Top Takeaways From Doctor’s Farmacy Live at IHSNY23

Mark Hyman, MD, hosted Jeffrey Bland, PhD, at the 2023 Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City, for a special live edition of his podcast The Doctor’s Farmacy. 

According to Hyman, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people focused on good health, longevity, and building strong immune systems. In their interview, they discussed how to build the immune system and reverse biological aging through diet, ideas that practitioners can share with their patients. 

If you missed the live program, stay tuned for an exclusive recording from the event. In the meantime, we rounded up our top takeaways for practitioners. 

1. Immune health is directly related to aging.

Biological aging, Bland said, is how the body responds to the experience of life.

“My father used to say...[this] is what happens in between your plans,” Bland said. And with those unexpected challenges that change the plan, he explained, comes a need for resilience.

In the body, resilience manifests primarily through three different tissues that are constantly sampling the outside world: the nervous system, the mucosal tissues, and the immune system. These systems, Bland said, are all cross-talking, and along the way they pick up some bad news, because everyone’s life has trauma.

“The question is,” Bland said, “how do you deal with that trauma?” Some people, he explained, will carry and accumulate it, depreciating the function of those cells taking the message from this communication system, leaving what are sometimes called immune scars.

Today, we have many people carrying the legacy of what the COVID-19 virus left on their immune system. These, Bland explained, are epigenetic marks which alter the immune system. Scientists are just starting to recognize these marks as a hallmark of aging. Fortunately, Bland said, these problems can be reversed.

“If there is damage, there’s repair,” said Bland. “That's what I call rejuvenation, and our body's capable of rejuvenating.

2. Humans are a reflection of the quality of food we eat.

In America, our agricultural system has moved from heirloom, high nutrient dense plants to subsidized production of highly commodified crops, modified corn, wheat, rice, and soy that are now the staples of our diet that account for probably 40-60 percent of our calories, said Hyman. 

The calories of these food however, aren’t the real problem. The problem is low-quality, ultra-processed foods. According to Hyman, there is a direct reflection between human health and the quality and conditions under which our foods are grown.

3. How food is grown and produced determines how nutrient dense it is.

“Foods have undergone the largest scientific study in the history of any living species called natural selection,” said Bland.

Plants, he said, have smoothed their composition over millions of years. They’ve survived in their environments as a consequence of natural selection, building an immune system to withstand the most hostile of environments.

The construct that we all learn in school about phytochemicals, that they’re non-essential, is a relic. Bland said. “It's wrong," he said. 

Phytochemicals, which occur naturally in plants as secondary metabolites, are signal transduction agents that regulate expression of genes at the executive center of function. Phytochemicals in the diet, Bland said, are not only antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, but they’re directly related to the function of transcription factors, and regulatory elements that, when altered, can cause epigenetic marks. 

One plant of particular interest to Bland is Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat, an ancient crop grown in the slopes of the Himalayas in extraordinarily bad soils high in aluminum. This crop, he said, has 50 times the amount of immune potentiating nutrients than common buckwheat.

According to Bland, consuming Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat, because of its phytonutrients, has the potential to reverse biological aging up to five to seven years. The problem is, Americans too often process these nutrients out of foods because of their taste.

“We just take them out of food and make it white so they have no flavor and no colors and we can put sugar and salt and fat in them and make them palatable and create high profits for the processed food industry,” said Hyman.

According to Bland, however, we’re beginning to realize those phytochemicals being removed are where the business of anti-aging is.

4. Aging is an inflammatory process.

The acceleration of inflammation causes the acceleration of age, said Bland. As people age, the immune system generates more and more sterile inflammation, which is the root of what is called, inflammaging.

One of the determinants of biological age is a phenotype named the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). Associated with senescent cells, commonly called Zombie cells, this phenotype is developed when the immune system is damaged and senescent cells become uncontrolled. When left uncontrolled, they trigger inflammatory pathways to help recycle dead tissue and help prevent foreign invaders, which can lead to chronic inflammation, and accelerated aging, Bland said.

5. Eating certain foods can help halt, and even reverse aging.

The good news, said Bland, is the body is able to reverse this damage, in large part though diet. Autophagy and apoptosis are molecular processes that activate the rejuvenation of cells to give room for new naive T cells to replace them.

“That’s the process that we’re really speaking about when we say, "young forever,"” said Bland. 

The diet for achieving longevity, said Bland, involves:

  • Low glycemic, minimally processed foods grown in the earth that look like they were previously alive.
  • Eating the rainbow, which does not include foods with synthetic food dyes.
  • Probiotic rich foods with an array of non-digestible carbohydrates of different forms and textures.

“All I can say is now have I’ve been in this field for 50 years and most trends came and went,” said Bland. “The only things that have stayed are the things that are real. That's eating a complex diet, that’s rich in unadulterated plant and animal products.”

Editor's note: This article is part of Integrative Practitioner's live coverage of the 2023 Integrative Healthcare Symposium at the Hilton Midtown in New York City. Click here to catch up on the live coverage.