Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac.

Unconventional Medicine: The Solution to our Health Crisis

Date Aired: November 3, 2017

Episode Description

Chris’ new book, Unconventional Medicine. The world is facing the greatest healthcare crisis it has ever seen. Chronic disease is shortening our lifespan, destroying our quality of life, bankrupting governments, and threatening the health of future generations. Sadly, conventional medicine, with its focus on managing symptoms, has failed to address this challenge. The result is burned-out physicians, a sicker population, and a broken healthcare system. Chris Kresser, as detailed in his new book Unconventional Medicine, presents a plan to reverse this dangerous trend. He shows how the combination of a genetically aligned, ancestral diet and lifestyle, Functional Medicine, and a lean, collaborative practice model can create a system that better serves the needs of both patients and practitioners. The epidemic of chronic illness can be stopped, if patients and practitioners can adapt.

Unconventional medicine
Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac.


Conventional Medicine

  • Conventional medicine good at infection, trauma, emergency
  • Conventional medicine is not good at chronic disease
  • In 1900s  (when paradigm evolved) main diseases were pneumonia, TB, typhoid
    • people went to doctors for acute situations
  • Acute problems not biggest problem: 7/10 deaths by chronic death

 The acute approach with chronic diseases does not work

  • chronic diseases are complex and last for a life time.
  • patients may have multiple problems seeing a different doctor for each part of the body
  • our system has short appointment times
  • Is it a victory if they spend the last 15 years incontinent in a wheel chair ?
    • We would choose to live these last 15 years in a healthy state
    • Have to look at quality of life not quantity
    • Quality of life diminishing as diagnoses occur at earlier and earlier age
    • Robert Lustig points out that the health system prolongs the time of dying

 Costs of Conventional Medicine

  •  US spends 3.2 trillion dollars on health care per year (18 % GNP)
  • $10,000 for every person in the US
  • Us ranks last in many health measures
  • Medical care is third leading cause of death in the US
    • As only 5 – 20 % medical errors are reported, if these errors were included, medical care would be he leading cause of death in the US (Starfield, JAMA 2000. 284(4):483
  • 1/2 Americans have chronic disease
  • 1/4 Americans have multiple chronic diseases
  • almost 30 % of children have a chronic disease
    • it was 13 % of the children in 1994
    • This is first generation of children that are expected to live less than their parents.
  • 86 % health care dollar on chronic disease
  • If the US continues on its current path, the US will be
  • bankrupt by 2035

Health Insurance is not the same as health care

  • Health insurance is not the same as healthcare
  • health insurance is only a matter of paying
  • health insurance is not the same as health care
  • there is no method that would pay for choice disease at the current rate of increase
  • We need not to manage disease after it occurs, but we need to focus on prevention and reversing it
    • The US health care system is not set up to investigate the cause of disease
      • The US health care system is set up to apply band-aids to the symptoms of diseases
      • As an example, for a rock in the shoe, the conventional system would prescribe pain meds
        • What is needed is to take the shoe off
      • 2500 years ago, there was a Chines saying  “The wise physician treats disease before it occurs”
      • Ben Franklin “An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

 The example of diabetes

  • The cost to care for a diabetic patient is $14,000 per year
  • If a person is diagnosed with diabetes at age 40, the cost of treating his diabetes can be over $500,000 through out his life time
    • 1/3 of us have prediabetes
    •  100 million in the US have diabetes or prediabetes
    • 88 % of prediabetes don’t know they have it
    • It takes only five years to progress form prediabetes to diabetes
    • The US cannot afford this expense
  • Diabetes is a continuum, progression, a spectrum
  • The Western health care system  waits until it is too late
  • Diabetes confers four times the risk of heart disease and doubles risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • It is manageable at an early stage and can be reversed before hand requires effort
    • The allopathic system does not support the interventions that have the greatest impact
      • The current system prescribes metformin and vague info about life style
      • The insurance company subsidizes the metformin
        • the insurance company values  drug
        • The current system is reimbursement based medicine
    • An alternative approach would include
      • A health coach to
        • Visit the home
        • Go grocery shopping at least once with the patient
        • check in every week with patient
      • pay for gym membership with six sessions
    • Cost savings of the alternative approach
      • $10,000- $15,000 cost up front
      • save 615,000 over the lifetime of patient

