Gustavo Rodríguez
Founder & CEO
Startup Contributor

The Rise of Unconventional Medicine

By Gustavo Rodríguez | Wed, 11/03/2021 - 12:57

Imagine an approach to healthcare that prevents and reverses chronic disease, instead of just managing it; an approach that offers a true understanding of the patient’s underlying cause of disease and treating it as a biological interconnected system; an evidence-based model that integrates nutritionists, specialists, and other health professionals to help patients make lasting diet, lifestyle, and behavioral changes, reducing the cost of healthcare for governments, insurance companies, organizations, and individuals; an approach that considers an interplay of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of each patient and also offers inspiring, meaningful, and rewarding work to doctors and other health professionals.

While this may sound like the romanticized medicine model we have all been yearning for, it’s possible with a new approach to medicine that treats the root causes of diseases, instead of always using band-aids or hoping for a magic pill that will make chronic disease disappear. Chronic disease is a slow-motion plague that is sabotaging our population´s health, destroying our quality of life, shortening our life span, causing enormous expenditure for our governments, and threatening the health of future generations. We desperately need a new approach to healthcare that can address the challenges we face and a movement by healthcare professionals to learn about this approach, adopt their medical practice and start healing our population.

Conventional medicine is structured to address trauma, acute infection, and end-of-life care, not specifically to keep people healthy. Our healthcare paradigm evolved during a time when the Top 3 causes of death were all acute, infectious diseases: influenza, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. In 1900, people might have visited a doctor for an accident or injury, a gallbladder attack or appendicitis, or an infection, not because you had an autoimmune condition, chronic disease, metabolic syndrome, leaky gut, food sensitivities, chronic inflammation or any hormone imbalance. Early in the 20th century, antibiotics revolutionized the treatment of infections. Previously unimaginable cures became common. If patients had an infection, they took an antibiotic and shortly thereafter were cured. Cause and effect seemed easy to understand. The “one disease, one treatment” mentality was applied to other medical procedures as well, such as surgery. Surgery seemed efficient — if a person had appendicitis, surgical removal would fix the problem — and was highly celebrated. Surgeons made amazing discoveries and began saving lives with their new techniques. People who once had no hope could now survive, if they had access to the right surgeon and medications.

Today, the healthcare landscape has changed dramatically. Seven of the Top 10 causes of death are chronic diseases (WHO 2019). Cancer has increased at an accelerated pace, and is the fourth-leading cause of death in Mexico (INEGI 2021). Today’s patients have multiple problems, see multiple doctors, and require multiple treatments that go on for years or even for a lifetime. Another reason that conventional medicine hasn’t been successful is that it focuses on suppressing symptoms rather than addressing the underlying cause of disease. Our current medical paradigm is based on managing disease and suppressing symptoms rather than preventing and reversing disease, or promoting health.

The rise of unconventional medicine refers to a new approach: functional medicine. Functional medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual's illness. It consists of a comprehensive evidence-based framework for medicine that incorporates modern understanding of the body as a complex adaptive system, an integrated biological ecosystem, an interdependent, web-like network of biological functions. Rather than focusing on treating the disease, functional medicine aims to develop a personalized treatment plan based on individual biochemistry, lifestyle and genetic predisposition. Patients and healthcare professionals work together to address these underlying imbalances and promote optimal wellness in the long term.

Functional medicine guides the health professional to a more comprehensive view of the whole body, not just organs separately – the whole system, not just the symptoms. This medicine approach also provides a practical clinical framework for how the body’s physiological systems are linked together and how their functions are influenced by both environment (diet, lifestyle, microbes, allergens, toxins, sleep, stress) and genetics (Loscalzo et al. 2007). Applied in practice, it can more effectively prevent, treat, and often cure chronic conditions at lower cost, through a new way of seeing disease based on underlying causes and by developing treatment models that can restore balance within dysfunctional biological systems and networks.

Conventional medicine can shift to applied systems medicine — personalized, predictive, preventative, and participatory (Snyderman and Langheier 2006). Most chronic disease is preventable, and much of it is reversible, if a comprehensive, individualized approach addressing genetics, gut microbiota, hormones and neurotransmitters behavior, food sensitivities, mental health, environmental exposures, oxidative stress, exercise and nutrition is implemented through integrated clinical teams based on emerging research.

At one time, it seemed that genetics would hold the key to solving chronic disease. Recent studies, however, have found that 84 percent of the risk of chronic disease is not genetic but environmental and behavioral (Rappaport 2016). Our genes do play a role in determining which diseases we’re predisposed to developing but the choices we make about diet, physical activity, sleep, stress management and other lifestyle factors are far more important determinants of our health. A new field of study and application is now attracting enormous attention from health professionals: epigenetics. Epigenetics studies how a person’s behavior and the environment (external factors) can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. These external factors are lifestyle habits (nutrition, sleep, stress, exercise), trauma, infections, toxins, heavy metals, radiations, and other factors we’re exposed in our daily life.

There’s no doubt that functional medicine is the future of medicine and it’s now evident with the significant changes in populations treated by this approach. It’s an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. Health professionals are being certified in functional medicine practice and have widely spread worldwide. Unfortunately, it’s still not covered by insurance due to the fact that insurance-based medicine is built around the concept of labeling a reimbursable diagnostic code (diagnosis) and then finding the medications or procedure to match. I hope that soon, insurance companies will start evaluating the cost effectiveness of functional medicine for patients, health professionals and organizations, as it focuses on prevention and health-promoting lifestyle changes and sustainable treatments that address the underlying causes of dysfunction, restoring patients to health.

Note: One case of success in Mexico that has adopted functional medicine is nutriADN ( It started in 2016 by adopting personalized nutrition based on genetics and lifestyle for its patients. In 2021, it opened a second clinic for on-site nutrition, exercise and psychology consultations and innovative lab testing. It has developed and trained a network of health professionals throughout Mexico and Latin America to understand and adopt the different areas in functional medicine: genetics, epigenetic markers, food sensitivities/allergies, hormones behavior, composition of the microbiota, heavy metals, gut health and other habits, such as stress management, mental health and sleep. The integration of these areas creates a functional medicine approach. This model has helped thousands of patients to recover from disease, optimize their health and adapt a lifestyle based on their unique profile.

Photo by:   NutriADN