Every year for the last four years I have attended the Science of Nutrition in Medicine and Healthcare Conference. It is a requirement for my registration as a university qualified nutritionist to complete professional development and education each year but I’d have to say this is far from a chore for me. I look forward to the conference each year and every year, the lineup of amazing Australian and international scientists, researchers and clinicians continues to inspire me and astound me in terms of the amazing research they are doing into the role of nutrition in health.
I spent two full days listening to presentations ranging from the detrimental impact of food additives on immune health and allergy; positive effects of nutritional therapy in autism and other behavioural conditions; the role of environmental toxins in immune dysregulation; the benefits of fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis; and the importance of early environment in the first 1000 days of life.
There were a number of speakers presenting on the topic of early life health and how the future risk of disease can be influenced by early environmental factors (nutrition being a key one) in both mother and child during conception, pregnancy and early life. Natural or caesarian birth, breastfeeding and weight of mother are all critical factors as well. There are a number of multi-year or longitudinal studies which show that nutritional imbalance leads to epigenetic changes resulting in increased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
The good news is that early interventions can also reduce the risk of these diseases. We are talking about true prevention here and this should be the goal of our entire healthcare system in Australia.
For children in the womb and in the first 2 years of their life, we have a critical window of opportunity to provide an environment that positively supports all aspects of development and future health. Our modern diet and lifestyle has a profound effect on the health of our gastrointestinal system, gut bacteria composition and immune health which are key determinants in our overall health. Factors such as fast food, processed food, food additives, chemical and pesticide exposure, stress and declining physical activity influence health but are within our ability to change. We can change what we eat, we can reduce our exposure to chemicals, we can find ways to help manage stress and we can always be more active!
As a nutritionist, I believe I have a critical role to play – to educate and help people understand the role of diet and lifestyle habits in their own digestive, immune and general health and how diet and lifestyle changes can positively impact their own health journey and that of unborn children – and it is one I am very passionate about!