vague’ conditions which are hard to label medically can all respond dramatically to nutritional therapy.

The biggest problem with nutritional therapy today is that the profession is not regulated by law.  Last year, a tragedy occurred when a woman visited a nutritional therapist and was put on a detox diet.  Somehow, it seems she ended up drinking too much water and allegedly ended up suffering from brain damage as a result of hyperhydration and excessively low salt levels.  It may be that the nutritional therapist in question had not been properly trained, because it should be basic knowledge to a nutritional therapist that drinking too much water at once can lead to loss of electrolytes with potential adverse consequences.

Lack of regulation means that anyone can call themselves a ‘nutritional therapist’ whether they have been rigorously trained and examined over several years at a good college, attended a single weekend course, or have simply decided one day to be a nutritional therapist and had a card printed up.  So how does a client know how to choose a properly-trained nutritional therapist?

If the therapist is a member of BANT (the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy), this means that they have a qualification from a recognized training establishment.  However, it does not mean that they themselves are individually regulated.  The best way to be sure that a nutritional therapist has an acceptable level of expertise is if they are accredited by the Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC), currently being taken over by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).  Only practitioners who have given evidence of their competence to practice and have trained with an establishment which matches the National Occupational Standards for nutritional therapy will have NTC/CNHC accreditation. Registration is voluntary, so there are likely to be some good practitioners who are not accredited, but this is currently the best way for clients to be sure of what they are getting.  The NTC and/or CNHC status of any practitioner can be checked on the NTC or CNHC websites.  There are currently 300 practitioners on the list, with more (including myself) currently undergoing registration; it is hoped that in future all practitioners will have been assessed in this way for the good of both nutritional therapy and the general public.

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Entry filed under: Nutrition.

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