She’s a rising star in dietetics, and living the dream: working on ground-breaking gut health research in London, educating her passionate following of thousands on social media – and even hobnobbing with Princess Anne at award ceremonies! Meet Dr Megan Rossi, RD – or, as she’s known on Instagram, @theguthealthdoctor.
DC’s Maree Ferguson gave Megan her first job, as a dietitian at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital. She earned her PhD in gut health at the University of Queensland before making the move overseas to London.
Today, Megan works as a research associate at King’s College London, and has a gut health clinic on Harley Street. She is also working with Leon Restaurants on a UK-wide gut health initiative. We love watching young dietitians grow and become successful, so we were thrilled to chat with Megan recently.
Megan, why did you decided to become a dietitian?
I’ve always been in love with food – the favours, as well as the community feel. My mum is a science teacher, so from a very young age we were experimenting with things like bicarb soda and little volcanoes. She instilled in me quite an inquisitive mindset, which is a key asset in research. So, bringing the love of food and love of science together, the clear career journey was to be a dietitian.
How did your PhD shape your journey?
My PhD was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’d just finished my dietetics degree with QUT, and got a call on Christmas Eve (from Maree) offering me a job. It was one of the best days of my life. I then worked for a year and a half at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and had a taste of research, and thought, “Yes, this is what I want to do.”
I launched into my PhD with associate professor Katrina Campbell and Dr David Johnson. We looked at whether we could improve gut health in people with chronic kidney disease, in a way that would reduce some of the uremic toxins circulating in their blood by adding things like pre- and probiotics. And, excitingly, it was a positive trial.
Why did you move to London?
My mentors encouraged me to look outside of Australia, saying that it’s good to go away from your initial PhD research group, get different experiences, and then come back. Then I got a taste of things over here in London, and it was hard to come back! London is a concentrated hub of the wellness world, and there are a lot of entrepreneurs here, so it’s inspiring.
Tell us about your current research, and why you chose to focus on gut health.
I work with Prof Kevin Whelan’s group in the diet and gastrointestinal health. I see gut health as the future of our health, and Professor Whelan’s group was world-renowned as experts in that area. But I wanted to move into areas which would affect more people, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So, that’s one of my main areas of research – looking at different nutrition-based therapies in IBS.
I also work on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, looking at different dietary interventions. Another element of my King’s research is looking at healthy people: how to improve the health of their diet through nutrition therapies, and how food can improve our gut health.
Can you share any of your findings?
We’re looking at more of the mechanistic aspect of diet, and how we can look at new therapies that are food-based. As we know, the low FODMAP diet is not good for our gut microbiota in the long term. One of my colleagues, Dr Heidi Staudecher, looked at adding probiotics into a low FODMAP diet, for her PhD. People on a low FODMAP diet took a probiotic every day, and she found that it prevented some of that negative decline in their gut bacteria. Another project we’re working on is looking at different types of dietary fibres in people with IBS. Certain fibres can trigger gut symptoms, leading to a lot of people excluding fruit and vegetables, which can be a vicious cycle. We’re looking at whether we can combine different fibres to increase tolerability and have the long-term effect of supporting the gut microbiota. We’ve teamed up with experts to give people acute doses of different types of fibre, then scan their gut to see how much gas and small bowel water is produced after having that dietary fibre, as well as the core symptoms. There’s a lot of potential there.
I’ve also led research on whether we can predict response to dietary intervention in IBS by measuring different elements of people’s faecal samples. Hopefully soon we will be able to say something like, “Based on your stool analysis, you’ve got 60% chance of responding to a low FODMAP diet, so let’s try it.” It’s personalised nutrition.
Where do you see gut health going in the next decade or so?
Again, personalised nutrition! Also, we need to be smarter about the use of probiotics. Each strain of probiotic has a very different function. So, we need to be more specific with our prescription. But at the minute we don’t have all that research, and the strains are quite limited from manufacturers. Watch this space – that’s where it will head.
How important do you think having a PhD has been to your success?
It’s set me apart from other people looking at gut health and given me credibility that other people might not have gotten. But it certainly is not essential. If you don’t have the passion for research, certainly don’t spend three years doing it.
What are some of the opportunities for up-and-coming dietitians in the next decade?
When I first started dietetics, the number of business people and entrepreneurs was very few. In the next five to ten years, it will become quite the norm. With that also comes the risk that people lose some of their credibility with becoming an entrepreneur. Sometimes we need to take a step back and say, “The research isn’t quite there yet, so let’s not oversell it.”
You recently received a prestigious award for your work – and Princess Anne gave it to you personally. Tell us about this!
The award was from the British Nutrition Foundation; we received funding to look deeper into the mechanisms of how the low FODMAP diet works. Princess Anne is one of their patrons. Meeting her was surreal. I got to chat one-on-one with her in advance of receiving the award, and she was so personable. I was nervous, and thought, “I have to be very proper”, but Princess Anne was cracking jokes!
Living in London, have you met Jamie Oliver yet?
Not yet, but Jamie Oliver reached out to me on Instagram, and since then we’ve had quite a few conversations. I know that our paths will cross; he’s such an inspiring person!
LEARN MORE: To keep updated on the latest gut health news, connect with Megan on social media, or visit her website: (click the link):
Referenced works: · Heidi’s paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28625832 (Probiotics and LFD in IBS) · Megan’s paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28993261 (Predicting response to diet) · Hypno vs LFD paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.13706/full