My guest today is a professor of biochemistry, best-selling author, and known as the worldwide founder of the functional medicine movement Dr. Jeffrey Bland. Dr. Bland has been focusing on the improvement of human health for more than four decades. His latest passion is advocating for the power of immuno-rejuvenation. Did you know that it’s possible to have a new immune system every eight weeks? The more I do this show the more I realize that with the right information and practice we have an even greater impact on our health than we realize. Just like our biological age can be younger or older than our chronological age. Dr. Bland is sharing how the same is true for our immune system. Enjoy
Listen to the episode here:
- A Collection of Fourth of Julys [00:03:53]
- Why Functional Medicine? [00:07:20]
- SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) [00:10:32]
- The Immune System [00:13:14]
- Immune System Part 1: Innate Immune System [00:19:03]
- Immune System Part 2: Adaptive Immune System [00:23:00]
- Your Book of Life: Genes Testing [00:30:02]
- Gut Brain Connection [00:38:30]
- Immuno Identity Questionnaire [00:44:06]
- The Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat [00:46:07]
- 2-HOBA [00:52:57]
- Food Plan, Not Diet [00:55:28]
- PRM (Proresolving Mediators) [01:00:25]
- Guiding Lights as a Partner [01:07:17]
- Parenting (and Grandparenting) Experiences [01:10:43]
The Founder of Functional Medicine | Dr. Jeffrey Bland
The most recent breakthrough information that is exciting is that the immune system is reversible in terms of the way that it has been damaged, injured, or scarred, and that we can rejuvenate it. The body has processes that are built within it that allow that to happen. If we didn’t have those processes we collect so much injury in our immune system within a few years, we probably wouldn’t be able to survive. How do we build our resilience? How do we build our reserve? It’s all about reserve because there is no human being who has escaped life without trauma, some more than others. The way that you manage trauma is by building resilience. The most important resilience you can build is in your immune system.
Welcome to the show. My guest is Dr. Jeffrey Bland. He started his career as a professor of biochemistry. For a long time since the ‘90s, he has been working in functional medicine and the functional medicine movement. His latest focus has been on the power of immuno-rejuvenation. What does that mean? It’s the way that our body and our immune system are turning over. Let’s say we did everything perfectly. You could have a new immune system in eight weeks.
Dr. Bland, who has authored a ton of best-selling books and has over 120 peer-reviewed research publications, talks extensively on this topic. Not is it how we’re using phytonutrients and using food and plants as power but how is our microbiome communicating with our immune system? What are the things we can do to support our microbiome?
About 60% of our immune system is a reflection of the health of our microbiome. Since 2018, he’s locked and loaded. He’s got a new project called Big Bold Health. He’s advocating for the power of immuno-rejuvenation and how to enhance immunity not only for you individually but at a global level whether it’s regenerative agriculture or being a better environmental steward of planetary health.
In this day and age, with things feeling out of control, it’s that reminder to quiet things back down and almost to focus on the things that we can control. Taking better care of ourselves and doing it specifically in specific ways to support not only our microbiome but ultimately our immune systems. We’re all interested in that.
I bring it up in the podcast, in your bone marrow, every ten seconds, you make 1 million new white blood cells. Yes, we have scarring that we pass on in our immune system and ourselves and we have all these things that happen. If we can start to move in the direction strategically to do the right things, we can genuinely rejuvenate our immune system. I hope there’s something in here for you to take away and use in your real and everyday life. Enjoy.
Dr. Jeffrey Bland, thank you for meeting me. I wish these ones were in person. I’ll take what I can get.
Thank you, Gabby.
How was your holiday?
It was a goosebump experience because I spent it with my kids and grandkids. We were doing something that we have never done before on the 4th, which was to think back in each of our lives as to the meritorious 4th of July and what stood out the most for us. My grandchildren are older. They range from 12 to 19. They have a few 4th of July under their belt, whereas my kids have decades. I have more decades than I want to talk about.
It was quite fun to see that what it came down to was the association we had a shared experience in celebrating our evolution as a family. It was cool. The fireworks were great. We talked about different places we’ve been to and different experiences that we’ve had. To distill it down, it was the shared experience of watching us all grow up together and see how our memories work. Some were fun. Some 4th of July had more issues associated with them but it was all part of an evolving family. It was a fun experience.
We have holidays, Christmas, and all these things but there’s something about summertime, hot, picnic-y food, that energy of summer, and then the family all getting together and that energy isn’t a unique gathering.
I did a fun thing. We live close to a state park that allows camping on the beach. I rode my bike down there. I go down there quite frequently because I like to hang up when the sun is setting. I like particularly going down there on holiday periods because you’ve got all these families, some in tents, some in motorhomes, and some in trailers of different types. Everybody’s out there around their campfires. It’s cool to see what socialization occurs among different generations. When you get outside, you get away from the noise and you are able to talk about what’s important.
[bctt tweet=”Slowing the digestive process gives a lot more harmony to your body’s rhythm.”]
Speaking of that, Dr. Bland, that’ll be the simplest part of the conversation that you and I have talking about family if that says anything. People always hear about functional medicine. For me and my personal journey in medicine, I was fortunate enough to get introduced to this idea of functional medicine. It was maybe Mark Hyman.
You’ve been at this a long time. Before, people thought of it as, “You have a doctor that practices one way.” Thank goodness, we have people like yourself where there’s maybe a bigger opportunity to pay attention to some of the other parts of our health that maybe not only will help us heal but maybe keep us out of trouble. First, I’d love to ask you, why functional medicine? When you had the choice in the ‘60s to get ready to take this path, what inside of you has the courage to do it a little bit differently?
It segues nicely from the reflection on the 4th of July. Each of us has certain periods of our life where we go by a little bit of a way station and we ask ourselves, “I’ve come to this way station. Where do I want to go from here?” It’s a branching point. For me, having been in medical school, getting a PhD, and then getting a job during the Vietnam War, which was not easy to get an academic job during that period of time and having a young family, I had a pivotal experience with my wife that was a life-changer.
