What Immune Resilience Actually Means & Why Our Health Depends On It

Father of Functional Medicine By Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D.
Father of Functional Medicine
Jeff Bland, Ph.D., is the founder of Big Bold Health, a company on a mission to transform the way people think about one of nature’s greatest innovations — the immune system. Jeff is a biochemist by training, and a lifelong educator in practice. He is widely regarded as the father of functional medicine, and served in founding roles at both the Institute for Functional Medicine and the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute. Jeff is the author of The Disease Delusion: Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness for a Healthier, Longer, and Happier Life.
What Immune Resilience Actually Means & Why Our Health Depends On It

This is one of those moments. We have a chance right now to harness the fear and uncertainty of this ongoing pandemic to get smarter about immunity. We have a chance to increase immune resilience at a global level and build a better future for ourselves as a species.

But first we need to understand the goal. What do we really mean by resilience when we talk about immunity? It's such a buzzword that I imagine many of us blow right past it, but resilience is the real key to understanding the foundation for a healthy immune system.

Immunity works in two directions.

A few months back, I wrote about the new thinking in the scientific community about rejuvenating the immune system. COVID-19 brings immunity front of mind for most people. But simple "boosts" to your immune system are an inelegant and inadequate approach to lasting immune health.

Your immune system is one of the primary interfaces you have between the interior world of your body and the exterior world of your society and planet. Immunity translates signals. When it senses danger, it ramps up. It activates. Sometimes it misreads the signals and stays overreactive in a chronic state of alarm that can lead to inflammation and a basket of metabolic diseases we know all too well, like heart disease, diabetes, and a wide range of autoimmune conditions. That chronic inflammation also lives upstream from so many functional detractors from our best lives, like joint pain, aggravating skin conditions, poor sleep, and a lack of energy and vitality.

Sometimes your immune system goes dormant. It gets shy and suppresses itself. This is just as big a problem, with immunosuppression preventing us from effectively fighting off infection and clearing our cells of the debris they accumulate as we age.

So what we want with immunity is balance. We want quick and appropriate responses to the conditions of our interior and exterior worlds. This is what we mean by resilience. Resilience is the bounce back. It's the reserve tank your immune system carries to fire up or down, appropriate to the messaging it receives.

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Understanding co-immunity.

This thinking around resilience and balance works for the planet, too. Most of us would admit to some sense that things are increasingly out of whack in the world. It's hot, the weather's extreme, human health is too frail, and the conditions for exogenous shocks like COVID-19 are too ripe to bring us the safe footing we need to live full and abundant lives.

At the onset of the pandemic, when China was first to quarantine and we saw the pollution clouds over Wuhan dissipate, I saw resilience at work. I saw a planet's immune system beginning to heal itself. I saw systems of co-immunity between people, plants, and planet expressing the reality of their deep interconnectedness.

Let me be clear. We don't need to quarantine for the planet to survive, but we do need to recognize the signals of a weakened immune system. And we need to recognize that immunity works at a planetary level, as well as the personal.

Resilience-making in a volatile world.

To repeat—your immune health depends on the planet's immune health. When both get healthier, there is abundance and plenty of reserves left in the tank to handle the wild cards to come. When either gets stuck in cycles of degradation and inflammation, then we all stay stuck as a species. We live a trapped life. We live with a pandemic inside a pandemic.

My wish is to educate us all enough so that we're looking for the right solutions coming out of this particular pandemic, but there are specifics on my radar as well. I hesitate to say it because the answers are often so obvious, but these are still ready solutions for the taking: healthy diet, healthy sleep, exercise, social connection, love, and empathy. If we all commit to these basics, then we can begin to optimize our personal and global immunity.

Resilience is your ability to adjust the immune response to the conditions at hand. This is a time of volatility and extremes—from the localized outbreaks of the pandemic popping up across the country, to calls for social justice demanding more love and empathy for all of us. Resilience lets you handle these swings in better stride. Create the conditions in your life to foster resilience, and all of us, including the planet itself, stand to benefit.

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