566: Dr. Jeffrey Bland – The Father of Functional Medicine on Reversing Disease, Genes, and Immuno-Rejuvenation

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Dr. Jeffrey Bland - The Father of Functional Medicine on Reversing Disease, Genes, and Immuno-Rejuvenation
Wellness Mama » Episode » 566: Dr. Jeffrey Bland – The Father of Functional Medicine on Reversing Disease, Genes, and Immuno-Rejuvenation
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566: Dr. Jeffrey Bland – The Father of Functional Medicine on Reversing Disease, Genes, and Immuno-Rejuvenation
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I am here with Dr. Jeffrey Bland, who is largely considered the father of functional medicine. He is a clinical biochemist and immunity expert, and founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine and the Personalized Lifestyle Institute, which is PLMI. He is also a bestselling author, thought leader, educator, entrepreneur, speaker and president of Big Bold Health. He is an expert on a lot of different topics, and we go into quite a few of them in this episode.

We talk about how he’s travelled over 30,000 miles by boat with his wife, why he is considered the father of functional medicine and what separates functional medicine from other types, how genetics come into play and understanding them in relation to our health, why genes are not our destiny and how we can turn them on and off. He also shares what immuno-rejuvenation is and how we can use this to our advantage, how to keep your immune system young, and so much more. We touch on supplements, diet, health trackers, how to become your own primary healthcare provider, and so much more. Very fact-packed episode!

Episode Highlights With Dr. Jeffrey Bland

  • How he’s traveled over 30,000 miles by boat!
  • Why he’s considered the father of functional medicine and what separates functional medicine from other types
  • The “four R” process of functional medicine
  • Common triggers of chronic conditions that functional medicine can address
  • The role of detoxification in recovery in many of these conditions
  • How genetics come into play in understanding our health
  • Why genes are not our destiny and how we can turn them on and off
  • How we can turn off genes that are expressing bad responses and reprogram them
  • What immuno-rejuvenation is, and how we can use this to our advantage
  • Why immune system cells change every two months, and how we can reconfigure our immune systems by knowing this
  • The reason autoimmune conditions actually have a low association to gene inheritance and what actually leads to them
  • How to keep your immune system young
  • Why the immune system can use up to half of the body energy when it isn’t functioning correctly
  • The surprising immune helping superfood he discovered that was lost for 2000 years
  • What emerging research is showing about the gut/mental health connection and how we can use this to improve mental health

Resources We Mention

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. That’s “Wellness” with an “E” on the end. And I am here with Dr. Jeffrey Bland, who is largely considered the father of functional medicine. He is a clinical biochemist and immunity expert, and founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine and the Personalized Lifestyle Institute, which is PLMI. He is also a bestselling author, thought leader, educator, entrepreneur, speaker and president of Big Bold Health. He is an expert on a lot of different topics, and we go into quite a few of them in this episode.

We also talk about how he’s travelled over 30,000 miles by boat with his wife, why he is considered the father of functional medicine and what separates functional medicine from other types, the four R’s of functional medicine, common triggers of chronic conditions that functional medicine can address, the role of detoxification in recovery, how genetics come into play and understanding them in relation to our health, why genes are not our destiny and how we can turn them on and off, what immuno-rejuvenation is and how we can use this to our advantage, why the immune system cells change every two months and how we can reconfigure our immune system when we know this, the reason autoimmune conditions are actually not genetic, necessarily, and what actually causes them, how to keep your immune system young, and so much more. We go into a lot of really neat topics on this. We talk about supplements, diet, health trackers, how to become your own primary healthcare provider, and so much more. Very fact-packed episode, so let’s join Dr. Bland.

Katie: Dr. Bland, welcome, and thanks so much for being here.

Jeffrey: Well, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to be with you. It’s just one of those times where having a chance to have dialogue is so important for all of us. So, thank you.

Katie: I’m very excited for our conversation. You’re an expert in many things, and we’re gonna get to go lots of different directions. Before we jump into the health side, though, I, in researching your bio, found out that you’ve traveled over 30,000 miles by boat. And I would just love to hear a little bit about this because I feel like that’s a pretty unusual bio point.

Jeffrey: Yeah, my wife and I took up boating as a hobby about 35 years ago, I guess it would be now. And we started off with little boats, little sailboats, and we live up in the Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound area, so, there’s a lot of beautiful places to go in boats. And as we got more confident, then we got, you know, bigger boats, and we got more adventuresome, and since then, over the last, say, 10 or 15 years, we’ve taken multiple trips to Alaska. We went for almost two weeks, actually in our last trip, saw 105 grizzly bears and didn’t see another boat, plane, car, or person for almost two weeks while we were up there. It was just us, and the wildlife, and our dog. It was pretty fun.

Katie: Well, that sounds incredible. What a story. And you also, when you’re not boating, do a whole lot of good in the world in the area of functional medicine and health and you are considered the father of functional medicine. I think most people listening probably are at least familiar with that term, but just to make sure we’re starting with a solid foundation, can you define what functional medicine is and maybe how it differs from other types of medicine?

Jeffrey: Yes. The story goes back quite a few decades now, so, I won’t bore people with the whole lineage. But in 1989 and ’90, a group of colleagues and I, by that time I’d traveled over 3 million miles with different lectures and different research projects around the world. And I’ve met all sorts of very interesting opinion leaders and thought leaders in healthcare, and in health science. And my wife suggested to me that maybe it’d be interesting to have a whiteboard meeting inviting them all to come, and we put a meeting together in Vancouver, British Columbia up on…in Canada. And we had about 50 opinion leaders from different disciplines come in for a few days to talk about the what if. What if the healthcare system be if we could wipe away a lot of the stuff that kind of impedes it and just talk about what would be the best system for providing health for individuals.

And that was such a successful meeting, we decided to do it again the following year. And that conversation then led me to come back to the group and say, “You know, I think what we’ve been talking about is something that really more relates to function than it relates to disease. And maybe loss of function is a thing that people really need to focus on versus focusing on diseases.” And the group tended to be pretty strongly in support of the idea. So, from that, we birthed then the Institute for Functional Medicine, this was in 1990.

