Nutritional Therapy

Nutritional therapy has always been around in one form or another. Ancient doctors had little to treat their patients with except food and herbs. Even now we automatically think of nutrition if we see an animal that is lacklustre, out of condition, tired or with dull fur. We rush out and buy our pets extra vitamins, vitamin-enriched food, and make sure they have the best diet available. So why don’t we think of this when humans are out of sorts?

Some of us do, of course, and I was brought up to believe that not feeling well had something to do with diet. That is why it has always seemed strange to me that doctors rarely enquire what their patients are eating.

In the last 20 years, nutritional therapy has made great leaps forward. Where once it was just a question of ‘healthy eating’ and taking vitamins, nutritional therapy is now much more tailored to the individual. And there are now practitioners–known as naturopathic or holistic nutritionists–who have learned the necessary skills involved in working out what an individual person needs. These skills involve a knowledge of symptom analysis, diagnostic diets and advanced testing.

Why tailor nutrition to the individual?

Analysing a person’s symptoms can give an indication of what might be causing them. The naturopathic nutritionist does this in great detail, often using a multiple-page questionnaire. Condition of eyes, skin, hair, digestive ability, energy levels, bowel habits, nerves and menstrual function can all give clues. For instance if the client complains of painful menstrual periods and also has a very dry skin and bad fingernails, we would suspect a magnesium and essential fatty acid deficiency. If this client also had, say, a heart condition, we would expect that by correcting the deficiency we could also correct some of the abnormal body chemistry contributing to the cause of the heart problem.

Bloating accompanied by a lot of mucus and skin rashes would suggest a food allergy or intolerance. If the client also suffered from arthritis, we would expect this allergy to play a part in the cause of the arthritis too.

Some people have difficulty with digesting or handling certain foods. Migraine, for instance, can come and go at random if we are regularly eating one of these foods. The best way to find out if a food is responsible is to use a special temporary diet which is very low in foods which are liable to cause symptoms. This is known as a diagnostic diet. When other foods are later reintroduced, the therapist can monitor their effects on the body.

Besides diagnostic diets, the naturopathic nutritionist also uses a variety of therapeutic diets, including hypoallergenic diets (low in allergy-causing potential), rotation diets, diets to make the body more alkaline, diets to emphasize some amino acids and avoid others, etc.


Tests which naturopathic nutritionists use vary from blood tests to liver tests and stool analyses. The blood tests are more sensitive than conventional ones, which can usually only detect a very serious nutritional deficiency.

Naturopathic nutritionists use much more advanced tests, which can pick up a borderline deficiency. Stool analyses can show if you have an overload of Candida albicans or other harmful organisms, or how well you are digesting your food. For instance, if a lot of meat fibre is found in your stools, it can mean that your protein is not getting broken down properly by your digestive system.

Don’t dieticians already do all this?

Naturopathic nutritionists are very different from dieticians. We usually say that holistic nutrition starts where dietetics stops, since the dietician is trained to be primarily concerned with whether or not you are meeting the Government’s minimum nutritional guidelines. Some dieticians are trained in tube feeding and other hospital procedures for very sick people, whereas naturopathic nutritionists are not.

What can it treat?

Naturopathic nutritional therapy works best for the problems that your doctor can’t usually cure: irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, skin problems, low energy levels, digestive problems, menstrual and premenstrual problems, prostate problems, and children’s ailments like glue ear and hyperactivity. Some people have described their recovery from these problems as miraculous.

Miracle cures have also been achieved for more serious problems like arthritis, angina and asthma, although the response is more variable. A man with terminal angina who could walk no more than a few yards without pain recently progressed to climbing mountains in his spare time after ten months on a naturopathic nutrition program.

Even for problems like Alzheimer’s disease, Aids, parkinsonism, cataracts and tumours it is always worth getting a tailor-made naturopathic nutrition program. There is evidence that you could slow down the progress of the disease by targeting nutritional support at functions like the immune system which try to fight it.

Case History

Mary, aged 50, had reached the menopause, and was beginning to suffer from
unpleasant hot flushes.They were especially embarrassing if they started while she was in the middle of a conversation with someone, and she was advised by her doctor to start taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Mary decided instead that she would consult a holistic nutritionist as she was worried by the potential side effects, including a higher risk of cancer and the likelihood of addiction to HRT. She had also read that HRT would only protect her against osteoporosis for as long as she was taking it – that once she stopped her bones would quickly become as vulnerable as anyone else’s.

Mary also suffered from high blood pressure and occasional headaches. She got tired very easily. Her naturopathic nutritionist knew that soy products help to counteract the low oestrogen levels found in the menopause, and asked Mary to introduce tofu, soy milk, soy yoghurt and soy flour into her diet. A diagnostic diet soon revealed that the cause of the headaches was coffee drinking. Mary showed signs of a magnesium and zinc deficiency and was given these together with a multivitamin and mineral to balance them. The therapist also asked Mary to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, and to strictly ration her daily sugar intake, which was disrupting her hormonal balance. Within three months Mary’s hot flushes had reduced by half, her blood pressure was below the average for her age, her energy had much improved and she had no more headaches.

Click here if you are interested in a personalized naturopathic nutrition program for a health issue of your own.

Linda Lazarides is Course Director of the School of Modern Naturopathy and author of eight books on health, nutrition and naturopathy.

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