What is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist?

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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2020
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Certified clinical nutritionists are professionals trained in all aspects of nutrition, including food intake, digestion, and metabolism. They focus on the body's relationship to diet on a biochemical level. Prevention of disease, not cure, is the primary function of a certified clinical nutritionist.

Nutritionist certification determines the scope of practice and differentiates a certified clinical nutritionist from a certified dietitian or an eating coach. All certified clinical nutritionists must have a bachelor's degree in nutrition from an accredited school. Then they must complete a post-graduate course in clinical nutrition. In addition, the clinical nutritionist is required to complete a minimum of 900 supervised practicing hours in order to qualify for certification. When the 900 hours are achieved, the nutritionist may take the certification exam. If the exam is passed, the person's title becomes certified clinical nutritionist.

Certified clinical nutritionists consider food in terms of nutrient value and how those nutrients affect functions of the body. By testing a sample of a patient's blood or urine, the practitioner can detect any imbalances in the body. A common example of an imbalance is high cholesterol. Unlike a family physician, who is trained to prescribe medicine to correct the problem, a certified clinical nutritionist focuses on the cause of the imbalance.


Certified clinical nutritionists apply the science of clinical nutrition. A general theory behind the science of clinical nutrition is called biochemical individuality. The theory was first introduced by biochemist Dr. Roger Williams in the 1950s. Biochemical individuality theory claims that because each human body is biochemically unique, each has his or her own specific nutritional needs. In other words, there can be no one formula for the optimal human diet.

A major function of a certified clinical nutritionist is to formulate a diet that is specific to each patient's nutritional needs. Many common symptoms can arise from nutritional imbalances, such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea. A certified clinical nutritionist can determine what is causing the imbalance and structure a diet to restore balance and relieve symptoms.

Many certified clinical nutritionists are set apart from the majority of practicing physicians because they integrate holistic treatment in their practice. They not only look at how food affects the digestive track, but attention is also given to how diet affects the immune system and brain wave function. The theory is that the mind and body are connected and diet affects them both.


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