And the functional medicine concept was born as a concept that was we’re looking at the origin of diseases, not where they…what we call them when you get them, but what is the upstream effect? What is the principal reason that people actually get ill? And we actually recognized that when you ask a person about their health, and they describe health, they’ll really be describing aspects of their function. They’ll talk about some aspects of their physical function, or their metabolic function, or their cognitive function, or their behavioral function. So, we thought, maybe we ought to really form a whole field of healthcare around these concepts of function, because if we can treat the upstream cause, then maybe we don’t have to worry about the downstream disease. So, that was the origin of functional medicine.

Katie: And I’ve heard from many listeners and readers who have had great success with functional medicine after not getting answers with conventional medicine, and to me, it makes a lot of sense to look at the root cause and to look downstream and figure out what’s actually going on. It’s often been the cliché, saying, you know, someone doesn’t have a particular ailment because of a deficiency in the medication for that particular ailment, so what’s actually going on? It makes sense to look at that whole snapshot. And I know that because of that, often the answers are much more nuanced and personalized than someone might get in a just conventional medicine setting where there typically tends to be a course of treatment for a particular disease or condition.

Jeffrey: Yeah, Katie, I think you said it beautifully there. We have a need for a crisis care medical system, so, I don’t want to at all the sound disparaging about the quality of crisis care that we have in this country. It’s incredibly well-defined and very sophisticated. The issue, however, is where does health reside? Because if you really think about the hospital-based or institutional medicine-based, it’s really focused on the treatment of a disease, something that where someone comes in with a pretty specific set of symptoms. Often, those are a result of things that have happened over many, many years, and they finally get to this endpoint that they’re quite sick. And fortunately, we do have a pretty good system to manage that, but well before you get there, you have this walking wounded, this chronic series of complaints. And in fact, if you look at the expenditures of healthcare dollars annually, almost 75% of our healthcare dollars are spent in managing these chronic conditions, not the acute conditions. But the problem is that we don’t have a really good system to manage chronic conditions. Our system is much more focused on managing acute systems or conditions.

So, now we have all these individuals who are not really getting well. They’re managing symptoms with a specific drug or a series of drugs. They’re often walking around saying, “I know I can do better than this, but I don’t know exactly what to do.” And there is where the upstream concept that you’re describing, the root cause becomes very important, because in the process of our medical system today, which is built on driving disease diagnosis, we really don’t have the time, energy, and even the training to ask these more complicated questions. Where did this thing come from? Can we actually do something to change the origin of how the downstream effects are seen in terms of the symptoms?

So, it’s not that we want to replace, obviously, the medicine that we have today, what we want to do is to open and broaden it for those individuals who have chronic conditions that they can’t seem to find explanations for, the chronic autoimmune problems, the chronic fatigue, the chronic depression, the chronic low energy, the chronic pain constellation, the individuals with chronic digestive disorders, the people who are early stage with cognitive dysfunction, where they’re having memory loss, and they’re confused, and they have foggy brain. All of those things are not really well-suited for crisis care medicine. And therefore, the functional medicine model provides an operating system, so to speak, to get to the root origin of those problems and to manage them in a personalized way.

Katie: I’m so glad you said it like that, because I agree, I don’t think it’s in any way an either/or, I think many times the best outcome is a both/and, and I’ve had two instances in my lifetime, where the level of care we have in the U.S. saved my life. And I’m very grateful for it. And I would have died without an emergency C-section from placenta previa and the doctors saved my life, and so, I’m very grateful. But to your point, I think it’s a continued conversation to help people get better answers when they have these chronic conditions. And I would love for you to kind of delve into maybe some of the recurring pillars that you find when you start going into these chronic conditions with people, maybe contributors that seem to pop up often, or some factors that people could look at if they have these chronic conditions that might be at least part of the reason they’re experiencing that.

Jeffrey: Thank you. That’s, I think, a really wonderful question. So, I’ve been in this field now for more than 40 years. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to meet many people who are doing a lot of exciting things. And so, if you were to really distill this 40 years of learning down into what are the things that we would, say, group together to create the greatest opportunities for managing chronic conditions, they fall into what we call the core physiological processes, the core processes. And not in any rank order, I’ll kind of list them because these are not necessarily, I’m not listing them in order of importance, they’re all important, and they have to be individualized to understand how they apply to a specific person.

So, let’s start with the one that probably is most discussed today is what we call gastrointestinal restoration, or the intestinal milieu, the gut, the microbiome. And it’s interesting, some, oh, now it’d be more than 30 years ago, we developed a program out of the Functional Medicine Institute that we labeled the 4R program. The Rs stands for remove, replace, reinoculate, repair, and what does that mean? It means to remove from a person those things that are causing their intestinal immune system to react adversely. So, it could be bacteria, could be viruses, it could be toxins, it could be food allergens, that would be the remove phase.

The second is the replace, and many people are suffering from insufficiencies of digestive enzymes. This could be too low of acid output by their stomach, that’s called parietal cell atrophy, or it could be pancreatic enzymes that are not properly secreted by their pancreas to digest their food. So, what we do in those cases where people have those digestive insufficiencies is that we then have a replace of the pancreatic enzymes or the acid to help improve digestion. The third R is reinoculate, and that has to do with adding pre and probiotics to restore the proper microbiome. And the fourth is repair, and that is the nutrients that are necessary to repair the very sensitive lining of the intestinal tract, the so-called mucosa that can become leaky and damaged. And that includes things like zinc, and pantothenic acid, and the amino acid, glutamine, and a variety of herbs from various plant foods.

So, that program, which we started really talking about more than 30 years ago, has become kind of highlight for many people who get into functional medicine, because it’s learned now, and it’s probably in the topic of the day that the gut, and the gut immune system, and more than 50% of our immune system is clustered around our intestinal tract, is the place where many people’s problems start. So, that would be one of the major pillars that we’re pretty proud of in functional medicine, we kind of pioneered that. That has become quite well understood now.

Second would be detoxification. We were one of the first groups to really talk about how certain foods can improve the liver and other tissues’ ability to detoxify foreign molecules and to eliminate them from the body. And so, we think about cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage having these unique phytochemicals called glucosinolates that help the liver to detoxify. We were the first group to really start talking about metabolic detoxification as a tool that healthcare providers could use with their patients.

