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Nutritional Medicine: what is it?

Dr Colin Koh, doctor in Complete Healthcare International is happy to try to give you an answer

Nutritional Medicine

a. What is "nutritional medicine"?

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates (460-375 B.C.)

Nutritional Medicine is a growing scientific and evidence-based clinical discipline that is concerned with the interaction of nutritional factors with human biochemistry and physiology, and the resulting effects on our bodily function and diseases.

Leading medical centres like the Mayo Clinic in the USA now do research and integration of medical nutrition in the holistic and functional management of many endocrine (hormonal) and metabolic conditions.

b. Who would need nutritional medicine and for what type of health issues?

Nutritional medicine has been found to be helpful in some endocrine and metabolism disorders eg menstrual and perimenopause, thyroid disease; allergies and autoimmune diseases that can affect the skin and lungs eg eczema and asthma; mental and behavioural disorders eg anxiety; and even in the management of accumulated toxic substances.

c. Can you name one health issue that people come in most commonly for under nutritional medicine and say a bit about how it is treated (Ie what can people expect)

People who seek a nutritional consultation often complain of vague symptoms of fatigue or decreased mental performance, and abdominal bloating or cramping. Despite conventional medical testing they are often told that they are “healthy”.

Through a detailed history taking of symptoms and testing which may include targeted blood and specialised stool testing; certain nutritional deficiencies, food intolerances or imbalances in their gut micro-organisms may be detected eg parasites, yeast and unhealthy bacteria.

Imbalanced gut microbes are especially important today given the common use of antibiotics.

Such patients may be treated with anti-infective therapy, supplements and advised to avoid certain foods that may irritate the gut or which are not well digested or absorbed resulting in fermentation that aggravates bloating and cramping.

In addition support for gut immunity may be provided to reduce inflammation and speed up gut healing along with probiotics to return to a healthy balance of beneficial gut microbes. Once healed, gut symptoms often improve with better digestion and absorption, better formed stool, and better mood and energy.

d. Is nutritional medicine ever needed for children and is anything different when treating children vs adults?

Both children and adults can benefit from these nutritional therapies as we may all suffer from nutrient deficiencies and issues of gut infections, inflammation and immunity at some stage of our lives, especially after a bout of antibiotics or gut infection. The approach is similar.

Children are particularly prone to nutritional deficiencies, allergens and imbalances in their gut bacteria. Hence supporting or correcting them can improve their immunity and reduce infections, improve energy and reduce fatigue and irritability. Some children with behavioural/ attention issues may benefit with improved attention through appropriate gut treatment, avoidance of certain foods and supplements.

e. Are there different branches of nutritional medicine and if so how do they differ?

Nutritional medicine is still not recognised as a specialty in many countries including Singapore. In some countries naturopaths and dieticians depending on their training and regulatory framework may also practice nutritional medicine. In Singapore, they are unable to order diagnostic laboratory tests, imaging or prescribe prescription medications.

At CHI, our family-medicine trained doctors follow the Singapore MOH regulations and guidelines which includes diagnostic testing and partnering specialists to ensure important medical conditions eg endocrine disorders, infections or even cancers are diagnosed and treated promptly.

Where appropriate, doctors at CHI may use certain nutritional medicine approaches to provide a fresh perspective of care that may include stool testing and dietary advice, and supplements to help the body recalibrate and return to a healthy balance.

f. Does complete healthcare specialise in any type of health issue? Which is it and what are your success rates?

Though we do not keep statistics, some CHI patients have benefited from our nutritional medicine approach to their complaints of fatigue, low mood and gut issues. They have given feedback that their well-being, symptoms and energy have improved with these treatments.

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