Why Your Immunity Starts With the Planet's Immunity, According To The Father Of Functional Medicine
I am writing this following two topics that dominated recent news cycle: wildfires raging in the West, and the delta variant of COVID-19 raging in the South. These stories are two sides of the same coin to me, and it's important that we do a better job of drawing the connections between them, to create the healthier future we all deserve.
Why would I make this connection? What's the common thread between natural disasters and zoonotic pathogens? That's simple. They're both expressions of a weakened immune system. And both provide an opportunity for us as a species to address these weaknesses in a fundamental and lasting way.
Regenerate the planet, rejuvenate immunity.
Let's start with the planet, our planet, a planet in crisis. Climate change is no longer the topic of future conjecture. It's the reality we live in right now, and it's intimately connected to your personal health.
I have come to view the climate crisis as a form of immune dysfunction: weakened immunity at a planetary level. Without the balance and resilience of a healthy immune response, we know to expect this kind of dysfunction—whether that's a matter of human biology or planetary cycles around carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water.
So what do we do about it? I'm focusing my new company, Big Bold Health, on the food system, and the promotion of regenerative practices on land and sea. Specifically, we're building supply chains around Himalayan Tartary buckwheat and omega-3s that nurture rather than extract. This is the right thing to do, of course, but I want to make an additional point. It's also essential if we want to protect the nutrients that we need most to build immune resilience.
Regenerative agriculture matters as a method of carbon sequestration in the soil, but it also matters for soil health, nutrient density, and your ability to feed and train your immune system. This is about restoring healthy ecosystems everywhere.
Rejuvenate immunity, regenerate the planet.
Now let's talk about immunity at the personal level. I'm focusing on a better approach to immune health, one that gets us past the simple notion of a quick boost. At Big Bold Health, we call this new approach immuno-rejuvenation, and it's a regenerative process happening inside the body through your immune system.
Rather than focus on the seasonal concerns of boosting immunity to avoid the sniffles, we're looking at autophagy and mitophagy, cellular processes that clear out the debris that comes with aging and promote lasting health.
My big three for immunity.
As we build out our immuno-rejuvenation program, I want to leave you with something actionable you can take into your lifestyle and diet. As I connect the dots in the groundbreaking science happening every week around immunity, I've come to focus on a "Big Three" for the classes of nutrients that most affect rejuvenation:
- The first is polyphenols, or plant nutrients. I'm working with Himalayan Tartary buckwheat because its profile here is the best I've seen in 30 years of formulating products.
- The second is omega-3s, for their ability to help support and balance the immune response. In fact, it's the pro-resolving mediators in some fish oils that hold great promise here, and it's the sustainable harvesting and gentle processing methods we use at Big Bold Health that retain these very nutrients.
- The third is prebiotics, which feed a healthy microbiome. It's important to note that your microbiome is connected to many others. For example, the microbiome of the soil that grows your food matters. They are everywhere, and if you care about your personal immunity, then you have to care about the health of those microbiomes, too.
(You can also learn more about supporting your immune system here.)
So you get my point—regeneration is rejuvenation, and vice versa. These are two ways to address the same problem of weakened immunity, and they work together. We can do it at the planetary level or the personal level. We can do it through agriculture or through nutrition. In fact, we need to do both for either to stick.
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. Through Big Bold Health, Jeff is advocating for the power of immuno-rejuvenation to enhance immunity at a global level, often through the rediscovery of ancient food crops and superfoods. To get there, Jeff is building a network of small farms and suppliers throughout the US that take a clear stance on regenerative agriculture, environmental stewardship, and planetary health.
Jeff’s career in health spans more than 40 years. A nutritional biochemist by training, he began in academia as a university professor, where he was profoundly influenced by a sabbatical spent working with two-time Nobel Laureate, Dr. Linus Pauling. Jeff then spent three decades in the nutritional products industry, where he served as the Chief Science Officer at Metagenics, and worked alongside other pioneers to establish standards for evidence-based formulations, quality ingredient sourcing, and ethical manufacturing practices that stand to this day.
A lifelong educator, Jeff has traveled the world many times over in his role as the “father of functional medicine.” In 1991, he and his wife, Susan, founded The Institute for Functional Medicine. This organization has grown to become the global leader in functional medicine education. Hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals have now participated in IFM programs, and this collective knowledge has positively impacted the lives of patients all over the world. In 2012, Jeff founded another educational nonprofit called the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute. This organization has become well-known as the host of Jeff’s signature annual conference, the Thought Leaders Consortium.
Jeff is the author of The Disease Delusion: Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness for a Healthier, Longer, and Happier Life, among countless additional books and research papers.