25 Nov Understanding of nutrition. Q&A with Alexsandra Rehlinger
Q & A – Alexsandra Rehlinger BA (Hons), MNLP, Cert AdvNutr, DipASK, DipIrid A detailed view on her approach to nutrition
Alexsandra Rehlinger has been working internationally in health since 1988 graduating with honours in Art and Psychology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and working successfully as a therapist with runaways in a family crisis unit in Los Angeles. During this early stage of her career she saw how diet and biochemistry made a huge difference to a person’s state and ultimately their perspectives, choices and behaviors and from there began on her long and detailed study of nutrition. Here we take a detailed look at her practice in nutrition.
Q: You have a long and impressive list of qualifications, how do they come together in your practice?
Thanks, a good question! I suppose that’s why my practice is called The Art of Health. Although there are what appear to be different discipline strings to my bow—they all come together in a single bouquet, so to speak. Though I utilise and base my decision for treatment on scientific clinical evaluations- everything from genetic tests to hormone, microbiome and functional blood tests- I hold this information within a framework that is guided by the traditional principles of naturopathy and ancient eastern health principles—which are based in nature. It’s about trusting that nature knows what it’s doing, that we are part of nature, so how can we work with it, not against it. All of these come together into personalised programmes which include dietary and lifestyle ‘whole person’ plans that nourish your whole life, not just your body.
With my background in psychology I’ve always been interested in what makes us think and feel the way we do. The research clearly shows us that what, how and when we eat influences how we feel and think. So with clients I set out simple strategies to get them including the best quality nutrient rich foods for their situation, and where necessary include supplementation, so that they have the resources to make better choices going forward. Diet plans don’t really work. Educating people about what principles works best—for them, helps them change their own lives. From what we know in nutrigenomics, they can influence their genetics, too, so they really can change their future. It’s exciting.
There really are a gazillion models of healthcare and ‘science’ out there about what is the right way or the wrong way. I first began studying nutrition in the early 1980s—over 30 years ago- and it sure has changed a lot – and our understanding of nutrition changes all the time. The bottom line is, we’re each incredibly unique- genetically, chemically, psychologically, emotionally. So, this is where it’s an art- the art of health ….
Q: You mention genetics and nutrigenomics, tell us a bit about that and how you work with it in your practice.
One of the most exciting things coming out of science and nutrition in the last 20 years is the increasing body of knowledge confirming how what we eat and how we live powerfully and tangibly influences the expression of our inherited genes. Just because your family has a history of heart disease or diabetes or even cancer doesn’t mean you need to go down that road. Understanding what you can do with your diet and lifestyle to mitigate the negative effects and capitalise on the positive aspects means you really can be your best self.
Increasingly I’m suggesting that clients – especially those having chronic issues to do with energy, immunity, digestion or mood—or anyone who is really interested in being optimally healthy and living long- have their genetic profile done. It’s very cost effective now. From here we derive an evaluative report about where you may be genetically inhibited and how we can influence that through your diet and lifestyle. The complementary test – the other side to this coin- is the Organic Acids test which allows us to understand how well a person is dealing with their genetic picture- where the system is functioning well or falling down. This also allows us to identify what we need to bring in with nutritional therapy- diet, supplements, lifestyle- to improve or support their optimal function and capacity.
In my first sessions with clients, before we even start the testing I put together something I call a PEMI- Personalised Epigenetic Map of Influences. This map allows us to see how someone’s family history, personal history, lifestyle factors, diet, environmental factors and stressors add to or reduce the best expression of their genes. It’s literally a map so they can see what choices they can make to help themselves or not. It’s all about choices.
Q: You use functional testing, are there any tests which you find especially useful or helpful and could you explain why?
There are so many out there – many not so useful- but I do use two baseline lab investigations to determine where to go next. A full blood test that includes a full thyroid panel including vitamin D, and homocysteine, alongside a RBC Fatty Acid Metabolism profile. Why these? These really help us understand how someone is functioning fundamentally. Based on Dr Dicken Weatherby’s work on Functional Lab Analysis, I examine these results within what are called ‘optimal function ranges’, which allows us to see any tendencies for imbalances are headed- before they become serious. It’s the seriously out of range stuff that your GP is seeking to identify when he’s looking at your bloods. This is a more subtle but comprehensive look; we want to see the issue before it’s a big problem.
The RBC fatty acid metabolism test really provides insight into how well the cell membrane is supported. This is important because we’re very large cells composed of billions of tiny cells. It used to be believed that the membrane was an inconsequential barrier but in the last 20 years the work of Dr Gilbert Ling and Dr Gerald Pollack has turned that on its head. We know now that the membrane also acts as a regulator of what gets presented to the DNA. This sort of information is crucial when we think of nutrigenomics. This membrane is made of essential fats which we must take in through our diet.