Third is what we call mitochondria resuscitation or bioenergetics. How does a person lose their energy in their cells? The cells of their brain or the cells of their muscles, or the cells of their heart. The energy of those cells, and like all cells, is produced within those cells by an organelle called the mitochondrian. And the mitochondrian can lose its power and energy over the course of living. It can be suffering from undernutrition. It can be suffering from toxic insult. It can be suffering from lack of stimulation. And so, recharging or we call rejuvenating the mitochondria is a really great way of improving energetics, bioenergetics. So, the third would be mitochondria resuscitation. We have a program in functional medicine for that.

The fourth is a structural related issues. And this has to do with the connective tissue, bones, and the skeleton. So, you know, how is a person able to maintain the integrity of their body, stand up right against the force of gravity, not have pain in their joints? So, we have a whole program about the structural components to the body, muscles, bones, and connective tissue.

The next is what we call intracellular communication. That has to do with hormones and how the body intercommunicates within itself. So, not just sex hormones, but stress hormones, and neurotransmitters and all these molecules that the body uses to tell other parts of the body how to work under certain conditions, that gets disturbed. And that can lead to everything from depression to hormonal dysfunction in women and men, reproductive problems, low energy, vitality loss, and so we have a whole program for hormonal restoration.

And then lastly is what we call signaling. How the body transports things from one place to the other, things that have to do with the blood and transport molecules that are associated with proper function of the heart, the lungs, and all the tissues, and how that interfaces with the immune system. So, kind of breaking things down into these categories allows an individual to better understand the upstream problems that might relate to their own specific difficulties.

Katie: And I love this approach because it seems very tailored to the individual and very personalized. And if I’ve had one lesson the last few years it’s been that when it comes to health, and truly all areas of life, but health especially, every person is so unique, and the answers are often not exactly the same for different people. So, even now when people ask me, “How did you recover from Hashimotos?” I say, “Well, I’m happy to share what I did, but I don’t think it’s an exact blueprint you can use that will work exactly the same for you, but I think the overarching concepts can be helpful to you to figuring out your own answers.” I also remember when I was in high school when they mapped the human genome for the first time, and now we have genetic testing that comes in the mail that we can do in our houses. I’d love to hear your take on how genetics come into play with this and how much the availability of this genetic data can be helpful to us as individuals in improving our own health.

Jeffrey: Well, thank you. You’re leading down the path that, to me, is one of the most interesting and exciting paths in the development of how we understand our health. So, I wrote a book that I didn’t realize actually was the first book in genetics for the layperson. It was called “Genetic Nutritioneering.” It was how nutrition and genes work together. It was published in 1998, if you can believe it. This is actually right before the human genome was…the map was announced. And when I go back and read that book, I think to myself, there was a lot that we didn’t know that certainly I didn’t know. But I really hit on, I think, the salient points back in 1998, that have emerged now over the last 25 years about this book of life that we have.

We each have, you know, a book of life that’s encoded within 23 chapters. Those 23 chapters represented 23 pairs of genes. Half of each chapter is written by a biological mother, the other half by a biological father. And I think a lot of people have felt that if you happen to get the good luck of the draw, and you got someone to write your book of life well, meaning you got the luck of the draw of good biological parents in terms of their genes that, well, that’s really great, you should celebrate it. But what would you, if you happen just to have the bad luck of the draw, and one or both of your parents had genes that had something that is of concern? It could be diabetes, it could be cancer, it could be autoimmune disease, it could be any number of things. That model is wrong. And I wanna just kind of take a real deep breath here to recognize why it’s wrong.

It’s wrong because this concept that our genes are fixed, and there’s nothing we can do about them, we just kind of got the luck of the draw is to some extent true. We can’t change our genes, but what we can change is how our genes express themselves. In other words, what part of our book is being read? And in our genes are stories that can be stories of bliss, of great life, of great health, but there are also stories of injury, and alarm, and danger, that are in our genes. So, if we read, in our book of life, stories that are principally associated with danger, then we have inflammation, then we have the color red which is inflamed hot and concerning that says if we’re doing battle with the world. And those conditions associate themselves with many diseases downstream, everything from heart disease, to cancer, to Alzheimer’s disease have inflammatory components.

And so, it’s…you might say, “Well, I have the genes in for such and such.” No, not necessarily. What you might have had is genes that when they were exposed to your lifestyle, your experiences got turned on to produce an alarm response that becomes that disease later, years later. It’s not that the genes were destined to do that. It’s that by the sequence of events that your life brought your genes, it responded in that way.

Now, why is that an important concept? It’s an important concept because just within the last 10 years, we have recognized that this isn’t a one-way street, you can actually turn back many of these things that turned on these reactions of your genes to produce hostility, or to produce an alarm reaction, or produce a danger response. And you can turn them back to actually start reading the book stories in your book of life that are more related to bliss, to joy, to happiness, to tranquility, to peace, and that is associated with good health and resilience. And that’s the currency of the genomic model of today is how do we get the most out of our genes that are there as a extraordinary value proposition for good health, not that they contain information for disease, they contain information for good health that we just need to unearth and to be able to express.

Now that concept when I’ve talked about it over the years has resulted in people saying, “Well, that’s a big idea or that’s a bold idea.” And so, one of my colleagues who has worked with me now for over 25 years, Trish Yeary, one day when I was spouting on this on a Monday morning after having come back from a trip, she said, “Jeff, you know, you’ve been talking about this for years and years, you’re a fairly big guy in stature. This is a big, bold idea. I think you need to form a company, Big Bold Health, and really make this a focus of your work.” Which we did two years ago, because I think this construct that we can alter the experience that our genes provide for us to turn us back from being in a state of chronic illness to a state of high-level wellness by learning how to properly regulate our genes in ways that expresses the right message is a powerful concept.

So, we’ve been totally focused on this in Big Bold Health. And the way that we approach this is, I think, the most easily modified part of our health, which is, to me, become the aha, and it just happened to coincide, kind of not expecting this to happen, with the COVID, SARS-CoV-2 virus infection and COVID-19, and that is it relates to our immune system.

