Olga Preston, an ION graduate and registered nutritional therapy practitioner, tells us how a liver diagnosis led to a new career and why she chose to specialise in mental health.


How did you become interested in nutrition?

“When working in the city in a health screening centre, I was working long hours, eating the wrong foods, drinking, smoking and not sleeping enough. I had a health screen and my liver function tests were dangerously off scale — I had to go to A&E and they were asking me if I was taking drugs etc., which I wasn’t. I had a private scan which showed I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and was put on a waiting list to see a consultant.

“[Whilst I was waiting], a nutritional therapist, friend and colleague put me on a nutritional programme to help my liver. By the time I saw the consultant, all was clear, and he was so surprised that I had achieved so much in such short period of time without medication.

“I then started to notice the power of nutrition on health. This got me thinking about the life I wanted to live. My husband gave me the Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford, and I thought this is what I want to do with my life; help others to help themselves.”

Why did you choose ION?

“I chose ION because it was recommended by Patrick Holford. I also had to continue to work and could not afford to do a full-time course. I truly enjoyed my time at ION, from the moment I started the science access course until the time I graduated.

“I submerged myself into a new world of health and possibilities. It was hard work, and there were many long nights doing assignments and reading, but I was doing something I loved and enjoyed. Looking back, it was the best investment I have ever made for me and for my family.”

What made you specialise in mental health?

“I had it clear in my mind that I wanted to work with cancer. My peers all wanted to specialise in children’s nutrition, thyroid health, weight loss, sports, etc., but I had lost dear friends and family to cancer and wanted to specialise in this area.

“After graduating, I supported adults with cancer and children with different issues; but whilst doing this, I began working at the Brain Bio Centre. I worked alongside Lorraine Perretta, a nutritional therapy practitioner with over 30 years’ experience in mental health, and became fascinated by how she was helping clients achieve mental health balance. I saw the profound effect that nutrition can have on mental health — not only on clients but also family and friends.

“I started to look at prevention, on ways of protecting children with a high predisposition to mental health problems, and then started to focus more and more on mental health.”

What is the best thing about being a nutritional therapist?

“Knowing that you are helping people regain control; that you are empowering them to make informed decisions about their health, and helping them to make achievable and sustainable changes.

“I love the idea that by helping my clients I am also helping their children and their future grandchildren — we are affecting nutrigenomics (the interaction of nutrition on genes) first hand. I hate that people often get defined by their mental health issues and tell them that their condition is not who they are, but rather just a hurdle to get over.”

What have been your career highlights?

“Helping clients achieve their goals and getting back to enjoying life. Seeing someone regain control and go back to having a relationship with their children or being able to get a job, or going back to university or just catching up at school.”

What would you say to those considering a similar career path?

“It’s a rewarding career; it will help your own health, your family’s health and your friends’ health. It is best to stay connected with your peers for support and to exchange ideas. If you want to specialise in a specific area, go for it, do not be afraid. It can be helpful to get a mentor or to work in an environment with other practitioners where you can exchange ideas. But remember that whatever you do, do it from your heart, give the best that you can to each and every one of your clients.”

And finally, what are your go-to meals and/or ingredients?

“I love flavour, so adding colour and taste to foods is what I like most. Coriander, parsley, ginger, garlic, chillies, avocados, pomegranates, mangoes, cashews all go on meals. I love mixing steamed and finely chopped vegetables for added nutritional value. I also love fish, lamb, frittatas, chickpea curries, Mexican and Peruvian food.”

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First published in Optimum Nutrition, spring 2022: Graduate Story.