A New Way To Consider Immunity, From A Functional Medicine Expert
Talking about immunity in the thick of a pandemic is no easy feat. Our minds are preoccupied by pathogens and infectious disease, the scourge of COVID-19 still playing itself out on our screens. Many individuals are focused on ways to support the immune system. People are eager for vaccines and drugs and quick cures. Inside all of this searching, there's precious little time or energy available to think about what it just might take to improve immunity at a global level going forward—but that's what I'm here to discuss.
There will be a world after COVID-19, and I'd like us to start thinking about immunity in new ways so that we can all start working now toward making that world a more resilient and healthier place in which to live and prosper.
After 40 years of developing and advancing the cause of functional medicine, I've come to a new way of thinking about immunity.
Reasons to look at immunity with fresh eyes.
Years in the trenches of nutrition research and medical literature of the day have afforded me the perspective necessary to connect some dots and refocus the lens through which we've traditionally considered immunity. This is where I've landed.
1. Immunity is everything.
Modern science has discovered that virtually all personal health problems arise from various dysfunctions of the immune system. I've come to view immunity as the root-cause, foundational determiner of everything we might include inside a personalized definition of health and wellness.
2. All of the world's organized structures have an immune system.
The research shows that you, me, animals, plants, social systems, and the planet itself all have an immune system. And all of these systems are interconnected, which means the performance of our personal immune system depends on the health of the collective super-systems as well. COVID-19 exemplifies this reality.
3. Our immune system has a memory.
As we age, our immune system suffers injury and gathers the troops necessary to fight back. But it remembers the battle. It learns to stand ready for another attack. The makeup of the immune system changes with time as it prepares to fight against these perceived invaders, which causes the system to clog with debris. We stay on alert, we stay inflamed, and we lose resilience. I believe many of the most common health concerns facing people in a modernized, fast-paced world—fatigue and low energy, disrupted sleep, skin trouble and allergies, stress, mood, brain fog—tie back to the debris of these damaged cells.
We need to do more than just support.
All of these points lead me to my main message for you today: It's not enough to support the immune system. What really matters is rejuvenation—a concept you will come to hear more often as it gains traction in medical circles. I predict the emerging science will land on rejuvenation as the key concept moving forward in a post-COVID-19 world, a development we already see coming to fruition with the more advanced thinking around autophagy. (Autophagy is the body's built-in mechanism to replace damaged immune cells with new cells worth supporting, and it's another concept you'll likely be hearing about a lot more often.)
How do you promote autophagy and begin to rejuvenate your immune system? What you eat matters: A plant-rich diet helps, especially plants rich in phytochemicals that aren't lost through modern agricultural practice or stripped out through food processing. When you eat matters: Time-restricted feeding windows (often referred to as intermittent fasting) offer real promise to reset and reboot immune function. And lifestyle factors such as sleep quality, stress management, exercise, and connectedness do important signaling as well.
I've also been working closely with a specific cultivar of buckwheat called Himalayan Tartary buckwheat, which is rich in the compounds 2-HOBA and quercetin, which may be helpful for immune rejuvenation.
Rejuvenate before you support. During this time of crisis, I'm encouraged by the prospect of a collective, rejuvenated immune system. It is my belief that this will not only offer some enhanced protection from the pandemics to come but also add function and vitality to all of our daily lives.
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