Our immune system is, you know, obviously, our immune cells have genes, the same genes that all other cells have, our book of life. And our genes of our immune system are there to protect us, not just viruses and bacteria, but they’re working 24/7 365 to really explore how our body should respond to the environment in which we live, how we think, eat, work, play, expose ourselves, relationships we have, all those things are translated through our immune system. Our immune system is more than just protecting against viruses and bacteria, it is a translating device as to how our life is influencing our body. And there are actually two other ways that’s done, through the gastrointestinal immune system, and through the nervous system. So, those are the three parts that our body uses to translate to the outside world and tell the inside of our body how it should respond, should it be friendly and happy with the things that are going on, or should it fight back and be an alarm because it thinks it’s in a dangerous place?

And what we find is that the immune system is readily modifiable because, most people don’t know this, but the immune system cells that are floating around in our body today will change every two months, new cells will replace the old cells. And therefore, you have a chance to, every couple of months, to re kind of configure your immune system by telling the genes of your immune system how you want them to behave, by owning your immune system, not becoming a victim of it, but actually training it to be your friend, not your foe. And by the way, you’ve done that beautifully with your Hashimotos, that’s what you actually did is you retrained your immune system to not be at war with your thyroid gland. And a lot of people think, “Oh, well, this was just part of my genes.” No, the response you had was part of your genes, but not necessarily the disease Hashimotos. That’s not in your genes.

And in fact, these autoimmune diseases, of which there are more than 80 of them that are named in the medical textbooks have very, very poor connection to genes in terms of directly saying, “Oh, because my mother had it, I have it, or because my father had it, I have it.” There’s a very low association between autoimmunity and direct what’s called monogenetic inheritance. So, when we start thinking then about the immune system, we say, “Well, there is a place that’s the big bold place of entry, if we can do something in helping a person to restore or rejuvenate their immune system, the impact that will have will be on every organ, and every cell, and every tissue of the body because the immune system is everywhere, and it’s changing all the time.” So, that’s become our focus in Big Bold Health over the last couple of years to really find ways that we can help a person to retrain their immune system to become their friend rather than their enemy. And in so doing, the benefits can be everything from better sleep, to more energy, to lower pain, to clear thinking, to less inflammatory concerns as it relates to their digestive systems. It’s amazing when you gain control of your immune system, the positive benefit it can have.

Katie: Yeah. And I’d love to go deeper on that about some of the ways we can start to kind of take control of the immune system reaction and retrain it. I know you talk about immuno-rejuvenation, I think is the term. And I’d love to hear more about how that process works. I know in my own life, the first step for me was actually learning that it was possible that people had before me not just gotten into remission but reversed Hashimotos. Because in the conventional system, I had been told this was a lifelong diagnosis, and this is how it would always be, and I would always be on medication. So, even knowing it was a possibility was a first step. And it seems like, since it’s encouraging to know that if our genes are not our destiny, and we actually have more control in some of these things than we thought we did, that seems like we would have hope and a lot of these different autoimmune conditions. But what is immuno-rejuvenation? And what does that process look like?

Jeffrey: Well, thank you very much. And again, I wanna just give a shout out to you because I think you grabbed the control of your immune system. And, you know, by active participation, you were able to turn back what was said to be an irreversible disease into a functional positive outcome. And that’s actually why the title of my last book was called “The Disease Delusion.” It’s not that we don’t have diseases. We do have diseases, but the question is, are they real or are they manifest relative to what we call symptoms? And in other words, are they fixed for all people? If you have a disease and a person says, let’s say diabetes, “Are all people with diabetes experiencing the same problem?” And the answer is no. There are many, many subtypes of diabetes based upon the individual characteristics of how that person’s body has responded to their lifestyle. And therefore, you might say, “Could you reverse diabetes then if you were to find out what your unique needs were to take away the things that were maybe harming and add the things that were going to support your proper genes to produce good control of your blood sugar?” And the answer is absolutely yes. We have seen hundreds of people reverse type two diabetes, who were said that they were gonna be on medications for diabetes for their life.

So, these conditions that we’ve often said are, once we get a name, we think we’re branded with that, and woah is us, we’re damaged goods, we’re kind of not worthy, because our health is not good, and somehow we got a bad message in our genes. That’s a very, very demeaning perspective, I believe that people often learn from their medical systems, it’s somehow they have bad genes, rather than recognizing no, they just need to find the right environment to turn the bad into good response, which is what obviously you did with Hashimotos.

So, with regard to how we approach is through this concept of immuno-rejuvenation, that is a long kind of polysyllabic term, but let me kind of make it simple. As I mentioned, our immune cells are being replaced every couple of months with new cells. And then the question is, well, are the new cells the same as the cells that they’re replacing, or are they more damaged, or are they less damaged? Do they carry the same memories that our cells that they’re replacing have, like, bad memories from bad experiences, or could they be made to be more capable of losing the bad memories and being more capable of then experiencing new things that are less reflective of bad experiences they may have had in the past?

And that concept of how the immune cells are turning over in our body and being replaced by new cells is a kind of advancing understanding within the field of immunology. This is almost like the Human Genome Project as to what’s happening in immunology. It’s fascinating the discoveries that are being made. And it’s being found that there are processes in our body, this is probably not totally surprising, that have been developed over millions of years. So, that the body can get rid of damaged immune cells and can replace it with new, less damaged immune cells or one that are capable of making up their own minds as to how they wanna behave, rather than taking messages from the past. And that process is called, we call it immuno-rejuvenation.

It’s the opposite… If you want to know the antonym of immuno-rejuvenation, the opposite is immunosenescence, which is aging of the immune system. And it turns out that there is now evidence that’s been accumulated over the last 10 years to say that if you want to predict how long a person will live, and what diseases they might have as they grow older, the singular best prediction is the age of their immune system, immunosenescence.

So, you might have a person with, say, 45 birthdays, but their immune system might be functioning like a 60-year-old in terms of its age, or you might have a person that’s 65, whose immune system is actually functioning as a 40-year-old. And so, this concept of, well, there’s not a direct relationship between your birthdays and the function of your immune system, your immune system can age at a more rapid rate or a slower rate than your birthdays, and that will then predict your health patterns as you grow older, and actually, even it predicts your life expectancy, it’s probably the singular most important variable you can measure now to determine your life expectancy is your immune age.

