Hi Sammie, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a Specialist Gastroenterology Dietitian and have worked within the food industry, as well as on clinical work and research. I joined Symprove in 2019. I love spending time outdoors walking or camping, and enjoy listening to audiobooks, running and drawing/painting.
What inspired you to become a dietitian?
I think it started during the first years of secondary school. I remember feeling really uninspired by the lack of choices in the school canteen (mainly chips, burgers and sausages, which are fine now and again but not the best choice day in day out). I also really enjoyed food tech – cooking a meal from scratch felt like a real accomplishment and I loved science (especially biology). So I think all this combined is what sparked my interest and made me realise how much food influences every aspect of our lives and is so much more than just a collection of nutrients – it’s a source of enjoyment, part of celebrations, social interactions and cultural identity. What we eat has such a huge impact not only on our physical health, but on our mental health too.
What led to you specialising in gastroenterology?
Dietetics is so diverse - it’s one of my favourite things about the profession!
Gastroenterology sparked my interest early on. It fascinated me that the gut, once thought to only function in the digestion of food, plays such a crucial role in shaping our physical and mental health and impacting other organs of the body such as the brain, kidneys and heart.
The gastrointestinal tract is this amazing hub of activity where 70% of our immune system sits, over 99% of our genetic material lies and the trillions of microbes (collectively known as the gut microbiota) reside. They outnumber our human cells and are capable of carrying out thousands of functions.
It’s such an incredibly exciting area to work in, and while our understanding has come on leaps and bounds, we still generate more questions than answers – that’s what keeps it interesting.
So what’s your role at Symprove?
No two days are the same, that’s for sure. My role involves overseeing research collaborations and on-going clinical trials with places like universities, supporting communications for healthcare professionals (HCPs) and consumers, and managing the dietetic-led service (where customers can get in touch with their questions/queries).
How does your training help you in your role?
It’s especially important when working with the marketing team on HCP communications and when I receive queries from dietitians or customers. As our ethos is to follow an evidence-based approach; we want to make sure that we are giving out balanced and informed responses.
What do you most enjoy about your job at Symprove Ltd?
I really like the fact that there’s a close-knit team at Symprove Ltd. I also love the day-to-day variation as well as working with people with diverse and different skillsets to my own.
What do see as a key role for any dietitian?
I believe dietitians should be at the forefront of undertaking research, to drive forward new ideas, advance our knowledge and help dietetic practice. It’s incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to do further research in an area you have a genuine passion and interest for, with potential to help shape guidelines and recommendations.
What are the common gut health issues in the UK?
The first is IBS, which affects around 10-20% of the population. Functional bloating is thought to affect up to 30%, whereas constipation and acid reflux affects around 20%.
What role does nutrition play in helping these issues and in managing gut health generally?
From an IBS perspective, different approaches will work for different people. People with IBS can respond very differently to the same foods and therefore management needs to be tailored to the individual. Beyond nutrition, management might involve reducing stress or anxiety by targeting the gut-brain axis, addressing other lifestyle factors such as quality and quantity of sleep, or trialling food therapeutics such as probiotics.
For general gut health, a ‘food-first approach’ that is focused on plant-based diversity is key (plant-based does not mean going vegan or vegetarian). In fact, results from the American Gut Project (the largest study of its kind investigating how diet, lifestyle and disease influences the gut microbiome) found that those people who consumed more than 30 different types of plants each week had more diverse gut microbiomes compared to those who consumed 10 or fewer types. In other words, fill up on dietary fibre and naturally occurring prebiotic foods through consumption of wholegrains, beans and pulses, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Variety is key because each of these foods contain different types of fibre and different types of fibre feed different gut microbes. Trialling fermented foods (or making your own!) can provide a source of live microbes, which is another good way to optimise gut health.
What are emerging as the next areas of focus into studying the gut microbiome?
I think there has been (and continues to be) really exciting work in the area of the gut-brain axis, and the link to mental health and the microbiome. There is also interesting new work which targets the gut microbiome in particular neurological conditions.
Dr Sammie Gill is a Specialist Gastroenterology Dietitian. She spent two years working at the British Dietetic Association as a Policy Officer in evidence-based practice. She then undertook her Postdoctoral Research Associate role at King’s College London in nutrition and functional gut disorders followed by a clinical role in gastroenterology at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. She now works as Scientific Research and Development Manager at Symprove Ltd, in addition to ad hoc clinical dietetic work.