Suggested changes

  • Need to rearrange priorities from managing disease after it occurs to prevention
    • That is move from an acute, symptom based approach to the treatment of chronic diseases
    • We are deeply entrenched by financial interests
      • The pharmaceutical companies benefit when you buy drugs
      • insurance companies make money when health expenditures increase
  • We need to realign incentives to make the right choice for the right reason
    • We are now rewarded
      • to see the most people in the shortest period of time
      • to order procedures.
  • We need new payment models
  • We need to address conflict of interest in medical research
    • 2/3 studies sponsored by pharmaceutical companies
  • He sees these changes first occurring on a local level
    • Aurora health utilizes on health coaches to reverse type II diabetes
    • Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine

  •  Views body holistically rather than a bunch of functioning parts
  • Address the root cause of disease rather than suppressing symptoms
    • For example a leaking boat
      • Can bail water
      • Functional medicine approach: find the leaks, plug them up and fix them

 Example of diabetes

  • Is 100 % preventable
  • Not caused by genes alone
    • Type II diabetes is not caused at all by diabetes
    • Modern hunter gatherers have no diabetes
  • Contributing factors
    • diet
    • sleep deprivation 2nd cause
      • 1/3 Americans get fewer than 6 hours sleep
      • 2 % in 1965
      • Inducing sleep deprivation for 8 nights leads to increase 566 calories per day which is equivalent to gaining a pound a week
    • Changes in physical activity
      • Decline in non exercise physical activity
      • Hunter gatherers
        • walked 10,000 steps per day (5 miles) with briefer periods of more intensive exercise
        • They don’t sit for long periods of time
        • They are always moving
        • The Average Americans sit six hours per day
    • Environmental  Toxins
      • BPA

Mismatch between biology / genes and lifestyle / diet

  • E.g., cats are carnivores
    • They don’t eat grains or vegetables
    • Need species appropriate diet
  • Computer screens at night
    • We have evolved in natural 24 hour light –dark cycle
      • This impacts our circadian clock
        • impacts every cell
          • Hormone levels
          • Immune function
          • Cell regulation
          • Metabolism
          • Brain wave cycle
        • Controls 10 – 15 % of gene expression
      • When exposed to light at night, this suppresses melatonin
        • Needed to fall asleep and stay asleep
        • Blue light from computer is like light and throws off circadian rhythms leading to adverse health effects
          • Don’t s late at night
          • Wear amber glasses to block blue light
          • Computers are changing so computer shifts to a warmer tint at night
  • Ancestral Diet
    • Nutrient dense and anti inflammatory, naturally low in calories
    • Meat, fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, starchy plans, tubers
      • Intuits ate a higher percentage of fat
      • South Pacific ate high percentage of calories from fruits and sweet potatoes

 American diet

  • Processed, refined foods
  • High in calories
  • Proinflammatory
  • Nutrient poor
  • Adversely affects gut health
  • Top six foods in US diet
    • Grain based desserts (cookies, cakes)
    • Bread
    • Alcohol
    • Sugar sweetened beverages
    • Pizza
    • Chicken dishes (nuggets, fried chicken

Gut Health and Disease

  • The American diet adversely affects gut health
    • Naturally high in calories, proinflammatory, nutrient poor
    • Disturbs gut health which can set off path towards chronic diseases
  • Hippocrates said “All disease begin in the gut”
  • Gut health connected to autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, and heart disease
  • All bodily systems impacted by gut health
    • When we eat processed and refined foods, we feed potentially pathogenic microbes in gut which secrete toxins which cause intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
    • With a permeable gut, toxins large molecules escape from the intestines to the blood stream this triggers an immune response
    • Possible results of a “leaky gut”
      • An autoimmune response
        • Dr. Alessio Fasano argues that intestinal permeability is a precondition to diabetes
        • He state one cannot develop an autoimmune disease without a leaky gut
      • Skin conditions such as acne eczema, rosacea, psoriasis
      • Brain health
        • Gut is second brain with its own nervous system
        • “Fire in the gut, fire in the brain”
        • Cytokine Depression
          • Depression possibly caused by inflammation in the gut which goes into brain and affects the frontal cortex
        • Anxiety
        • Alzheimer’s disease
          • Every 60 seconds someone in US “comes down” with Alzheimer’s disease


  • Chronic Disease is the biggest challenge we face
  • Conventional medicine has failed to address this adequately and cannot in its current configuration
  • Primary drives of chronic disease are diet and behavioural change, and life style
  • We need a new system to address it
  • Information and education alone are not enough to promote behavioural change
    • Most people know what they should be doing
      • Most people do not know how to change
        • We are not taught how to do so
        • Clinicians don’t know how to help
      • We are pre programmed to seek out foods high in calories (helps survive during periods of food scarcity
    • Need to teach behavioural changes
    • Need to look at food environment
      • switching to smaller plates