The full spectrum of fats, both unsaturated and saturated, have a direct influence on all of our hormones, and these hormones work to regulate all other body functions- and all this happens through each cell membrane. Having information about the integrity of the cell membrane is such vital and useful information because we can make changes in our diet in response to this. Even just these two tests can help us understand so much about where someone is and has been—and where best to go next with their treatment plan.
Something important to realise is that all of the laboratory tests are based on generalised populations. Reference ranges depend on who set those ranges and which populations were profiled and when. Vitamin D is a perfect example of how our understanding of reference ranges has changed over time. It’s a regular occurrence that a patent arrives in my door having gone to see their GP who’s run bloods on them only to say they’re fine. Now, clearly the person has sought advice because they don’t feel fine. This is the story of our time. The majority of us are not acutely unwell enough for the general medical orthodoxy to really identify the chronic subclinical underwellness that so many people experience. There are many factors that need to be considered in a complete analysis of a person’s health. This is where functional nutritional therapy is so useful, but also where tools like the neuromuscular system of kinesiology is exceptional. Applied Kinesiology is a system of evaluating how the body responds to various forms of stimuli applied to the nervous system. Neuromuscular testing is something doctors used to include 50 years ago—reflex tests – maybe some of you remember having them check if your knee responded to a very specific tap. Using specific isolated neuromuscular tests gives an indication of a person’s own individual tolerance ranges- not based on a generalised population but of their own personal capacities. Due to the many ways that it has been misunderstood and misused, it has become very controversial, unfortunately. However, consistent legitimate neuromuscular testing procedures derived out of the field of chiropractic going back to the 1960s has provided an invaluable tool that allows trained practitioners to understand a person’s unique capacities that no lab test could provide. I wouldn’t want to do without it. The results from this series of at least 14- 20 manual tests, brought together with the test results from the lab, and the qualitative assessment from interviewing allow me to create a very comprehensive and very personally supportive programme- truly tailored to each individual.
Q: We see that you’ve trained in a number of schools of nutrition, can you tell us about what they are and why you have chosen to do this?
Clinical Nutrition Naturopathic Nutrition and Chinese Food Medicine are all used in an integrated way that complement one another and combine really well. My initial assessment form highlights these areas so when clients come in, I can see quickly where we may have to intervene more from one model or another. I think there is a lot of skepticism around ancient Chinese food principles and something I used to feel myself. But after I fell in love with acupuncture I had to look at it again in more depth so went off and studied with Montse Bradford, gaining not just theoretical information but experiential knowing. Chinese Medicine has 5000 years of written text—so not to be shirked at! It was surprising. It changed how I eat in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined. Then it changed how I advise my clients. It’s made the most notable difference with conditions where clinical nutrition really didn’t provide good long term resolutions. Candida and digestive concerns are a great example.
When clients come in, I look firstly at how they’re eating in line with these ancient principles, or not- and give advice to begin from there. It became clear that the ancient principles also correlated to clinical nutritional knowledge but were just labeled or understood differently. This isn’t new, increasingly we’re seeing how ‘science’ is validating ancient wisdom. What’s great is that these principles are simple, very easy for people to grasp and can make huge differences in a person’s life- even with just one recommendation.
Of course, I still evaluate clinically, with the blood and fatty acid tests or whatever investigation is required. With the lab results in hand I can more clearly pinpoint which clinical nutrition intervention strategies would support them further. Then, alongside both of these, the naturopathic nutritional strategies further support underlying lifestyle and eating habits individual to the person yet in tune with nature. I don’t think using just one model is adequate. Institute of Optimum Nutrition, Plaskett Nutritional Medicine, College of Natural Nutrition and Chinese Food Energetics.
Q: Why is it important to treat the person and not just a collection of symptoms
It’s an interesting question because in our increasingly fast paced society everyone is looking for the quick fix. “Please make my symptom go away- and make it go away fast!” This is why pharmaceutical medication has grown in its use. It can often quash the symptom- and sometimes, quite quickly. Pharmaceutical medications have a role. In the right situation, with the right person and the right dose—they save lives and we wouldn’t want it any other way. But what’s clear is that it is a management intervention and depending on the concern, not necessarily a solution. The symptoms return if the underlying cause isn’t dealt with. This highlights the real issue: we’re not a bunch of unrelated, unconnected parts with a body over here and a mind over there. A tummy that hurts or isn’t doing what we prefer is part of a whole person, it’s not a separate piece or place. The increasing tome of research into the microbiome and psychoneuroimmunology on our mind/body organism provides concrete evidence of the interconnectedness of our being. We are amazing organisms living within an even larger eco system of influences. —Sometimes I like to think of each of us as little orchestras where each part of us is an instrument crucial for a good performance. To really help someone you really have to listen to the song their orchestra is seeking to play – who is this person- then help them to find a way to play it more harmoniously. The disharmony of symptoms whether they’re niggling allergies, or annoying digestive or skin issues or maybe even acute disease can abate when the origin of dis-ease is understood, heard, and responded to with the right ingredients. Then an ease and flow that then naturally arises.
