Dato’ Sri Steve Yap

MSc (EB Med) (Oxon), MS (Metab Med) (USF), DMedSc (UCG), FICT, FAARFM, FNFMP
President, Association of Nutritional & Functional Medicine Practitioners, Malaysia;
President, Federation of Complementary & Natural Medical Associations of Malaysia; Adjunct Professor, School of Science, Engineering & Agrotechnology, University College Yayasan Pahang. 



NUTRITIONAL therapists prescribe foods, nutraceuticals, and lifestyle modifications for their ‘clients’ based on the health problems identified. Among some of these chronic health problems are hypertension, heart diseases, tumour growth, cancers (early stages), diabetes, insulin resistance and allergies. Other ailments include gall stones/bile flow obstruction, liver disorders, hormonal imbalances, low immunity, inflammation, poor kidney functions, poor blood circulation, accelerated ageing, pre-natal/post-natal/developmental nutrition, and elevated mental or physiological stress.


Treatment methods

While conventional medical training emphasizes on drugs and surgery, nutritional medicine uses essentially non-invasive or mildly invasive diagnostic and non-toxic treatment methods used by practitioners in Europe and North America following naturopathic principles.

There are some variations in diagnostic and treatment approaches depending on the levels of training received. For instance, licensed therapists are generally eligible to enrol for board certification examinations such as in:
    - anti-ageing medicine offered by the America Board of Anti-Ageing Health Practitioners (www.worldhealth.net);
    - nutritional medicine and/ or anti-ageing medicine offered by the World Society of Anti-Ageing Medicine, France (www.wosaam.org);
    - nutritional medicine and/or anti-ageing medicine offered by American Naturopathic Certification Board (www.anch.org).

The American Academy of Anti-ageing Medicine also offers a fellowship training programme on Integrative Cancer Therapies (FICT), which cover a more holistic and less evasive approach to the treatment of cancers than chemotherapy or surgery.

Local scenario

In Malaysia, nutritional medicine is categorised under “complementary medicine”. Despite its importance in treating and even reversing the causes of chronic health disorders, it is not being offered in hospitals.

However, three government hospitals (Penang, Putra Jaya, and Johor Bharu) have incorporated some modalities of complementary and traditional medicine in the treatment of cancers. Three more government hospitals will embrace complementary and traditional medicine by end of next year.


Overseas qualifications

In most developed countries, nutritional medicine is taught at the post-graduate level. But the United Kingdom and Australia offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutritional medicine/ therapy.

Requirements for entry in the UK are governed by the Nutritional Therapy Council (www.ntc.org.uk). In the future, candidates are required to complete a conversion master’s degree in nutritional medicine or therapy.

The University of Surrey (www.surrey.ac.uk) offers UK’s first MSc in Nutritional Medicine for doctors and senior health care professionals. Other universities are either offering or in the process of accrediting a similar degree with NTC.

In Australia, accredited colleges offer an undergraduate advanced diploma in nutritional therapy. An extra academic year at a university could upgrade the diploma to a bachelor’s degree in complementary medicine.

In France, the Nutritional Medicine Certification Board of Anti-Ageing Medicine (www.wosaam.org) offers certification for Physicians to qualify as its Board Diplomate in Nutritional Medicine.

But in the Us, some of the roles played by nutritional therapists are being performed by nutritionists certified by national accreditation boards such as the Certification Board for Nutritional Specialists of the American College of Nutrition (www.cbns.org) and the America Naturopathic Certification Board (www.ancb.org).

Both are open to those with an accredited master’s degree in human nutrition. However, there isn’t a separate certification board on nutritional medicine.

The most relevant US degree is probably the regionally-accredited Master of Science (MS) specialising in metabolic ad nutritional medicine offered by the College of Medicine, University of South Florida (www.usf.edu), which requires a MD or PhD as academic entry.


Local qualifications

In Malaysia, a post-graduate diploma plus clinical training is being proposed as the basic entry requirement. External examination scheme is likely to be introduced.

Students should have a bachelor in complementary medicine (specialising in natural medicine), which is now being offered by local universities. Those without a relevant degree are advised to enrol for a recognised foundation programme in nutritional therapy. Take note in nutritional therapy.

Take note that qualifications in nutrition from the following organisations are currently not recognised here:
    - Royal Institute of Public Health;
    - Institute of Food Sciences & Technology (UK);
    - ITEC (UK);
    - City & Guilds, London;
    - The Nutrition Society (UK); and
    - university awards on nutrition or dietetics.

Enquiries may be directed to the Traditional & Complementary Medicine (T&CM) Division, Ministry of Health at 03-26985077.


Training curriculum

The overall training curriculum may be summarised into these core areas:
Anatomy and physiology with special emphasis on digestive, endocrine, circulatory, immune defence, cellular, neurological, and detoxification systems;
    - Use of evidence-based nutraceuticals;
    - Examination of diets and lifestyles linked to chronic health diseases;
    - Pathology of chronic diseases;
    - Diagnostic and treatment strategies;
    - Counselling of patients;
    - Ethics in health practices; and
    - Supervised clinical training.

Amino therapy, enzyme therapy, and orthomolecular medicine are also part of the curriculum.The training on the fundamentals currently takes about four years part-time for graduates.

More specialised areas such as integrative cancer therapy, therapies for heart disease, stroke, allergies, and anti-ageing require training beyond the basic qualifying programme.

Dato Sri Steve Yap is the president of the Federation of Complementary & Natural Medical Associations, Malaysia. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the professional bodies and governmental committees of which he is a member. He can be contacted at steve@ctawellness.com.

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