Health in the Media

This blog looks at health issues in the news

Where are you getting your diet advice?

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There’s no doubt that getting advice on how to lose weight from advice columns  has become a regular occurrence with pages dedicated to diet  in most magazines. However it seems people are now beginning to put their trust in “ask the expert” sections for more serious issues. Questionable advice from “experts” advising people they’ve never met to cut out entire food groups which can do more good than harm, especially in children. A survey about food intolerance which was done last week found that 12 million people in Britain say they are intolerant to at least one food with  wheat, sugar, yeast and dairy product being blamed most often. However most of the people who took part in the survey had not being formally diagnosed and studies done prior to the survey found the number of sufferers to be at about  2 per cent of the population.

Medical experts say they believe that many sufferers are blaming common complaints such as headaches or constipation on food sensitivity for their food intolerance. In doing so they are  ignoring the possibility that theses problems are a sympthom of a more serious medical condition such as stomach ulcers, eye sight problems or hernia.

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Richelle Flanagan who is president of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute told the Irish Times  that  members of the INDI (who are trained clinical dietitians and nutritionists) have noticed some dubious advice being handed out with regard to dietary changes and treatment of more serious illnesses over the last few months. When Ms. Flanagan’s sister was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer she, “experienced first-hand the ‘alternative’ route that she was exposed to, and saw the lack of evidence base and the resultant outcomes of weight loss due to restricted dietary advice. People with metastatic breast cancer need to maintain weight to enable them to be strong enough to receive treatment.”

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However alternative treatment may be useful according to Dietitian Sarah Browne  if  used in conjunction with more traditional methods. Health in the Media asked Ms. Browne if, in the case of very serious illnesses such as breast cancer, would  she advice against alternative treatments completely?

Complementary treatments can be successfully used alongside conventionalmedicine.  It would be up to the experts on an oncology team to advise.

Ms. Flanagan said that major changes to a person’s diet that  lead to them requiring medical treatment or even being hospitalized. In one example of this she related a story about an eight year old girl who became obese after being prescribed an intake of 1.5 litres of cranberry juice a day by an alternative health practitioner  to cope with kidney infections. Ms. Brown said on the subject of eliminating food groups.

“It’s certainly very common now for people to cut out dairy foods.  A traditional Irish diet always had a dependence on dairy foods.  With a more varied & international diet comes more choice. The most important thing is that adequate calcium is contained in the diet if dairy is being eliminated.  However, young people grow stronger, more durable bones if the calcium comes from a dairy source.”

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Ms Brown also spoke of the dangers of developing nutritional deficiencies from cutting out certain foods. She said,

Each food group is responsible for certain nutrients – e.g. Wholegrain carbohydrates don’t just provide calories,they also supply the body with fibre and B vitamins.  Fruit and vegetables provide a range of vitamins and antioxidants that you can’t get from other sources.  Dairy foods provide calcium and many other nutrients.  Proteins (meat/fish/legumes/nuts etc) provide minerals, trace elements as well as vitamins.  And healthy fats are needed for a whole range of functions in the body.  Cutting out one of these groups, can often mean nutritional deficiencies if you’re not careful to replace them with alternative sources of the missing nutrients.”

Health and Social Care Professionals Council at CORU which is  a regulatory body set up to look at professions such as physiotherapists, psychologists, clinical biochemists, occupational therapists is currently working on a system of  regulating the title and work of dietitians. Anyone wanting to practise using that title in Ireland will be required to have certain levels of training and to register for a licence. Ms Browne said,

“In Ireland – dietitians or clinical nutritionists are usually members of the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI), which means they are fully trained.  In time there will be state registration, where the terms ‘dietitian’ & ‘clincial nutritionist’ may become protected terms, so a person would have to meet certain minimum qualifications to become state registered.”

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