Recently I had someone come in with some severe imbalances affecting his day to day capacity and wellbeing, where his medical consultant recommending palliative surgery. No one had even looked at his lifestyle or personal history let alone his diet to consider whether these may have contributed toward his condition. It’s not a new story. My client and I looked precisely at his lifestyle to understand how his situation had deteriorated to the degree that it had – late nights, flying across timezones for decades, 30yr career in extreme stressful work environments, early life trauma, drinking a bottle of wine a night to ‘chill’ because he deserved it, very little water intake, eating out often. Underneath all of it was a self belief that he just didn’t feel valuable or valued. Upon reflection, it was all very clear, he agreed. His response: “But just give me a quick fix, Alexsandra, I really don’t have time or willingness to change any of these factors right now…When it gets worse, I’ll come back in and do whatever you say.” Sadly there are no real quick fixes with nutrition. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s about choices. We either choose ourselves or we don’t.
With my psychology background and Neuro-linguistic training we can really find out what makes someone tick- and then nourish that – through diet and lifestyle coaching and belief change support. Natural therapeutics is about treating you, the whole being that you are—and helping you to make that choice- which can be life changing if you’re open to it.
Q: How does someone’s emotional state play a part when you are treating people with nutrition?
20 years ago, the works of Dr Candice Pert (Molecules of Emotion) and Dr Bruce Lipton (Biology of Belief) really brought the science of this into mainstream though it had been around for much longer in the field of psychoneuroimmunology. I’ve been looking at this area well before I brought nutrition into my practice, when I worked with people purely mentally emotionally as an art therapist in Los Angeles. As a high level triathlete at that time, it was clear to me that what I ate directly affected my performance and my mood. It could influence whether I felt I could push myself – mentally and physically – to achieve more, finish a race or do that 100mile training cycle run, or not. I’d witness my clients’ dietary habits and just knew that it must be making them feel low and miserable. This is when I began changing my focus to Nutrition as the fulcrum of my practice. We put food and liquids into our mouths every day, several times a day. Foods are literally chemical interventions which influence how we feel about ourselves and our body, as well as influencing our perception of the world around us. Now more than ever, we’re clear that sugars and stimulants are the big evil, and fat is really our friend. Both of these have huge effects on our emotional and mental state, and our ability to manage our function—on all levels, not just emotionally but physically. Emotions can be an indication of our chemical /physiological balance –and our emotional mental state also has a huge effect on our chemistry and therefore physiological function and performance. Emotional disharmony can be an indication of hormone imbalances —which can be due to nutrient insufficiencies such as not having enough of the right fats or not enough protein—or perhaps not being able to digest and assimilate these nutrients well, or having digestive compromise, leaky gut, intolerances, allergies, or even pathogens. Left without support it can become a vicious circle. This is where clinical and qualitative ‘whole person’ evaluation really allows you to understand where the problem arose—identifying the cause rather than the symptom- and what can be done about it using simple and specific diet strategies, as well as NLP counseling support. Finally, changing how and what we eat can be a very emotional issue. Eating disorders is a simple but extreme example. Early conditioning around how we learned to receive- nourishment, but also security, love and validation can all be tied with this stuff called food. It can be a very emotional topic so being aware of these triggers allows us to create healthy helpful strategies that support on every level.
Q: From your wealth of knowledge and experience, what would be your top tips for living a long and healthy life?!
Nourishment isn’t just what we put in our mouths. The newest research about light including Pollack’s breakthrough discovery about The Fourth Phase of Water, points directly to how our contact with light- in its various forms- Infrared, Ultraviolet, Blue Spectrum, Artificial light at night- and its times, day and night, have a more nutritive and/or deleterious effect on our how we function than we ever considered—even more pronounced perhaps than food. So having the right contact with the right forms of light is essential nutrition. Having less computer time, less late nights in front of screens and artificial lights, more outside daylight time in nature in contact with trees, grass and ground (infrared light) appears to be paramount in regaining and sustaining health and wellbeing.
Living longer means having fewer stimulants, coffee, tea, sugar- all which overtax the endocrine and nervous system, depleting essential nutrients along the way- basically wearing yourself out.
And the research is patently clear: eat a vegetable based diet! Vegetables are rich in ionic minerals which refill your cell battery, keep blood sugar balanced, pH in check and support optimal enzyme, plus the fibre helps keep the microbiome well supported and makes sure toxins have an easier exit. Eating vegetables is no small thing- the biggest issue of patients coming into my practice. We can all eat more green stuff.
Finally, that darned trendy word-‘mindfulness’! Eating mindfully means you’ll consume less yet absorb more. Being more mindful of your breath allows you to balance and regulate your nervous and hormonal system so your whole organism is more balanced and more resilient. The crux of it is about going with the flow of nature – inside and around you.