18 May When fascination becomes a career: a Dietitian’s experience with food, biochemistry and the gut microbiome.
Anita Tait (Accredited Practising Dietitian) has always had an ongoing fascination with human physiology, food and biochemistry, and has now delved into the exciting world of the gut microbiome.
Anita is based in Brisbane and working for gut microbiome analysis company, Microba. In her current role, she works with a range of healthcare professionals, from dietitians and nutritionists to naturopaths, general practitioners and medical specialists, to explain the importance of gut microbiome analysis in clinical practice.
Anita’s decision to become a dietitian stemmed from an “ongoing fascination with human physiology, food and biochemistry.”
“My career has taken many twists and turns and joining the world of Dietetics was not straight forward,” she said.
Anita’s previous careers were within the pharmaceutical industry and as a laboratory technician for a food production company, showing a vast array of skills and knowledge within the food and nutrition industry.
She shared that growing up in a medically focused family, she naturally wanted to study science and how it related to the human body. Anita loved chemistry throughout her high school years, and decided that working in the pharmaceutical industry was a perfect fit, combining chemistry with the medical world.
“I worked for a German pharmaceutical company in Sydney and was involved in launching the first alternative to warfarin back in 2011 which was an exciting time for healthcare practitioners, patients and the company,” she said.
“A lot of my work was focused on providing evidence-based, scientific information about prescription medicines through educational meetings for general practitioners and cardiologists.”
Along her travels as a “Kiwi” working in Australia, Anita observed that misinformation about food and nutrition was rife, and it was having real negative impacts on those around her. This was her main reason for a career change into Dietetics. While living in Bondi, she explained that she saw many of her colleagues and friends engaging in fad diets and cleanses, and she wondered how she could inform people using her science background.
“I found myself wondering how I could educate people to make more informed choices about food and nutrition as we know these types of fad diets can do more harm than good,” she said.
“It was then that I realised I wanted to be able to communicate the correct nutrition information and work in a career that allowed me to have a direct impact on the health of individuals. Heading back to University at 30 years old, for four years of full-time study seemed absurd at the time, but it has been one of the most rewarding and best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
Anita has found her passion in the gastrointestinal system and the role the gut microbiome – community of bacteria living in the gut – plays in maintaining a healthy, well-functioning gut. She explained that the human gut microbiome held such fascination as it was a fast-evolving and active area of research, that she believes dietitians are uniquely placed to be at the forefront of.
She is also passionate about communicating the latest science on the gut microbiome to other healthcare practitioners as she finds it challenges her own knowledge and the relevancy for these professionals is high, particularly within clinical practice.
“My interest in the microbiome stemmed from an incredible book I read back in 2016 called Gut by Giulia Enders,” she explained.
“The same year, I ended up travelling overseas to South America to teach school children about nutrition and unfortunately contracted a nasty parasite. Having this experience further deepened my curiosity on the physiology of the gut and how it plays a fundamental role in our health.”
When asked what led Anita to her current role – which is all about her passion area of the gut microbiome – she shared that she met Microba’s Senior Accredited Practising Dietitian, Dr Paula Smith-Brown in her third year of her degree. Dr Smith-Brown presented a lecture on the gut microbiome and this just further cemented Anita’s interest in this area.
She continued to follow the company’s presentations at various conferences for dietitians, and she undertook the healthcare educational course – twice! She jumped at the chance to join the business and has found her work rewarding, particularly in being able to expand her own knowledge on the gut microbiome and emerging research.
Anita is passionate about educating other healthcare professionals about the value of gut microbiome analysis, but also the important role the gut microbiome plays in overall health and bodily functions. She is pleased that her work can also indirectly assist their clients who may have issues stemming from their gut microbiome.
“I think it is vital that dietitians understand what the evidence is telling us as this determines the actionable interventions in terms of using microbiome analysis within clinical practice,” she said.
“My role allows me to bring together experts from different scientific disciplines like leading nutrition scientists and senior researchers within educational events. This allows dietitians to receive the latest research to allow evidence-based best practice therefore, better health outcomes for clients.”
Anita explained that Australian healthcare professionals were very interested in how a gut microbiome analysis can uncover important information about their patient’s health. With the gut microbiome having links to various areas of health, she shared that many professionals look for more information about well-researched bacterial species to further investigate the gut microbiome’s function.
“All recommendations from a microbiome analysis are based on dietary and lifestyle interventions which dietitians find fits in with their practice to help motivate clients to make changes,” she explained.
“I find dietitians are particularly excited by the specific dietary and lifestyle interventions that can be revealed from such a comprehensive report. This is coupled with the report showing the microbiome’s potential to produce particular metabolites which we know are responsible for many processes with the body as well as the overall health and function of the gut.”
Anita’s goals for the future lay within the same field – gastrointestinal issues and the gut microbiome – and she hopes to become an industry expert within the Dietetic profession. She shared that she sees the value in specialising in this area of science and that there was much to learn about the clinical utility of gut microbiome analysis.
“I would love to continue to communicate this research to assist dietitian’s and other healthcare practitioners in making more informed decisions about dietary interventions within practice,” she said.
“Ultimately, I would like to be able to communicate this information to wider audiences to help educate people about how the gut microbiome plays a fundamental role in health.”
What advice would Anita give to young aspiring dietitians? She said that there were so many opportunities in the workforce for dietitians and that they were in a unique position to be experts in the world of nutrition.
“I believe new graduate dietitians should not hold back in engaging in opportunities that will allow them to specialise in one area of this ever-evolving science. By doing this, keeping up to date with the latest and most relevant information is a lot more manageable when you are starting out as a dietitian.”
“I think having the confidence and skills to communicate nutrition information to larger audiences is very powerful tool in our industry. I believe dietitians do need to be the voice of nutrition within many online and social media platforms as there is unfortunately, many avenues people can pick up misinformation about personalised nutrition.”
To find out more about Anita’s area of interest, visit www.microba.com.