When I came to my first job, having finished up all that education, excited to start being a professor of biochemistry at this university, being new to the community, only having been there a few days and not even understanding the geography. I woke up one morning to find our infant son who was four years of age dead in his crib. That was a pretty strong experience that I only know some can talk about rationally. He had died of what was called at the time Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We have a much better understanding of that today than we did years ago.
I made a decision that if I could direct my career to whatever I was going to do on the planet to help one set of parents or one child to avoid that outcome it would be a life well served. It made me open to all sorts of new ideas. It took the blinders off of that saying, “You learn certain things. You do exactly what you’re told. You follow the rules. You get certain advantages because you’re being a good boy or girl.”
I made the decision that I want to find a path that might be in places that I would not have learned about that could help other people to avoid this problem. I was open to all new ideas. That was a transformational experience. His name was Kurt. Every year, on his birthday, our family has a celebration because it set me and our whole family free to open ourselves to new ideas. That then later became things like considering functional medicine and the like. That was the motivation for the last 50 years of my life.
It’s funny, Dr. Bland. I always feel like the greatest places we reach always feel like we get catapulted there by something almost feeling impossible. You see that story over and over and none of us want to go through it and yet, it feels like that’s the thing that launches us into these other places. If you don’t mind me asking, what are some of the things that we know now that we didn’t know about SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
This ties to what we’re doing right now with this new thing I’ve put together Big Bold Health. It relates to the immune system. This particular child had a sensitive immune system from the time he was born. He had atopy and was hypersensitive to the world around him. We’ve learned that there may be many actual specific causes of SIDS but they all seem to tie together with some immunological hyperimmune function. That then leads to respiratory distress and other complications that can be life-threatening.
It always raised the question in my mind, where do we get our immune system? How does it get poisoned? How does it serve us well or sometimes not as well as we’d like? He was born to the same parents that have three other boys, none of who had that problem. You might say, what is the uniqueness? Those are the things that set you in motion to try to answer the complex question. Of all the parts of the body, the immune system is certainly one of the more complex. It is extraordinarily powerful for us but it’s also very complex in its understanding.
I appreciate even the fact that you talk about this rejuvenation of the immune system. A lot of people go through things in our medical health and, God forbid, were diagnosed with something. All of a sudden, we identify with that. We think that’s who we are forever and ever. You talk a lot about immune rejuvenation and some of the things we can do and regeneration. A lot of times, we hear the words inflammation. We think all things come from inflammation.
The other part of it is whether your immune system is either under-reacting or overreacting. I know you get sciency, which I appreciate. I might try to dumb it down here and there. First of all, when people hear immune system, it’s a series of things, it’s your microbiome, your communication system, and your transport system. Maybe you could explain a little bit first what makes up the immune system and then we can talk about the exciting part of the fact that we can even set ages, rejuvenate, or regenerate our immune system.
Thank you. It’s a good question. A lot of what I’m going to talk about, quite honestly, is fairly recent in its understanding. This is a field that’s rapidly expanding in the field of immunology, the science of immunology. As you say, dumbing this down and trying to make it accessible sometimes is a challenge because there is so much technical stuff coming up.
With that said, The major understanding that we now have of the immune system is it’s 1 of the only 3 places in our body where inside activities communicate with the outside world, 24/7, 365. The other two parts of our body that do that are our nervous system and our mucosal barrier defense systems. The epithelium that lines our intestinal tract, lines our respiratory tract, and the relationship they have to the microbiome.
There’s a microbiome not only in our intestinal tract but there’s a microbiome in the mucosal tissues that line our respiratory tract. By the way, they talk to one another interestingly enough. Chronic obstructive lung diseases like asthma and so forth tie together with dysbiosis and changes in our gut microbiome and our intestinal defense mechanisms.
If you didn’t think of these, there are three ways that our inside body is connected to the outside world getting information all the time. Which of those three is most able to change rapidly? That’s an interesting question. It’s a little bit sciency. It turns out that our immune system remakes itself about every two months.
People don’t probably understand that the immune cells in our body right now that are floating around doing seek and destroy defense for us are not the same immune cells that will be present in our body a couple of months from now. Some of these immune cells have lifetimes that are in days, very short lifetimes.
The question is, the immune cells that are going to come to replace those that they’re going to take the presence of, are they as good, better, or worse than the ones that they are replacing? It turns out, for a lot of people, unfortunately, as they collect bad experiences in their life from exposures to toxins, poor quality diets, or toxic stress, those things may make their immune system’s new cells less resilient and less functional than those that they’re replacing. Injured or scarred is the term that’s often used in immunology. They remember scarring as we would scar on our skins.
The question then as you pointed out, is that an irreversible process? Once you have a scarred immune system, is that a legacy? “Shame on you. The rest of your life, you’re going to have that problem.” The most recent breakthrough information that is exciting is that the immune system is reversible in terms of the way that it has been damaged, injured, or scarred, and that we can rejuvenate it. The body has processes that are built within it that allow that to happen. If we didn’t have those processes we collect so much injury in our immune system within a few years, we probably wouldn’t be able to survive.
Our immune system has a recuperative ability. The problem is that the way we’ve been living often doesn’t properly support our ability to rejuvenate our immune system. We collect injuries and we can’t get rid of them as quickly as we’d like. Over time, our immune system ages, that’s called immunosenescence. Now our resilience goes down and our aging birthdays may be less than the age of our immune system. That then doesn’t lend us well in defending against all these things that we’ve got to unexpected events that we’re exposed to.
We’re going to get into how food is medicine and using food, lifestyle, and things like that. Let’s say, for example, people have stressful jobs and lives. Even now, it feels like the world is a bit upside down more than usual. 60% of the immune systems in your microbiome and it’s complicated. You get into gut health and it’s like, “How do you get that all evened out?”
Maybe we could start at a starting point and start with the things that you can see and control like how you respond to stress. Maybe adding exercise. Do you have any practice yourself? You’re in a connected family. You hear people always talking about connection. A big part of the support for our health is that connectivity with people. Do you personally have any stillness practice for yourself?
