Working at the intersection of climate change and medicine

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Working at the intersection of climate change and medicine


This winner of the 2022 Healthline Stronger Fellowship believes that integrative medicine will revolutionize the conventional understanding of health and disease.

From a young age, Rodrigo Bravo felt frustrated by the limitations of Western medicine. He lives with nephrotic syndrome, a type of kidney disease.

Doctors told Bravo at age 10 that his kidneys might never function properly and that his life could be shortened as a result of the condition.

But they couldn’t tell him what caused the condition. Some doctors suspected an environmental factor (such as a toxin) was involved, although the exact culprit is still a mystery.

In the end, Bravo spontaneously recovered from the illness, but the experience stayed with him.

He realized that Western medicine must begin to consider other aspects of a person’s life—such as nutrition, stress, environment, and even subconscious trauma—to better understand disease and find new ways to promote healing.

Now a public health advocate and physician-in-training, Bravo hopes to gain an even deeper understanding of integrative medicine. The goal: to help people better manage the health consequences of climate change.

The 28-year-old will begin his first year of graduate studies at Yale University this fall. He plans to start a consulting business to help health centers create integrative medicine programs — and one day run his own clinics.

“I am an example of the radical healing that can occur as a result of the unity of mind and body, and I am so excited to bring that to everyone,” he said.

We asked Bravo about his training, goals and obstacles. Here’s what he said.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length and clarity.

My lifelong passion for helping others heal was inspired by the illnesses I experienced in my early life.

Throughout my childhood and into my mid-20s, I suffered from a number of rare and chronic conditions that Western medicine could not resolve.

At the age of 10, I was told that my kidneys might never function properly and that my life expectancy would likely be shortened.

It wasn’t until I looked into integrative and holistic medicine that I discovered life-changing solutions to my own health. I quickly began asking questions about how we could improve the healthcare system for others in a similar position.

I grew up with a model of Western medicine that failed to consider the role of things like nutrition, lifestyle, stress and environment, all of which can affect disease and overall well-being.

It also failed to consider subconscious trauma, spiritual health, and the mind-body connection, which seemed critical to me. These elements are the bread and butter of the rapidly growing field of integrative medicine.

My goal is to help the allopathic (or Western) model of medicine better incorporate these aspects of health and wellness into patient care.

During and after my time at Harvard, I ran a marketing accelerator called BAST Marketing Lab that helped startups that were focused on social and planetary good. It was later reborn as Bee Positive, an accelerator for integrative medicine initiatives.

I was in the middle of implementing Reiki and biofield medicine (a type of complementary and alternative medicine) at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in Georgia when COVID-19 hit, which unfortunately put the project on the back burner.

Meanwhile, I started medical school and began researching neurotechnology, neuro- and bio-feedback, and technology-facilitated mind-body medicine. I helped launch Supermind, a startup focused on mental health. It uses neurotechnology to address psychological conditions through brainwave training.

In the future, I plan to launch Bravo Conscious Health, a consulting business to help health centers expand their integrative medicine programs and clinics.

I will also debut my own sustainable clinics that will offer therapies based on the science of psychoneuroimmunology. It is the study of how thoughts, beliefs, and emotions affect the functioning of the nervous and immune systems.

A new era of mindful medicine is trying to emerge in the United States as we catch up with older cultures that have understood and practiced the power of the mind-body connection and transpersonal psychology for thousands of years.

It seeks to revolutionize the basic understanding of health and disease. It also comes with an agenda to resolve social and planetary injustices.

Concepts such as spiritual health, emotional health, and climate change are fundamental to understanding individual health. But they have often been left out of the conversations people have with their doctors and health care team.

To inspire the next era of medicine, we will need to educate people about what it means to incorporate planetary, transpersonal, and emotional well-being into health care. We will also need to influence policy decisions and incorporate these ideas into modern healthcare.

Overcoming these obstacles will require a deeper understanding of current issues. We will also need collaboration between change agents and leaders who want to see evolution in allopathic medicine.

I have been interested in global health since I was young and living with nephrotic syndrome, a poorly understood condition that affects the kidneys.

No one knows exactly what caused my condition or why I eventually recovered spontaneously. However, doctors have considered the possibility of a link to something in the environment, such as a toxin, an infectious disease exacerbated by the climate, or radiation exposure while my mother was pregnant with me in Bolivia.

However, my happy ending is not common – especially among those who live in places with limited access to nutritious food and clean drinking water.

Now, as a public health advocate and physician-in-training in one of the sunniest places in the United States, I have already seen the effects of climate change on the community. I am seeing more cases of heat related conditions like heat stroke and dehydration.

It is important to note that a changing climate can also affect mental health. My work at Supermind involves using neurotechnology to support mental health.

As we prepare for a future in which mental illness will be exacerbated by extreme weather and natural disasters, I am compelled to continue working at the intersection of climate change and medicine.

Our bodies reflect what is happening inside us as well as in our surroundings. Those who are already experiencing the health effects of climate change are helping us achieve a course correction.

They are proof that our current terms of engagement with Mother Earth are not working and we need a change in science and policy.

I would encourage people to write to their elected officials and legislators about their political concerns and ask them to prioritize environmental health. You can also include letters from your doctors explaining the relationship between your medical conditions and the changing climate.

Sharing personal stories on social media can also be a powerful way to support environmental activism. You can also find other opportunities to get involved through advocacy groups.

Finally, I would encourage people to vote at every opportunity and urge their family and friends to vote for the health of the planet and the environment.


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