And we’re doing a lot of research in this area of immunosenescence and immuno-rejuvenation. And the really exciting thing about it is that you can lower the immune age of a person if they’re willing to put themselves into a personalized program that is focused on immune rejuvenation. So, this is not a one-way street. It’s a street that can turn you back into a younger you. And to me, that is a really, really powerful new way of using the discoveries that are being made in the field of immunology to make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s why we call it Big Bold Health, because we’re really focused on trying to get this message out to people.

Katie: Yeah. I think that’s so fascinating, and I’d love to go deeper on some subtopics of this. I also love that you brought up how often people when they are told they have a condition, that condition kind of becomes part of their identity. And this is kind of a deviation from the actual physical health side, but I think it’s an important one, which is that I had to learn to separate those things. For a while, I said, “Oh, I have Hashimotos.” And it became part of my identity. And I changed my language over time to, “I am recovering from this, my immune system is getting stronger, my body is getting healthier.” And I feel like even though it seems maybe a little bit more of the realm of woo, I think our bodies and our brains pay so much attention to what we say to ourselves internally, and that I needed to become a better curator of my own inner language. And I think that’s a piece that’s also not talked about. But at the same time, of course, we need to support the body in this recovery, because like you said, we can unprogram some of these bad things, we can support our immune system. And I think mindset goes hand in hand with that, I know we’re also gonna talk a little bit about mental health during this episode. But are there some pillars to reverse in the age of the immune system? For instance, are there supplements that are often helpful or dietary approaches that you often recommend?

Jeffrey: Well, you just said in that little statement, a huge amount of news to use. There’s gold in them thar hills, because this… Let me just quickly talk about your concept of how you talk to yourself, and its impact it can have on your immune system’s function. This has been relegated historically in medicine to kind of a non-medical area when people say, “Well, you know, you can’t really affect the physiology directly of your immune system by how you think about yourself. That’s really…no, that’s not true.” Well, it turns out, it is true. It is very true, because now it’s been found that just as we can impact our immune system, and alter its function, and cause it to be senescent or age as a consequence of exposure to toxic substances, or a bad diet, or a viral infection, we can also mark our genes with bad thoughts, with negative self-thoughts, with lack of feeling of support, lack of love attribution. Those have been demonstrated to also directly impact the messages that our immune system picks up and changes its function into a state of alarm.

It’s just as real as is the understanding that specific substances like viruses or bacteria can change the immune system. So, I think we’re learning that if you really want to restore or rejuvenate your immune system, you want a comprehensive program, you want a program that’s dealing with body, mind, and spirit, because all of those things are gonna be sending a message to your immune system to say, “You’re worthy of being healthy, you’re worthy of not being sick, and we’re gonna work on your behalf because you are now our leader, you’re not a victim of us, you are our leader.” And that concept of immune health is really an emerging powerful concept in what I would call the functional integrative model.

Now, how that relates to specific approaches that we use, we have this what we call Immunity+ program, immuno-rejuvenation program. In fact, we just finished a 21-day immuno-rejuvenation challenge with Big Bold Health. It was really fun. We had several hundred people going through our program for 21 days to see, you know, what they felt at the end of their 21 days. These are not people that were necessarily diseased, they’re just people that wanted to see if they could tune up their immune system and what it meant for immuno-rejuvenation. And at the end of the 21 days, it was really exciting to see the kind of feedback people were talking about, sleeping better, higher energy, less pain, more clear, less foggy brain, things that really sometimes we don’t think are related to immune system function, but they’re all tied to how our immune system is sending messages to the body.

In fact, people don’t recognize it when we have a severe infection, and our immune system is really working hard, it can use up 50% of our metabolic energy. So, you know, if you think about what happens to our energy when we have the flu or the cold, most people don’t feel real energetic because their immune system is taking up so much of their energy to defend them against the infection. So, our approach in the Big Bold Health kind of immuno-rejuvenation approach, which by the way, we describe in much more detail on our website, so I should probably send people if they’re interested. They can just Google Big Bold Health, and we’ve got a lot of information there that they can look at, but it’s a comprehensive program that involves both diet and lifestyle intervention. We do obviously sleep hygiene. We do time-restricted feeding. We have a specific diet program that’s very strong and eating the rainbow with a lot of foods that are rich in immune strengthening phytochemicals. In fact, we have a food lab that’s doing recipes and menu development supports that program.

And then we discovered something that I am still amazed actually how this has come about, but we discovered something it was an ancient food that was lost in America about 200 years ago, that happens to have some of the highest levels of immune active nutrients in it. It’s called Himalayan Tartary buckwheat. It’s a form of buckwheat that is very different than common buckwheat in that it has about 100 times higher levels of the immune active polyphenols, or flavonoids than does common buckwheat. The Tartary buckwheat, if you look at the origin of it, it comes from the Himalayan Mountain range. It’s actually a food for nearly 2500 years, it’s been consumed. This plant grows in a very, very hostile part of the world, and so, it’s a very tough plant. It produces a lot of immune active nutrients to protect itself against the weather, and the bad soils, and all the things it has to deal with, no pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals over all those years.

And we got so excited about this that I ultimately ended up investing in some small organic farms in upstate New York. We now have the first certified organic Himalayan Tartary buckwheat being produced in America for the last 200 years. And we’re using that as one of the ingredients in our food plan that we think is kind of a booster rocket food for this immuno-rejuvenation concept. So, lots of exciting things started to happen once we started to really deeply explore this process of immuno-rejuvenation.

Katie: That’s so fascinating. I had not even heard of that. I’ll make sure links to Big Bold Health and to that are in the show notes as well for you guys listening at wellnessmama.fm.