For me, honestly, my exercise time is my stillness practice. I know it sounds crazy but it’s all about me. I only have so much time in the day. It’s like, “I’m not going to be able to meditate under a tree and then go bang iron. It’s not going to happen.” People don’t realize that you can use certain things also to support you. Let’s say we have lifestyles. We have these relationships. We have how we manage stress, our sleep habits, our hydration, food, and exercise. Because you do a lot of things, I was wondering if you have any extra little things that you do that have been supportive for you.
Thank you. I’m not sure if what I’m going to share are earth-shaking and paradigm-shifting. Let me give you some insight as to how I see applying the things to my own life that is the focus of what we’re trying to understand more about. I go back to the fact that every one of our immune systems is composed of two different components, one is our early warning system which is the first responder and it is there to jump on any problem as quickly as it can. That’s called our innate immune system.
It turns out that this 1 of 2 different parts of our immune system has been trivialized by immunologists over many years. The reason for it is it is ancient. You can find this same system in old organisms. Even in micro organisms, there is a comparable innate immune system. It’s simple. In bacteria, it’s called CRISPR. This gene-editing thing you’ve heard about, that’s how the bacteria protects itself in its immune system.
It turns out that plants also have an innate immune system, which is interesting. I’ll talk more about how plants’ innate immune system is connected to humans’ immune systems. The innate immune system is where I start thinking every day about, “Is my first responder group happy? Are they getting the things that they need to be vigilant?” They don’t need a break and take a vacation. They’re there to be a first responder to anything that might be seen as a potential offender. It’s not just viruses and bacteria, it could be chemicals. It could be various types of debris. It could be bad food than principles.
Our innate immune system is now being seen only recently to be a lot more responsive than we used to think of it when we thought of it as this ancient system that sits there like this guy in the infantry who goes through its work. Now we recognize that you can train your innate immune system. Like we can train our bodies and our cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness can be trained so can we train our innate immune system.
We can train our innate immune system by utilizing metabolism because the function of our innate immune system called Immuno metabolism is intimately hardwired to our body’s ability to produce and effectively manage energy. We then think about, where does energy produce themselves? It’s produced in the energy powerhouse of the cell that’s called the mitochondria. The mitochondria are very rich in innate immune system cells like macrophages and monocyte-dendritic cells. The players in this innate immune system have a lot of energetic machinery.
Let’s say that we’re worn out and tired, we’re overly stressed, we’re not eating well, we’re not getting good sleep, and we’re sitting around worrying all the time and not getting any activity. All that energy machinery in your innate immune system is going to be affected in an adverse way. It’s not going to be fit. If you didn’t do any exercise, your muscles and bones would be affected adversely. What I think about every day is, “Am I doing my first responders the job that they expect me to do to keep them fit?”
Does that mean that am I consciously awakening each day with the thought that I’ve got this magnificent system there to work on my behalf 24/7 and 365? They’re asking me to make sure I’m responsible for them because it’s a partnership. That’s an attitudinal thing. It’s more than this specific intervention. It’s an attitude of belief, assumption, a way of thinking, and maybe even as you want to be a joy of life about how you want to support your innate immune system. That would be my first philosophical consideration.
Secondly, what’s the second part of our immune system? That is this system that we have said is intelligent. It’s called the adaptive immune system. The adaptive immune system is interwoven with the innate immune system. They’re not totally separate. They crosstalk through certain immune cells called T lymphocytes.
The adaptive immune system has a responsibility for remembering what we’ve been exposed to so that we’ll have an ability to respond more quickly the next time we’re exposed. That’s where our memory effective immunity comes from. That’s when we take a vaccination. What we’re trying to do is to enhance our memory of that event so the next time we’re exposed, we will have their proper immune defensive response.
That particular system produces what are called antibodies. Antibodies are specific proteins that have a memory effect of having been exposed to a specific event that could be injurious to our bodies and can be mobilized upon need later. The adaptive immune system is intelligent and produces a wide collection of antibodies that is a record. It’s almost a biography of the things that we have been exposed to and how our body has responded.
There’s an interesting part of that story that’s emerging as it relates to children. As parents, over the years, we have become more and more concerned about exposing our children to things that might be injurious like things that live in the soil or things that live in water. I’m talking about bugs. We’ve tried to make our environment completely sterile. In so doing, as we sterilize the environment for our children, our adaptive immune system never learns any lessons. It sits there saying, “I’m living in an idealistic world with nothing to activate me.”
When that child grows up a little bit and they’re inevitably going to be exposed, they have not had the opportunity to teach either their innate immune system to train them or the communication of the innate immune system with the adaptive immune system to be vigilant. There’s no memory of that experience and now it overflows the response because the body said, “This is something new. I got to call out the guard.”
It’s this concept of rewilding our environment. We make sure that we get down on the ground. We get into the wild. We experience nature. We have pets, which are not aseptic unless we’re sterilizing our pets, hopefully not. It’s the things that expose us to things that don’t cause us to be sick but get our immune system trained so that it is on guard already for future exposure.
Let me talk about one last part of this, which has emerged in the last few years. It is probably completely antithetical to the way that many parents have thought about raising their children and that has to do with allergies and foods. Let’s use an extreme example, peanuts. There has been a legitimately high concern about peanut allergy. In extreme cases, it can be life-threatening. It can cause detrimental anaphylaxis in a child who is extremely peanut-allergic. Maybe a little less dramatic example would be gluten.
[bctt tweet=”Our food is information for our genes.”]
There are many parents that are making the decision that they want to remove all these potential antigens like milk, eggs, soy, wheat, or anything that looks like it might have an allergy potential to remove it from exposure to that child’s diet. When I’m talking about children, I’m not talking about infants. Infants are a little bit different. The first year of life, that’s the early stage of developing the immune system. You want to keep away from anything that’s a hard hitter.
After the first year of life, now it’s becoming more obvious. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet medical magazine were two papers talking about sensitizing children after the first year of life to low levels of various types of food antigens to get their bodies to be adapted to them. Even peanuts, giving them a low level of exposure. What they have found is that a low level of exposure then immunizes that child as they grow up to be more tolerant to those foods.
