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The Role of Nutrition and the Nutrition Practitioner in the 21st Century

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 119 - January 2006

This month I would like to take a look at the role of nutrition and the nutrition practitioner in health care. In the 21st century there has been a huge focus on the role that nutrition plays in our health, mainly resulting from the high numbers of people who are suffering from heart disease, diabetes and obesity. However, the role that nutrition plays in health care is not a new discovery. I myself have been a complementary, nutritional practitioner for 16 years and my inspiration and on-going passion for studying nutrition came from reading a book called Eating Your Way to Health by Ruth Bircher, the daughter of Dr Bircher Brenner (1867-1939), a Swiss pioneer of the science of dietetics and a psychologist. He recognized in the 19th century the supreme value of natural, fresh wholefoods, particularly raw foods and the importance of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. He prescribed a specific diet for each of his patients to help them regain their fitness and vitality. He also acknowledged that health depended upon a number of factors as well as nutrition, including climate, hygiene, exercise, disposition, quantity of food intake and hereditary. As a psychologist he knew that correct nutrition greatly influenced thoughts and emotions. Dr Brenner was indeed in advance of his time and many of his ideas have and are being scientifically validated.

The way that I perceive it, is that the nutrition practitioner in the 21st century is striving to achieve the philosophy that Dr Brenner started all those years ago, which is a totally individualized health programme for every patient taking into account not only nutrition, but exercise, relaxation, structure, environmental, psychological and spiritual aspects as well as hereditary factors. The nutrition practitioner may be skilled in many areas of this multi-faceted approach, but not all. It would, therefore, be important and advantageous for the practitioner to build a network of like-minded practitioners in the different modalities of health, to work alongside when the need arose. The nutrition practitioner has to move beyond just prescribing a healthy diet of quality wholefoods, water, essential fatty acids and eliminating offending foods. These recommendations are fine for acute problems or for maintaining health in healthy people, but for those with ongoing symptoms or diseases, basic nutritional guidelines will only take them part of the way to achieving their level of optimum health.

A nutrition practitioner working with patients with on-going symptoms or diseases has to acquire great skill in assessing and interpreting case histories, as well as applying effective interventions at the right time. Professionally, four areas need to be considered.

Firstly, a comprehensive case history, physical examination and diagnosis of the physiological and biochemical state of the patient has to be made using, for example, Kinesiology, Iridology, test results from doctors or specialists and biochemical tests. Biochemical tests are now very advanced; for example, a simple urine test can now reveal many biochemical markers, i.e. adipate is a marker for fatty acid metabolism, D-Arabinitol is a marker for yeast/fungus and homovanillate is a marker for neurotransmitter metabolism.

Secondly, the practitioner needs a sound knowledge of biochemistry and physiology and an understanding of the interconnectedness of physiological processes, so that by prioritizing the most important areas of the body, healing will take place more efficiently. For example, for a patient suffering from Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), poor digestion, yeast infection, psychological issues and low immunity, the immune system would be the priority. With effective intervention, the body will be strong enough to deal with the die off effects of the yeast, the lining of the digestive tract will start to repair and cellular energy and psychology will begin to rebalance.

Thirdly, to understand that biochemical individuality is based on genetics and environment. Genes are influenced not only by genetic predisposition, but also by the environment, including water, air, quality of food, physical exercise, psychosocial factors, stresses and toxic exposures. By working to improve these areas it is possible to change the way genes are activated and experienced.

Fourthly, patient practitioner communication is vitally important, as the patient suffering from on-going symptoms or disease states will usually be very knowledgeable about their problems. With empathy and understanding, the patient and practitioner can work together in harmony unearthing the root causes of the problems, and with patient compliance of fully adhering to the treatment plan effective healing will take place.

The practitioner's role in the healing process is paramount, with professionalism and compassion being high on my list. The practitioner needs to cultivate his/her own personal development as well as professional development by continually working towards meeting his/her own basic human needs in constructive ways. The six basic human needs are certainty (comfort), uncertainty (variety), significance (sense of being needed) connection and love (oneness, sharing) growth (learning) and contribution (making a difference). A practitioner who strives to continually meet his/her own needs will acquire the skills necessary to successfully liaise, support and motivate their patients on their journey to health, as well as achieving a wonderfully balanced and fulfilling life.


Bircher R. Eating Your Way to Health. Faber Paperbacks. ISBN 0 571 06640 2. 1961.


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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;

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