This episode is brought to you by Wellnesse. That’s wellness with an e on the end, my line of non-toxic, family focused personal care products including haircare, oral care and deodorant. At my house, kids toothbrushes and kids strawberry toothpaste are the favorites. The toothbrushes come in a 3-pack of fun colors, which makes it easy for my kids to know which brush is theirs. The strawberry toothpaste tastes great so there aren’t any fights about tooth brushing, and I love that it’s formulated around hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral found in tooth enamel. All of our toothpastes use only EWG verified safe ingredients, are free of toxins, and are packed with ingredients that naturally support the oral microbiome for stronger, healthier, whiter teeth naturally. Check out these and all of our products at wellnesse.com

 

This episode is brought to you by Bioptimizers Mag Breakthrough. Did you know that over 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium, and it’s the number one mineral to fight stress, fatigue, and sleep issues? Sleep, in particular, is the one foundational thing that every single expert I’ve had on this podcast can agree on. There’s one phase of sleep, which is responsible for most of our body’s daily rejuvenation, repair, for controlling hunger and weight loss hormones, boosting energy, and more. And I’m talking about deep sleep.

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What about the role of supplements? Because I know these can get controversial and there tends to be some disagreement sometimes between different types of medicine on whether they should or should not be used, whether they’re helpful or harmful. What’s your take on the evidence behind dietary supplements and how to know which ones you should take, if any?

Jeffrey: Well, I think that’s really, again, another very important question. As you know, the government has done many, many studies of nutrition intake of average people in the United States. And over the years, these food nutrition studies have defined specific target nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are commonly insufficient in the American diet. And unfortunately, this story hasn’t gotten better over time. There are a whole family of different nutrients that are not meeting what the government considers to be adequate levels of daily intake. So, these are not necessarily deficiencies that are producing what I would call frank nutrient deficiencies, like scurvy, beriberi or pellagra, but there are levels of insufficiency that are causing chronic nutrient insufficiency problems. So, that can have impact obviously on the immune system that is very actively involved with metabolism and therefore requires adequate levels of these vitamins and minerals, things like vitamin D, for instance, things like vitamin C, things like the mineral zinc, things like the mineral magnesium, these are all well known to be very…vitamin A and vitamin E, essential fatty acids, the Omega three family that’s another immune active family of nutrients.

So, when you look at the government studies, you find that many people are not getting adequate levels of those nutrients to meet their optimal needs. So, that then produces what’s called a nutrition gap between what you’d like to get and what is not being consumed in the diet. So, there’s a place where dietary supplementation can be very important because it fills a gap. And in our program, our Big Bold Health Nutrition Program, we try to rely on food to bring optimal nutrition to individuals because food is certainly the best place to start. But there are places where you have gaps, where you want to augment your nutrient intake, like say vitamin D, why it might be the nutrient that you are, right now, that a lot of people are really concerned about, because we don’t get out in the sun and we’re not producing adequate levels of vitamin D through sun exposure. And so, there are places where nutrition and supplementation can be very desirable in a moderation level. I’m not a strong believer in huge doses because I think the body likes to have more of a kind of sufficiency without overload, so that it can manage its physiology. So, we try to rely on good diet, good foods, natural foods grown in soil that are not over-treated with chemicals. And then we try to augment with nutrients that are associated with these nutrient gaps so that we’re maximizing nutritional quality for that individual.

Katie: Yeah, that makes sense. One of the guidelines I use with myself with supplements is that I cycle everything. So, I have a rule for myself that I don’t take or do anything every day, including I even occasionally take days where I fast where I mix up my supplements, I often don’t take supplements on the weekend with the idea I want my body to stay adaptable and metabolically adaptable, and not habituate to getting certain supplements or even certain foods every single day. That’s just been an approach that has worked for me, but I liked that idea of you wanna give your body what it needs, but not overload it, you don’t wanna give it too much, because that can affect your body’s natural production of things, or we know certain nutrients, toxicity can be just as big of a problem as deficiency. So, that seems really wise.

I’ve kind of, in my own head, used the concept of, you know, we’ve heard the concept of minimum effective dose, but when it comes to nutrition, I try to look at minimum optimal dose and figure out what that is for me and not go above that, but make sure I’m hitting the optimum level. And to your point, I think like everything we’ve talked about, there’s this level of personalization here, and I know you guys have resources for helping people actually really dial down what their specific nutrient needs are. You also mentioned the sunshine, and this is a little bit of a soapbox for me just because I feel like in the modern time, we’ve become scared of something that it gives life to our planet. And that if anything, we seem to have an epidemic of lack of healthy sun exposure more than we do of too much sun exposure in today’s modern world. But to me sun exposure, like you mentioned, creates vitamin D, but also we know that it helps the mitochondria of the cell, which we talked about earlier in the episode. So, what’s your take on sun exposure? I always love to ask this question.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I think that’s a really great one. And I think again, this comes back to personal criteria. People from Mediterranean descent who have a lot of ability to produce melanin in their skin when exposed to sun, and therefore it can become tan and protected to some extent, their tolerance of Sun is higher than a person that comes from, say, northern latitudes. Use myself in this example, you know, I was a lifeguard when I was a younger guy. And I had to be extraordinarily careful because of my skin color and my genes, I could just be a melanoma case at risk if I didn’t really protect myself carefully. So, I think you have to really personalize your sun exposure to some extent, but I think the data would say that something like 20 minutes of full skin exposure of your face, neck, arms, to sun at sea level, I’m just using kind of concepts is enough in most people to produce adequate levels of vitamin D. So, it doesn’t mean you have to be involved with full-body tanning to get vitamin D, but if you’ve got a tolerance to sun, you know, then so be it. But those individuals who I think are more sensitive to sun, it’s still 20 minutes a day of your arms, face, neck exposure to sun can be very beneficial in keeping your vitamin D recharged.

Katie: Good to know, yeah. I also noticed, personally, that as I addressed some of the inflammation in my body and worked on some of these things that we’ve already talked about with Hashimotos, as my body became less inflamed, I was able to stay in the sun a little bit longer without burning at all, my skin seemed to really benefit from the sun. So, I think to your point, listen to your own body and make sure you’re safe about it, but the sun and light exposure we know triggers certain receptors in our eyes and in our skin that help with sleep and all kinds… It’s so much beyond just vitamin D.

I’d also love to touch on mental health a little because it’s definitely no secret that after the last couple of years, a lot of mental health struggles are very much on the rise. And many of our listeners are moms, and I know that moms have been a demographic that’s especially been hit by I think the overwhelm and the stress of the last couple of years. It seems to me that mental health and physical health are very much a two-way street, if not a circle where they can both affect each other, but that also perhaps gives us things we can impact in both areas to help improve the other one. So, I would love your take on mental health, and maybe kind of let’s start broad, and then narrow down to some specifics that might be helpful to people with different situations going on.