Maybe in our best intention to make the world completely free of anything that the immune system has to deal with, we’ve created a problem that is now being seen as these allergic autoimmune type problems later. Those are some of the things that are on my mind as it relates to how I try to lead my life. My family asked me when their grandkids were little what should they do. I said, “Be cautious but don’t be overly protective. You want your children to be exposed to some things so that their immune system will be fit.”
It’s interesting that we’re not playing outside. Little kids eat dirt. You climb trees. You get cut. You’re around pollens. Now, everyone’s on their phones and they’re inside. Everything is sterilized. To your point, I have a good friend whose son has quite a few food allergens and they are in an intensive and measured program where they will have weeks at a time that they’re introducing certain foods. They’ll be like, “He’s getting a tiny rash but he gets through it.” It’s also important for parents to know that stuff is out there where you can try to inoculate them against these things that maybe they can’t handle.
I want to bring up something where we talked about how, every two years, you have a new immune system. Let’s say someone’s reading this and they say, “I’m trying to get my health as organized as I can.” We can’t control everything. Who knows what’s in the air? I always get to the place where I tell people, “You can do what you can do. After that, if you stress out about air, water, all our food, you can make yourself crazy.” Stay proactive.
You do talk about people understanding their genetics and their microbiome as a nice starting point. I always think maybe people need a step-by-step. If we look at, “Are you doing the things in your sleep, and your exercise, all these things that we all know?” I always love it. People are up till 2:00 and drinking and being like, “I can’t lose any weight.” You go, “What do you want me to tell you?” They’re stressed out and you go, “Go outside, take a break, and go to bed.” Starting with your genetics and your microbiome, what do you find is an achievable way to enter and get a snapshot of maybe what people individually are working with?
There has been a lot of pushback from some people about getting your genes tested because they say, “It’s not going to tell me anything important. I’m going to have information I don’t know what to do with.” I don’t believe that that’s true. By people having their genes tested, what it will give them is the most valuable thing that they will ever own, and that is their book of life. Their book of life is coded in 23 chapters, half of which are written by your biological father and the other by your biological mother.
That book of life can be read in many different ways. You can read your book of life on the rim of the Grand Canyon in a beautiful sunrise or you can read your book of life in a hostile environment in war. That look of life, that same genes will perform differently. That book will look different in terms of its story. All of those stories are in our book of life. The stories of rage, pain, and fear, those stories are in our book of life. Also, the stories of love, understanding, acceptance, the things that come with oxytocin, and universal being, all of those things are in our book of life.
What chapters do you want to read? I would like to read in my book of life the chapters of enlightened self-development, fulfillment, love, passion, and compassion. I would like to infrequently read the chapters of hate, rage, fear, and danger. Those lighter chapters, the ones that I mentioned, are the chapters that are associated with a process in our body called inflammation. Inflammation comes from where? It comes from our immune system that’s gone awry. It comes from our immune system that feels endangered, unsafe, and not at home.
If you want to lower inflammation because we now see inflammation is embedded in every major disease, what you want to do is you want to send the right messages to your book of life that regulate your genes that express themselves in your immunity as being at home, friendly, and being peaceful. It’s not being alarmed and being in a dangerous state. How do you do that? Easier said than done, isn’t it? We do live in a complex world. People say, “Life is what happens in between our plans.” Our plans may be very peaceful but the life that’s dealt out to us at times may not be as peaceful as we like.
How do we build our resilience? How do we build our reserve? It’s all about reserve because there is no human being who has escaped life without trauma, some more than others. The way that you manage trauma is by building resilience. The most important resilience you can build is in your immune system. It resides in your heart, lungs, kidneys, and muscles.
The overarching part of your body that’s going to be constantly communicating with the outside world and telling you how much you need to be on edge is your immune system. This construct is that treating our immune system with respect. As we so do become a partner with our immune system to have the health outcomes that we desire, we then own our immune system, we’re not a victim of our immune system. To me, that is an important part of this process.
Going back to the first thing, your genes then tell you something about the architecture of your potential. It doesn’t tell you who you are, what you are, how you look and feel, but it tells you what you might be. The next step is to make your potential, which resides in your book of life, as optimally functional as possible through you treating the goodness of your genes with respect and keeping the alarm reactions at bay by putting them to rest because they don’t need to be activated.
People hear often about epigenetics and they don’t understand that we’ve all got this panel, which ones do you want to try to switch on, and which ones do we want to keep off? To your point, when people are hearing that over and over, it’s understanding that opportunity.
You said it beautifully. People often say, “Jeff, what you mentioned sounds very interesting but I don’t quite understand.” Let me go back to a simple point that everybody can understand. How did each of us start, every human being? Every human being started with a fertilized egg. One cell type, a fertilized egg, every human being.
You’re going to say, “Hold on, just a minute I see it here, no matter what age we are or what gender, I’m made up of all sorts of cells of different types and have different personalities. My skin is different than cells in my eyes and are different from the cells in my lungs and so forth.” That’s true but they all came from the same genetic information that was in your single egg, your fertilized egg, you.
How did that happen? It happened because in the development of you as a fetus and going into becoming an infant, each stage of that development led to only portions of your book of life being expressed. It‘s the portion that was going to be related to the development of that nervous tissue, the skin tissue, or muscle tissue.
You differentiated your body into these different components. How did that process occur? It occurred by your genes being marked epigenetically. By certain processes, it regulated what would be expressed in that cell and not in another cell. Your liver cell has a different set of messages it expresses. Even though it has the same hardware, its software develops a different message. That software is called epigenomics.
It was thought within the last 10 to 20 years that all that epigenetic patterning happened in fetal development and infancy. Once we got to be older, we weren’t marking our genes epigenetically. The major breakthrough in 21st-century science is a recognition that it’s true that most of our genes that were imprinted in development stay that way. Our nerve cells don’t become our heart cells, hopefully.
