I had the opportunity to interview one of the more under-followed Physiotherapists on Twitter: Alyssa Tait. She is also a Clinical Nutritionist, Naturopath, and an Accredited Teacher of the Billings Ovulation Method. I highly recommend you give her a follow on Twitter for the vast amount of information she shares combining nutrition, women’s health, and chronic pain. You can find Alyssa in person in Brisbane, Australia at Equilibria Physiotherapy & Nutrition.
Enjoy the interview!
So, what did you have for breakfast today? And, do you have a morning routine?
Breakfast was my usual routine! Coconut cream, almond milk, pea protein smoothie with a banana and mixed organic berries. Lunch was more interesting-baked potato with grass-fed mince and zucchini, dill goat’s cheese and avocado, mixed greens and nasturtiums with macadamia oil. Yum!
My morning routine, before I do anything, is mindful walking barefoot on the lawn…but it has just got too cold, so the shoes were on today!
What led you into the wonderful world of physiotherapy?
My obsession with the bladder, initially – I knew I was meant to be a pelvic floor physiotherapist when I sat enthralled through our one lecture with Ruth Sapsford, where my friends didn’t share my rapture. Recurrent UTIs and bedwetting as a child led me to develop and uncommon interest in this organ. But actually, I initially was going to be a speech pathologist as I am fascinated with language…my brother beat me to it, but I still ended up doing Linguistics at university.
All of us go through professional growth and evolution. Describe your progression through the years.
I continually make discoveries – new paradigms, new insights – that I think are going to revolutionise my practice, and they do…but the longer that goes on the more in awe I am of some of the experts in these innovative fields, especially in functional medicine, and I choose to consolidate my role as more of an “integrator” of fields than a top expert in any of them – and I would see this as my particular strength. I have a rather broad set of skills in a fairly narrow field: urogenital, pelvic and gut health.
I achieved my goal of working in pelvic floor from my first year out; travelled to Norway to learn from Kari Bo; did a postgraduate qualification in the field in my fourth year out; started a nutrition medicine qualification the year after; got a certificate in teaching Evidence Based Practice and discovered a love of PubMed; moved into osteopathic manual therapy and subsequently visceral manipulation, which I travelled overseas for 18 months ago; changed my way of seeing chronic pain through study with the Neuro Orthopaedic Institute and adapted their insights to vulval pain from 2007; returned to naturopathic school to gain further qualifications in nutrition and Western Herbal Medicine; and delved deeper and deeper into the field of integrative nutrition, making connections between the chronic pain syndromes and functional gut disorders I was seeing and the underlying faulty mechanisms at play.
You’ve peaked my interest. Tell us a bit about the relationship between Chronic Pain and Nutrition.
There are a number of mechanisms whereby nutritional factors affect chronic pain. I’ll just name two:
- Inflammation. Where pain is related to inflammation, nutritional medicine really comes to the fore. Specific phytochemicals have documented anti-inflammatory activity, and in some cases clinical research (such as EPA from fish oil and curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric). A more comprehensive nutritional medicine approach looks at the underlying causes and drivers of inflammation in the individual and addresses them. This could be anything from an underlying epigenetic compromise in certain detoxification pathways to insulin resistance to food sensitivities to gut microbial imbalance.
- Secondly, in chronic pain in particular, anything that modifies production of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) or cortisol will affect the functioning of the central nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, both of which strongly influence the pain experience. Nutrients are essential cofactors for the manufacture of these substances. Nutrients are essential to their transport and modification.
I share your interest in nutrition. What are some of the biggest nutritional revelations you’ve experienced or learned over the last few years?
I have personally experienced how intelligent, dedicated integrative nutrition based on understanding of biochemistry can transform health when orthodox medicine has long since run out of ideas. (Of course, it is possible to get the best of both worlds).
Clinically, the insight that the understanding of nutritional biochemistry may be the key to the mysteries of my personal interest areas of vulvodynia, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pelvic pain.
Tell us about the beginnings of Equilibria. What sparked the idea? And, what challenges did you face?
I was working in a public hospital, and becoming specialised in women’s health physiotherapy. Unfortunately, I was developing interests that went beyond my role – in nutrition, in particular – and when I completed my first qualification in this field I was no longer satisfied limiting myself to physiotherapy. I have the utmost respect for the talent in our field of physiotherapy – both the brilliant clinicians and the researchers – but being an ultra-specialist has never held appeal for me. I am too interested in exploring new territories and making connections across different paradigms.
The main challenge has been that as far as I can see, no one is really doing what I am doing, so it is challenging to strike the right balance. While I have excellent mentors in my different fields, with respect to the challenges of shaping my practice, I have always been on my own! Integrative nutrition and physiotherapy are quite different fields. The ongoing challenge is helping people who are referred for one see how the other could be of benefit to them. My other major challenge has been in pacing myself – my thirst for knowledge needs tempering at times in order to continue to model to others the kind of balance I am espousing.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since opening Equilibria?
Set and stick to boundaries.
Keep your vision in sight and trust your instincts.
Reflect continually on what you do, but don’t be too concerned about what others think.
Strive for mindfulness.
Favorite Books & Authors? (professional & personal)
I love Kazuo Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day was a masterpiece and The Unconsoled was utter brilliance. His compatriot Murakami wrote, in Japanese, one of the most gripping books I’ve read – 1Q84 – mind you, I read the translation, not the original!
I trawl PubMed for my professional reading, as well as relying on some of the leaders in my fields of interest to condense worlds of knowledge down into 15 hour webinar series!
Imagine if you could pick up the phone and call your younger self right after graduating physio school, then what advice would you give her?
Trust your instincts.
It’s ok to go hard because that’s how you will add value. But LEARN MINDFULNESS NOW.
Your Top 5 things-to-do/experience in Australia:
- Skate the inner city bikeways on one of our many glorious Brisbane days. (Had to have rollerblading at number one, and with all the great cities in Aus, I don’t think you can get past my home town.)
- Sing with – or at least attend to experience the joy of – the St Stephen’s Cathedral Choir at the annual Christmas Carols.
- Swim in the sea on New Year’s Day early morning on the Strand in North Queensland’s Townsville when everyone else is home in bed with sore heads.
- Stay at Nambucca Heads, a beautiful tiny coastal town where the mangroves and the river meets the sea and my dad works single-handedly to preserve the rainforest.
- Get some insight into our convict history at Port Arthur, a former penal colony on our island state off the south coast of the mainland, Tasmania. Read the Australian classic For the Term of His Natural Life beforehand, not after as I did.
Alyssa, thank you for sharing your story in this great interview! The nexus of nutrition & chronic pain/women’s health is an interesting place, and I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
Follow Alyssa on Twitter: @AlyssaTait1
And, connect with me: @Cinema_Air