Combining General Practice and Nutrition

Guest blogger Dr Laura Quinton writes about her experiences studying nutrition as a GP…

I combine life as a GP partner with being a student of Nutrition at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. I’m in the last few months of a three year diploma. I’m learning about food, micronutrients, the microbiome and phytochemicals. I graduated from UCL in 1991 and there wasn’t much on the curriculum to do with food at medical school. I don’t think much has changed from talking to the medical students that I teach.  I’ve read up and written assignments on gut health and its intrinsic relationship to our immune and nervous systems. It has been fascinating and given me a fresh new insight into my patients’ problems as well as improving my own health and well-being. My own belief is that food is the key to many health issues that I see daily in my surgery. Nutrition is so popular at the moment and it’s really good to have more knowledge when patients ask me about food or tell me about their eating habits.  

CNM is very holistic and we study food in a different way to our NHS dietitian colleagues. We also look at lifestyle factors and it is a very individualised and holistic approach. We consider the influences of the food industry, cooking techniques and food processing. There is a lot of evidence-based learning and critical evaluation, plus, it is fun. Most of the lecturers at CNM are practising nutritional therapists with years of experience so they will provide practical support and information. We also get to hear from practitioners of functional medicine and herbal medicine too. Many of the ideas can be used in holistic lifestyle plans for clients and it’s a very different perspective from my traditional medical model.  I am married to a pretty sceptical ITU consultant and even he has taken on board some of the ideas I’ve learned.

My classmates are an eclectic mix of people. There are a handful of other doctors as well as pharmacists, people from the world of business and HR, yoga gurus, well known nutrition bloggers and professional chefs.  It’s given me a fresh perspective on health and an interesting new network of Londoners. Working in the NHS can become a bit one sided. You get to hear different personal stories and viewpoints and I’ve opened my mind to a lot of useful new ideas. One thing about everyone on the course is that they are all pretty motivated and passionate about food so the environment is very positive and upbeat.

I can apply some of the things I learn into my surgery but as you can imagine, 10 minute consultations are my biggest issue. I am much more mindful of medication reviews and looking at lifestyle measures to optimise health other than drugs. Often just bringing the idea of looking at food and drink choices for health into the consultation for a patient to think about is a first and positive step. I try and give them small steps and healthier swaps.

An individualised approach is so important rather than a one size fits all.  I am learning about nutrigenomics and had my own DNA analysed in relation to lifestyle factors, which was a real eye opener. I am sure this will be big in the medical future. For me, the way forward for GPs will be having holistic lifestyle coaches working with us who understand nutrition and health and who can motivate, educate and support the patients. We need to support GPs and help them practice medicine, as it should be done. Maybe we need to start by giving doctors their own individual nutrition and lifestyle plan to optimise their own health. Now that would be a step in the right direction.

Laura Quinton March 2017


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