Out of the 20,000-some genes that code for our body, there may be 100 or more that are epigenetically modifiable throughout the course of your whole life by the experience that you are living. It means that who you are may not be what you will be based on how you can epigenetically reprogram how your cells of all types are functioning. The cells that are most likely to pick up that epigenetic repatterning or what we call rejuvenation early are our immune cells. That is what we call immuno-rejuvenation, epigenetically reprogramming our immune cells to be younger in their biological age.
It’s easy to forget the miracle that is our system. I was listening to something you were talking about earlier and you said that in the bone marrow, every ten seconds, 1 million white cells are made. Who can get their brain around that? It’s also to drive home to people. Let’s get a snapshot of who we are. You’ve got to consider your gut health in all of this because you might want to work with yourself on this and figure out a way to modulate your immune system. The other thing is if it’s under-reacting or overreacting. You’re talking about a complex but malleable system. What do you find to be the most reasonable way to get a look at, “How is my gut functioning? What are the things I can do to improve that?” If someone comes, how would you encourage someone to do that?
You’re right on target. I love the way you’re developing this line of thinking. The information that our immune system picks up comes from the experiences that our immune system is exposed to. The principle shared common human experience that we all have is eating. What do we eat? We eat a variety of stuff that has a personality. People have said for years that nutrition is energy. Yes, nutrition is energy but it’s more than that.
Our food is information for our genes. How does our food influence our genes? In part, it influences our genes because our food influences our microbiome. There are hundreds of different types of microorganisms that live in our gut. It’s the second-largest organ in our body. It’s not connected to our body by the bloodstream. It’s connected to the body through its absorption from the intestinal tract into the blood of its secondary debris or metabolites.
The microbiome, which weighs something like 3 to 5 pounds in our gut, that’s how many bacteria we have. Remember, they’re very small. We have way more bacterial DNA in our gut than we have in all of our body cells. The DNA of the bacteria are creating their own messages, which are then released in the intestinal tract with the mucosal surface of our intestinal being what’s called the MALT, mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue. What is that? That’s the body’s immune system.
Our immune system is sitting right next to the microbiome picking up information from how the information from our diet is being translated by the bugs living in our gut into our immune system that then responds as friend or foe. That then puts a big responsibility on the integrity of our microbiome. We know that the things that we do that are not in the spirit of proper support of our immune system are also not in the proper support of our microbiome.
Let me give an example. The statistics say that about 40% of the American population suffers at one time or another from chronic irritable bowel syndrome, CIBS. There are different forms, there’s diarrhea-predominant, constipation-predominant, and pain predominant. There are different ways it presents. It is a functional gastroenterological problem that can, in some cases, as we’ve seen in our own political studies, cause people to have to put their desks right next to the loo in their office because they can’t have enough time to get there if they don’t have proximity. That’s a pretty disturbing factor. It’s not life-threatening but it certainly reduces one’s quality of life.
What we have learned about chronic irritable bowel syndrome is it’s not just locally only an intestinal problem that causes pain or discomfort in your intestinal tract. It also means that your microbiome is disturbed enough that your body’s immune system is affected. There are all sorts of other systemic immune problems that are associated with chronic irritable bowel. Let me give you one, the gut-brain connection.
People with CIBS also are people with more depression. Is that because they’re depressed because they have to worry about their intestinal tract? In part, it might. It’s also related to the fact that their microbiome is sending signals to their brain of disturbance causing brain inflammation. Brain inflammation is associated with depression, mood swings, altered cognition, and memory loss.
Now we started saying that the gut-brain connection through an altered microbiome can influence our mood, our outlook, and our joy of living. We’ve now influenced our gut immune system to influence our brain immune system. Yes, the brain does have its own immune system and it’s called the microglia. We used to think microglia meant glue like that these were cells in our brain that were there to glue together the neurons that do all the hard-working in our brain.
Over the last twenty years, we found that microglia are functionally more than just glue. They are the brain’s immune system that are communicating inflammatory signals to the rest of the brain and are aggravated by a microbiome that is disturbed and translates things like depression and mood swings. Now the whole field is exploding to recognize this system of interrelationships and how important it is how we eat, how we think, how we move, how we drink, and how that influences the overall integrity of how we see the world.
If somebody maybe has taken up a better lifestyle and they’re working on being mindful about their reactions to things but they feel like, “Something’s not right with my gut.” Is there a baseline test that you like that goes, “This is a pretty reliable starting point.” This can feel, at times, daunting for people to go, “Where do I start with the gut?” Is there a name of a test? Is there something that you like that gives you a decent reflection of, “This is something you can look at.”
The simplest place to start is with symptoms rather than going to lab tests or something more quantitative. There are a whole series of symptom questionnaires that are related to intestinal function. We have what we call The Immuno-Identity Quiz on our website that probes some of those aspects. It’s on our Big Bold Health website that you can self-score. It’ll give you some answers about your GI immune system function and the state of your microbiome.
[bctt tweet=”You will make errors. You don’t want to make irreversible errors. You want to make self-correcting errors.”]
I would start with symptoms. If people have reoccurring gut pain, if they have gas and bloating, if they have problems of gastric distress, upper GI related to things that look like they have ulcers but they’re not ulcers, and if they have issues that are related to rotating constipation and diarrhea. All these things are indications that a person has a chronic disturbance of their microbiome. We then can start drilling more deeply into the nature.
For someone reading, you can go to Big Bold Health. I want to slide over which is perfect timing because you’re so passionate about phytonutrients, plant compounds, and foods being supportive. You said there are over 25,000 compounds. It’s a symphony that works beautifully together. You also have supplements on Big Bold Health that will do some combining, some beautiful supplements that are available like Dutch Harbor Omega. I want to encourage people if they’re looking for something that they can find it there. What got your attention with the plants? Obviously, it’s important in digestion and fiber and all of these things. You have gone a little more aggressively into this area.
Over the course of my professional life, I’ve traveled over 6 million miles. If someone would have asked me decades ago, “Jeff, would you expect that your life would have you traveling 6 million miles?” I would have said,” No. A rational human being would never do that. That’s crazy.” It’s crazy interesting to the extent of the people that I’ve been all around the world who are thought leaders, conceptualizers, and innovators.