Jeffrey: Yes, thank you. You know, it’s really amazing what we’re just learning about the chemistry of our brain and how it’s influenced by exposures of different types and how that translates into different types of psychologies that influence our behavior. And I think one of the most remarkable breakaway concepts just in the last few years is the gut-brain connection. I’m actually amazed at how this is caught into the general public right now as a concept, because it’s been around for about 20 years that the…there was a book actually published called “The Second Brain” about 20 years ago that was authored by a very well-known gastroenterologist, who was talking about how the messenger molecules that the brain uses to regulate its function are messenger molecules that often are produced by the gut microbiome. And therefore, the intestinal tract and the kinds of critters that we have living in our intestines can communicate with the brain’s immune system to alter our mood, mind, memory, and behavior. Now, that’s a big thing I just said. Let me say it again, because I think it’s kind of remarkable that the bugs in our gut, the microbiome, can produce substances that then travel through both the nervous system, the vagus nerve, and the bloodstream to influence the immune system of the brain that’s call the microglia in the brain, which then alters our mood, mind, memory, and behavior.

So, what happens then if a person has a disturbed microbiome as a consequence of a faulty diet, or too much certain kinds of medications, or too much stress, or toxic exposures, so that they have a disturbed microbiome? They then have the possibility of that disturbed microbiome being associated with altered immune system function of their body, which then communicates to their brain through the microglia that there is disturbance on board. And that can alter our…the way we see the world, our behavior. It can do other things like result in headaches, it can have effects on pain nociception. But in terms of behavior and psychology, it can actually influence whether we think the day is blue sky and shining, or whether it’s cloudy, and we feel the blues.

And I think that this construct that we think about what’s happened over the course of the last few years as we’ve had this SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 problem, we’ve all been isolated one from the other and kind of enclosed in a small little environment. And so, we’ve got the clustering of behavioral factors that are occurring, loneliness, isolation, lack of communication with others, lack of socialization, but we’re also changing our dietary patterns when we’re living in these closed environments. And we’re often eating, you know, what happens, we eat these escape foods that are feel-good foods, that are not necessarily the best foods for our long term health. And so, what happens, our microbiome changes its personality. And as it changes its personality, it sends messages to our brain saying, “I’m having the blues, shouldn’t you as well?” And then the brain has the blues.

So, I think that there are many variables that we have gotten into, it’s a negative spiral that ties together social factors, biological factors, food, nutrition factors, exercise patterns that alters our immune system such that our brain’s immune system starts to have inflammation that’s called neuroinflammation. And that’s associated with depression, it’s associated with a foggy brain. And so, if you want to turn the situation around, you wanna do lots of things together, right? You wanna get exercise, you wanna get with people that you love and feel supported by, you wanna increase your fluid intake, you wanna get away from bad foods and eat foods in the rainbow with a lot of fiber, you wanna make sure your gut microbiome is getting friendly, pre and probiotics. This is all part of what we call our Big Bold Health program, because it’s a body-mind connection, and the immune system is playing a very big important role in the translation of that message into how we feel.

Katie: And certainly, a common theme throughout the episode has been just how nuanced and personalized this level of functional medicine is. And I’m so excited that research continually points to this, and we’re getting more and more resources to be able to really connect people with their own personalized resources like this. I’ve said on here many, many times to my listeners that we are each our own primary healthcare provider, and that the best outcomes come when we, as informed patients who are willing to take responsibility for our health, work with experts who know what they’re doing in a specific area, and we can get to great outcomes. And on that note, I’m curious what you think of so much of this data and health trackers that we now have available. I know, like, for instance right now I’m wearing an Oura Ring, but we have all these at-home trackers that give us snapshots into the various aspects of our health, as well as now lab testing being much more widely available. I feel like we’re at an interesting time where we have, as individuals, much more access to our own information about our health than we have in the past. So, I’m curious what your take is on all of these and which of them, if any, you suggest to people for having an accurate picture of their health.

Jeffrey: Well, thank you, Katie, once again, and that’s usually gonna lead me right down the path that I wanted to go down, so I really appreciate it. I’m a biohacker guy, I’ll admit it. I’m a nerd. You know, I’ve probably had over 30 different biometric devices that I’ve worn or used over the years. I’ve landed also, as you can see on my hand, with an Oura Ring, and the reason I landed on an Oura Ring, and I have no association with the company formally, but I landed on it, because I’ve been doing quite a bit of work over the years looking at how different states of health are reflective of what goes on from the information that you’re providing from your wearable device.

And I had an experience that I actually put in a series of video blogs here two years ago, early on with SARS in which I recognized that my Oura Ring, my readiness score, which I’ve been wearing for some time, averages about oh, high 80s to low 90s, my readiness score, which is kind of a compilation of all the various things that the Oura Ring measures. And all of a sudden, one day, I wasn’t feeling sick, but my Oura Ring readiness score in the morning was down to, like, 65. And it’s like, what? You know, I never had a value that low. And then the next day, it was even lower, I think it went down to 59. And then the subsequent day, I got sick. So, it was…I had the flu. And it was a very good reminder that these biometrics that we’re measuring are really, that could be your heart rate variability, your pulse rate, your body temperature, your sleep cycle, your steps, your oxygen levels of oximetry, all of those things are really indirectly, they’re surrogate markers for how your immune system is functioning, which I had never thought about before.

And so, I have become a very, very big believer in these biometric tools as ways of actually assessing and tracking how we’re doing against our own opportunity to be at our high level of wellness. And it turns out that just this last month, a really interesting paper was published in “Nature Medicine,” one of the top medical journals, in which they were reporting a very detailed study on how these biometric wearable devices were useful in predicting whether a person was going to have a serious impact of a SARS-CoV-2 infection. And they could…they show that you could actually predict how severe the infection would be some days before the person actually got sick, based upon the changes in their wearable device, like I had already observed myself with my Oura Ring a couple years ago.