I consider myself a little bit to be a collage of all these associations that I’ve had of these many people from the tens of different countries I’ve had the privilege of visiting. This is probably over 30 years ago when I first got a chance to go to China. One of the things that came out to me was the interconnection between the traditional Chinese medicine concept and the nature of what I was learning about plant chemistry. Plants are complex. They have all sorts of different things. We call them botanicals or phytonutrients.
I started to be interested in this field decades ago. Without giving all the bloody details, this led me to a meeting that I had with a colleague that invited me to speak in a large meeting in Harbin, China, a city of about 30 million people in the northern part of China. I spoke to about 20,000 Chinese medical doctors at their annual health check meeting.
During that visit, my host had done his medical work in the United States. He spoke good English because my Chinese is primitive. We got talking and he asked me about a traditional Chinese who went back about 2,500 years that I had only started to learn about called Himalayan Tartary buckwheat. I said, “I’ve been interested in learning more about that recently. It’s coincidental that you should bring that up.” I said, “Why are you asking me that question?”
His group was one of the largest groups in China that were investigating the health benefits of this crop that goes back 2,500 years as a food in China that was not being used in the United States at all. I thought, “That’s interesting.” First of all, buckwheat is not wheat. I don’t even know why they give it this name. It has no relationship to wheat at all. It’s not a member of the grass family. It’s a member of the fruit seed family.
We didn’t grow it because it all took too long.
Tartary comes from the Himalayan region of China. Looking at this crop, I found out that it had developed these unique genes over its millennia of development to be resilient to a hostile environment. It was living on the slopes of the Himalayan Mountains in bad soils, crummy climate, no irrigation, no pesticides, and no fertilizer but it was doing well. It was a principal food.
When I studied its genes, I found that about 25% of the genes of that plant are used to make this rich array of immune active nutrients that helps the plant to be defended against this hostile environment. Those are called polyphenols and flavonoids. It turns out that it’s the highest in these immune-active phytochemicals of any plant foods that I can find. It’s 50 to 100 times higher than common buckwheat, which we know something about here in the United States.
With that, I became taken up in bringing back Himalayan Tatary Buckwheat to the United States and I found there was only one grower who had a little hobby farm. He was an ex-Cornell University ag researcher that was retired. He and his wife, who’s a nurse, had a little hobby farm of about ten acres growing Himalayan Tartary buckwheat. They had a little mill. They would sell in roadside stands in upstate New York during the summer. They’re dedicated and interesting people.
That led to us now getting a whole cooperative of organic farmers to grow this for us. Sam beer and Lucia Beer, his wife, became our partners. We bought their product. We have his seed. He had the only seat in the United States of this particular cultivar. Now he’s part of us. Now we are the largest farmers of Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat and producing the only organic form of it as far as we know in the world and trying to bring this back as a new additional food into the American marketplace.
Interestingly, because this is a family farm-type product, it doesn’t require a lot of agribusinesses to do it and a lot of ag-chemicals. It’s done chemical-free in regenerative agriculture. It’s been fun to watch the small farmers and their families now become Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat farmers. Because we’re able to pay them a gainful amount for the crops they’re growing, they’re making a living now being Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat farmers. Here we go.
How are people consuming it?
We have a food lab. I’ve run back several other people that work with me as dietitians, nutritionists, and food development people for over 30 years. We have a Big Bold Health food lab and we’ve developed recipes and menu guides. We’ve had food contests. We have chefs around the country that are now developing menus for us and recipes. It’s become a movement. It’s fascinating to watch it take on.
It took us the better part of two years to get enough of this so that we could do something with it because you can’t go to the seed store and buy the seed. You have to grow the seed first and then you have to use that seed to plant further acreage. In 2021, we had a big enough volume that we were able to start moving forward and getting this well understood.
Can they purchase the product on Big Bold Health?
Yeah. They can go to Amazon and they can find it or they can go to Big Bold Health. We then make concentrates because not everybody is a baker or a cooker. We now have concentrates. We put it in shake mixes. We have it in concentrated forms and capsules. We try to make it available through many different delivery systems.
What is 2-HOBA?
You’re being good with me here. It turns out that the deeper we dove into this Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat story, the more we learn of the unique things that that plant makes in its products. One is a phytochemical that you can’t find in any other plant called 2-hydroxybenzylamine. That’s HOBA. We abbreviated it 2-HOBA. You only find 2-HOBA in these buckwheat varietals.
Why is that interesting? It’s interesting because, coincidentally, I ran into a gentleman at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Tennessee who was studying 2-HOBA as a chemical for the treatment of hypertension through activation and effects on the immune system. I was intrigued by this new mechanism of how blood pressure could be regulated by the immune system.
I later learned after starting a research relationship with him that you only find 2-HOBA in Tartary buckwheat. here’s a coincidence that we’re growing a crop that has 2-HOBA in it. If you look historically at traditional Chinese medicine, what did they say it was useful for? Heart and lung function. It lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular function, and lowers blood fats. All of this goes together this 100-year history into what we’re learning now from a science perspective.
Randomly, in Hawaii, they have Mamaki tea. They grow it on the big island. That also apparently has a positive influence on blood pressure. That’s the only time I’ve ever heard of that. Everybody always wants to be told, “What’s the perfect diet?” Everybody is individual and you drive that home when you’re talking about functional medicine. It’s like, “Yes, there’s going to be an overarching but everybody is unique.” I never call it diet but if you were going to prescribe a nutritional way of living, what shows up for you that you encourage people to do?
I agree with you. I don’t call it a diet. That’s a four-letter bad word. I call it a food plan, some kind of a food strategy. I agree with you that there are certain principles that we can all agree on as to what would be a good objective food plan. First of all, stay away from junk. Let’s put that out there, number one. High fructose corn syrup, sweeteners, food additives, food, humectants, emulsifiers, and preservatives, are these things that were put in there to make food shelf-stable. High fat, sugar, and salty foods are maybe convenient but they manipulate us by the tip of our tongue through taste and things that are not so good for our health. That’s where I’d start, number one.
Number two, I would try to eat close to the Earth because the closer we get to the earth, the things that look like they once grew on the earth, the more likely we are to have things that are preserved in terms of nutritional value. What does that mean? Does that mean I’m a vegetarian? No, I would consider myself a moderate. I certainly eat animal products but they’re not a major part of my diet. I am a pescatarian. I live in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle. I fish a lot. I eat a lot of salmon. I’m not religious about animals. Although I am a believer in Animal Rights and Animal Protection.
I am very much concerned about animal husbandry as it relates to feedlots. Staying with a, as Michael Pollan calls mostly plant-based diet, is a good idea. If you can stay organic, that’s even better because we are trying to reduce the burden on the planet of noxious chemicals that are not only making people sick but making every other living thing sick including the microbiome that lives on our soil. We probably know it. It’s called the Mycorrhizal.
The soil microbiome is as important to preserve, as is our microbiome and our health. In fact, they’re tied together. A bad soil microbiome is associated with a bad intestinal microbiome. That would be the other thing I would say. The third thing I would say is to try to eat things that are minimally processed so you can retain the natural composition of the material like the fiber components and the nature of the way food is normally eaten in this natural state because it takes longer to digest and absorb and that’s good.
Slowing the digestive process gives a lot more harmony to your body’s rhythms. It allows your body to take its patients in getting those nutrients distributed out to the various parts of need, the cells. If you eat foods that are called high glycemic foods where the nutrients and calories are rapidly absorbed, suddenly, the body goes on red alert and now you have a fire drill. That can produce untoward effects like increasing your Hemoglobin A1C, your blood fat, fatty liver, and all those kinds of things that are not so good. Including increasing oxidative stress and inflammation.
Slowing digestion and assimilation are good. Lastly, I’m a believer that we can learn some things from what is called a Modified Mediterranean diet because the purest Mediterranean Diet is high in triple virgin olive oil, fresh fruits, and vegetables, eating the rainbow with a lot of colors that are not synthetic, real colors. A minimum of lean cuts of meat and a high fiber polyphenol-rich diet because we now know that these flavonoids and polyphenols are in our foods like in Himalayan Tartary buckwheat feed the microbiome to be healthier so they feed our immune system to be more resilient. All of that fits together to guide me when I go to the store. I’m going to shop in the aisles.
Besides these things, you like pre and probiotics. We mentioned the Omega-3 fatty acids. Could you also discuss what PRMs are a little bit because that feels important?
You’re on the cutting edge of what we’re learning right now about some of these nutritional factors.
Do you know how much homework I do to talk to someone like you to even have a fighting chance to have a conversation?
In MMA, you’re winning the battle here. Good on you.
My thing is I want to take the best information from someone like you who is in the Science of Things and make it achievable for people who are already navigating so much but go, “I heard that. I know what to do.”
Let’s talk a moment about PRMs as it relates to part of the Omega-3 story. To distill down 40 years of learning on my part to a sound bite, let me take it to the following. With a small group of people, Dyerberg and Bang went to Greenland from Denmark and studied the Eskimos in Greenland, they found that they were eating 70% to 80% of calories as fat and that they didn’t have heart disease. When at that time, which was the early 1980s, the whole thought was fat causes heart disease.
Dr. Dyerberg is an MD PhD so he has a lot of medical training. They came back to Denmark and he said, “How could this be? How could these people be eating this high-fat diet and have no heart disease?” They went back over and they did more extensive studies, in which when they took the blood of these Eskimos and they measured in their red blood cells, the fat that was in their cells they found it was a uniquely different kind of fats that are in the cells of people who lived in Canada or the United States.
They were the Omega-3 fats that had names like eicosatetraenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, or EPA and DHA. They started to study this more and it rapidly caught on to many other investigators and people then said, Well, there’s something about these Omega-3 fats that are uniquely different from Omega-6s, Omega-9s, or other families of saturated fatty acids. That revolutionized the whole field of physiology as it related to fat nutrition or what’s called lipid nutrition.
With that said, people in the nutrition supplement industry are caught up with what’s doing the heavy lifting. We’re not going to eat seal blubber or whale fat so what’s doing the heavy lifting. They said, “It must be EPA and DHA so let’s concentrate that to be as highly concentrated as possible to make a super amount of that in a supplement so we could put it into a capsule.”
When you do that, you have to go through many different chemical steps. It’s not like eating fish. In doing so, you have to get it highly concentrated. You have to take it from its natural source, which is called a triglyceride source. That’s the way we’ve been eating fat into a different chemical form called an Ester Form by chemicalization and then you have to super distill that and now you concentrate it and put it on a pill and you say, “Now we have super fish oil.” It turns out that super fish oil, as it’s been examined more recently, may have lost some of the value of had when it was more in its natural state.
In the natural state, in the triglyceride form, maybe it was more bioavailable and it brought other things with it other than just EPA and DHA that were also important for the story. One of which is a uniquely discovered family of fatty acid derivatives called Pro-Resolving Mediators, PRMs. This was discovered by an investigator at Harvard Medical School twenty-something years ago and it’s now been found that these PRMs are important because they help to attenuate or to quench inflammation.
They’re maybe 100 times more anti-inflammatory than EPA and DHA. When you chemically process your fish oil too much, you eliminate those other materials from the oil. Now people are coming back to say, “Maybe the natural state of the oil in a pure non-oxidized form that has these PRMs as well as EPA, DHA, DPA, and other fatty acids is worth the best action should be.”
With all that said, it leads to another coincidence for me. One of our family hobbies is boating, probably the principal family hobby. My wife and I have done about three 35,000 miles of boating in our boat up to Alaska over the years. The last time we were up there was more than two summers ago. We saw 105 grizzly bears so it’s an adventuresome way to spend some time in the summer.
While I need a lot of fishing people out there and I had the opportunity a number of years ago, and one of my trips to meet this gentleman that owned a fishing company out of Seattle. He had made these unique boats and the boats were able to catch fish and process them on board so that they were flash-frozen at minus twenty within 15 to 20 minutes of being an alive fish. He didn’t have any degradation whatsoever of the material.
[bctt tweet=”We have way more bacterial DNA in our gut than we have DNA all over our body.”]