So, I think that what we’re measuring, I never really thought about this is, it’s not just your fitness of like, “Oh, did I get enough steps or enough activity today?” It’s really measuring an aggregate of all the variables that are associated with your immune systems communicating to your body that are seen through these variables like heart rate variability, pulse rate, body temperature, respiration rate, all those things, sleep cycling, those are surrogate markers for immune system function. So, I am a very, very strong believer that this is a good tracking tool, it’s a good positive reinforcement tool for staying on your own personal program. And if it starts to slip off, then you have to ask, “Oh, gee, what am I doing wrong? What happened to actually have these numbers start to decrease?”

Katie: Yeah. That’s a great overview. And as I expected, our time has flown by because you are such a wealth of knowledge and so easy to talk to you. So, perhaps we can do around two one day. I have a feeling we might get some specific follow-up questions related to specific conditions. And I know you have a lot of resources. For these, I’ll make sure that all the ones you’ve talked about will be linked in the show notes. So, everybody listening while you’re on the go, you can find all those notes at wellnessmama.fm. But a couple last quick questions I love to ask at the end of interviews. The first being if there’s a book or number of books that have profoundly impacted your life, and if so, what they are and why?

Jeffrey: Oh, boy, that’s a really good question. You know, I’m kind of a prodigious reader. I read about three to four books a week, probably on average, so I consider that probably reasonable reading. And there are so many books that have been philosophically very important for me to really change my way of thinking. I would say Rachel Carson’s books were very important for me to think about the planet, and its ecology, and its relationship to health. I think Frances Moore Lappé books “Diet for a Small Planet” were very important for me to think about how plant foods actually can influence not only a healthy planet, but healthy people, and that you can get adequate protein by grains and legumes together in a proper amino acid composition. I think that the concepts of Roger Williams and his writings on “Biochemical Individuality.” I think, Linus Pauling and his book on “Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu.” These are all books that really changed my thinking away from the way that I had been trained in my medical school and PhD training to think about this field in a much broader way that we’re connected to our planet. Our health is connected to our planet in very significant ways, and we are each advocates for how we wanna see the planet to look by the way that we act and how we live. So, I think all of those books have become very powerful shapers of my thinking over the years.

Katie: I love it. There’s some new recommendations in there, I actually did a college research paper on Linus Pauling’s work. And that was probably my first introduction into the world of nutrition and the idea that there’s something more to food than just calories. So, his work was impactful for me as well. And lastly, is there any parting advice for our listeners today that could be related to something we’ve talked about or entirely unrelated?

Jeffrey: Well, I think the most important thing for me right now is for people to recognize through the experiences that we’ve all shared globally with SARS-CoV-2 is that we have personal responsibility both for ourselves and those that are around us to create the world in which we wanna live. And this is an advocacy that I think is really important for us to all be mindful of, because we’re at a cultural transition in our world evolution, the evolution of society. So, you know, there’s certain epic periods in history where you can say, “Wow, that was a really important time.” You know, you might think of the Renaissance, for instance, or…there are many, many epic periods, but we’re at that epic period right now. And I think how we will transition through this to the new society, whether that’s gonna be the society that my grandchildren are going to live up in is gonna depend on how each one of us sees ourselves connected to one another, and connected to the planet in ways that leads to the best of living for all, and leads to survivability and sustainability. Those are to me the principal raisons d’etre, the raison d’etre for me probably as a consequence of the age I am now. But also I feel that there are so many people that are in need of finding themselves in this new order and finding their value as human beings as they’re connected to others. So, that’s kind of my message for today.

Katie: Awesome. Well, we’ll put a pin in it with that until next time, but Dr. Bland, thank you so much for your time today. We got through so much, and I think this has been a really helpful episode. Thank you for being here.

Jeffrey: My great pleasure. Keep up the great work, Katie. Thank you.

Katie: Thank you. And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the “Wellness Mama Podcast.”

 

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

This episode is brought to you by Wellnesse. That’s wellness with an e on the end, my line of non-toxic, family focused personal care products including haircare, oral care and deodorant. At my house, kids toothbrushes and kids strawberry toothpaste are the favorites. The toothbrushes come in a 3-pack of fun colors, which makes it easy for my kids to know which brush is theirs. The strawberry toothpaste tastes great so there aren’t any fights about tooth brushing, and I love that it’s formulated around hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral found in tooth enamel. All of our toothpastes use only EWG verified safe ingredients, are free of toxins, and are packed with ingredients that naturally support the oral microbiome for stronger, healthier, whiter teeth naturally. Check out these and all of our products at wellnesse.com.

This episode is brought to you by BiOptimizers MagBreakthrough. Did you know that over 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium, and it’s the number one mineral to fight stress, fatigue, and sleep issues? Sleep, in particular, is the one foundational thing that every single expert I’ve had on this podcast can agree on. There’s one phase of sleep, which is responsible for most of our body’s daily rejuvenation, repair, for controlling hunger and weight loss hormones, boosting energy, and more. And I’m talking about deep sleep.

Lately, I was feeling that my deep sleep was suffering a little bit. And this is why I’m so excited to share with you that Bioptimizers released their new and improved formula for Magnesium Breakthrough, which is the most powerful magnesium supplement on the market today. Magnesium is the single most studied mineral in existence powering over 600 critical reactions in our body. But not just any magnesium. This is why I recommend this particular one because it comes with seven essential forms of magnesium all in one supplement.

Most magnesium supplements fail because they are synthetic and/or not full spectrum. When you get all seven critical forms of magnesium, pretty much every function in your body gets upgraded, from your brain to your sleep, to pain and inflammation, and stress. With one simple action, you can reverse magnesium deficiency in all forms. And this is by far the most complete magnesium product I’ve ever found. I highly recommend you give it a try. And today you can get 10% off with a special coupon code when you visit magbreakthrough.com/wellnessmama and use the code Wellnessmama.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

One response to “566: Dr. Jeffrey Bland – The Father of Functional Medicine on Reversing Disease, Genes, and Immuno-Rejuvenation”

  1. Shel mitchell Avatar
    Shel mitchell

    I loved this podcast. Thank you for having Dr Bland on. I would love to hear Dr Bland talk on Forest bathing, especially regarding schools and how the future is heading to remote learning, and not having children playing and experiencing nature. The effects on their health.

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