That led me to form a relationship with him. We ultimately then formed a company to go with a Native Alaska group to build up the first pharmaceutical-grade plant in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. You may know Dutch Harbor where the Deadliest Catch boats go out. We have a plant now that it’s able to capture this unique kind of fish relative to no degradation. The temperature never gets in the processing above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and now we’re able to produce oil that has high levels of PRMC, EPA, DHA, and so forth.
That gives us the chance to have nature’s full orchestration that we have as our immuno-rejuvenation component. That’s why we call it Omega Rejuvenate because it has that capability. The combination of the Tartary Buckwheat story and the fish oil story took me in ways that I would have never anticipated just by being available to have conversations with people and seeing what’s what we can learn from the old that we can apply to the new.
Dr. Bland, I appreciate all of your work. I would like to but I don’t have the time with you now. You do talk a lot about disease management and things. If people want to look you up, you have a lot of helpful work out there. I would like to end this with two more questions because when I see people, I’m always interested in the person. As somebody who has lived a few years, you’ve been in a long marriage, and you’ve been in a family. For you, standing where you are now, what has been helpful guiding lights for you, as a long-term partner?
That cuts right to the heart of the soul. There are three things for me. By the way, I’m not saying this necessarily for everybody but for me. Number one, I have a belief system and I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. Every person I need is a good person. I never assume anything other than the goodness in people. I’ve been rewarded to be shown that that is almost always true. There are some exceptions. I don’t want to say that it’s 100% but there are exceptions.
Most often when I open up the opportunity to get to know a person’s magic, I’m amazed at what they are, what they do, what their skills are, what they’re thinking, who they are, and where they come from made me a much better person as a consequence so that’s number one. Number two, I have tried hard to work on the concept of tolerance, which then ties to patients because I’m a time urgent person. I’m always trying to do something new, trying to explore new boundaries, pushing the envelope.
To balance that out, I’ve found that I need to tell her myself to practice patience and tolerance. That is a strong de-stressor because it’s putting your life in the right perspective. The stuff that you’re doing is important, but it’s not that important. You need to keep things in balance in context. I recall doing a series of seminars many years ago with a cardiologist from the University of Colorado who wrote a best-selling book on cardiovascular disease, which was about stress.
He had come up with the concept of the Hot Reactor Theory. One of his rules was, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” His second rule was, “Everything’s the small stuff.” What he was trying to get us to remind ourselves is that often we blow things up in super important proportions that are imbalanced. We will look back and we say, “Why did I get so upset and out of control over that issue? It was not that important in the grand scheme of things.”
Putting all that into context and then hanging out with people that you feel are extraordinary people you can learn from every day, who can be your friends, your family, your associates. Also, people that you haven’t ever met but you’re going to meet and you’re going to be amazed to find out what you will about them. It sets the world every day as an exploration of how you can be a better person. That’s been my mantra.
If we choose to be parents, I feel like it’s the most humbling role we play because it’s the greatest teacher. I feel like there’s not a bullseye. Is there anything that has shown up for you as someone who is a parent that seems to help things get moved? For me, listening and not fixing. For example, with my daughters, it has been helpful. Is there something for you as someone who is a parent and our grandparent that shows up that you go, “When I adhere to some of this, it moves in the direction that is favorable to everyone.”
Gabby, you said it. I had the privilege of coming off a couple of weeks with my family in Alaska and I only had sons so now I have granddaughters as well as grandsons so this is a whole learning experience for me. It’s pretty extraordinary and now I have granddaughter teenagers so that is even a new learning experience for me. On one of the evenings that we were sitting at dinner, I asked my granddaughters who are 14, 16, and 10, “When you look at your grandparents, and you talk to your friends, what things do you see in your grandparents? What are the ways that you talk about your grandparents?”
I know it’s a probing question. My eldest son Kelly always says, “Dad, you put everybody on the spot all the time. You’re asking all these questions that we need to go back and think about.” People are used to it now in my family. All three of the young women said to me, “When we think of you,” and Susan, my wife, “We think of people that are safe to talk to about anything. You’re not judgmental. You don’t have a need to tell us what to do. You provide an open ear to our concerns and we always come away feeling that without telling us what to do, you gave us options for intelligent decision making.”
I’m not saying that their parents don’t do that, too but there’s different neutrality when it comes from your grandparents and when it comes from your parents because it’s not seen as so instructed. It’s seen as, “Here are some experiential things you might need.” Both Susan and I are open about, “Here are some errors that we made along our lives. You might want to be considered because you will make errors but you don’t want to make irreversible errors. You want to make self-correcting errors.”
Dr. Bland, I appreciate all of your work and your message. Is there any last thing that I have missed that you would like to remind people of or encourage people before I let you get on with the rest of your day?
The most important thing probably comes through and everything that we’ve talked about. Health derives from the feeling that a person is worthy of having good health. They have a belief in themselves that they are good, and they deserve to feel good and be good, and that they are in control. No one else should be controlling their body. No one else should tell them how they should manage themselves. They should step up to the plate, recognizing the most precious thing they own is their book of life. If they treat it with respect, it’ll give them 100 years of good response. To me, that is a powerful message. However you execute on that, that’s a big bold idea. We are in ownership of our future.
Amen. Thank you.
Thanks a million. It’s been a privilege talking with you.
Thank you so much.
That wraps it up for this episode. Make sure to follow us on Spotify for free episodes and subscribe to the Gabby Reece Show on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow me at @GabbyReece on Instagram and Twitter. Aloha.
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About Dr. Jeffrey Bland
Dr. Jeffrey Bland is a personable and highly respected thought leader who has spent more than four decades focused on the improvement of human health. He is known worldwide as the founder of the Functional Medicine movement, which represents his vision for a care model that is grounded in systems biology and informed by research that he has a unique ability to synthesize. His pioneering work has created the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute (PLMI), as well as the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), the global leader in Functional Medicine education. Since 1991, hundreds of thousands of healthcare practitioners have participated in PLMI and IFM programs, and this collective knowledge has positively impacted the lives of patients all over the world.