Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

The Role of Epigenetics in Functional Medicine

Listen or watch on your favorite platforms

In this Everything Epigenetics episode, Dr. Jeffrey Bland and I discuss his significant contributions to functional medicines and how he has shaped this field. We also define functional medicine as a multidisciplinary approach that draws on the expertise of various healthcare professionals, including doctors, nutritionists, and researchers, to address complex health issues from a holistic perspective.

Dr. Jeffrey Bland, considered one of the pioneers in the field of functional medicine, has made notable contributions to the development and popularization of this approach to healthcare.

We talk about his journey in co-founding the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) in 1991 alongside his wife, Susan Bland, and how he established a prominent institution dedicated to promoting and advancing functional medicine principles.

Dr. Bland has authored influential books, including “The Disease Delusion,” which explores the root causes of chronic illnesses. Through lectures, workshops, and educational initiatives, he has played a pivotal role in educating healthcare professionals and the public about functional medicine’s core principles, emphasizing the interconnectedness of various body systems.

Dr. Bland and I also chat about his research in nutrition, genetics, and chronic diseases that has expanded our understanding of how dietary factors, genetics, and lifestyle choices influence health.

We discuss advocating for personalized healthcare and for individualized treatment plans that consider each patient’s unique genetic and epigenetic makeup and health history.

Additionally, Dr. Bland underscores the importance of lifestyle medicine, integrating principles like diet, exercise, stress management, and sleep into functional medicine’s holistic approach.

Lastly, we chat about the importance of epigenetics in Functional Medicine and how epigenetics is shaping the future of healthcare.

In this podcast you’ll learn about:

– How Dr. Bland and I met
– Dr. Bland’s four mentors
– How the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) got started
– How Dr. Bland’s views on medicine have changed throughout his career
– The idea of preventive medicine
– Epigenetics as a paradigm shifting concept
– How epigenetics has impacted his thoughts in functional medicine
– Dr. Bland’s book he wrote in 1989 tilted “Genetic Nutrioneering”
– Why you should test your genetic code
– Why you should get your epigenetics analyzed
– The work that needs to be done in epigenetics to further solidify the concept as nutrition is medicine
– The need for n=1 studies in epigenetics
– Dr. Bland’s clinical trial with TruDiagnostic
– The importance of deconvolution in epigenetic data analysis
– Immunity rejuvenation through Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat
– Regenerative practices
– What Dr. Bland wants to see accomplished is this field during his lifetime

Dr. Jeffrey Bland is a personable and highly respected thought leader who has spent more than five decades focused on the improvement of human health. He is known worldwide as the founder of the Functional Medicine movement, which represents his vision for a care model that is grounded in systems biology and informed by research that he has a unique ability to synthesize. His pioneering work has created the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute, as well as the Institute for Functional Medicine, the global leader in Functional Medicine education. 

Dr. Bland began his career as a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Puget Sound. He is a natural educator and became involved with numerous academic institutions during the years he spent teaching. This includes the significant contributions he made to the founding of Bastyr University, the first federally accredited university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in natural medicine in the US. In the early 1980s, Dr. Bland was hand-selected by two-time Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling to serve as Director of Nutritional Research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.

Dr. Bland is the author of best-selling books and over 120 peer-reviewed research publications. He speaks extensively, and his engaging style makes him popular with both professional and consumer audiences. Dr. Bland’s latest project is Big Bold Health, where he’s on a mission to transform the way people think about one of nature’s greatest innovations—the immune system. Through Big Bold Health, Dr. Bland is advocating for the power of immuno-rejuvenation to enhance immunity at a global level. It’s an ambitious and purpose-driven effort that encompasses his active stance on regenerative agriculture, environmental stewardship, and planetary health.


Jeffrey Bland, PhD

Hannah Went (00:02.841)
Welcome to the Everything Epigenetics podcast, Dr. Bland. Thanks for joining me today.

jeff Bland (00:08.998)
And I can’t tell you how much I’ve looked forward to this. This is a topic that is on the front of lobes of my mind all the time. So I look forward to talking to you about it.

Hannah Went (00:17.529)
Yeah, definitely. And I had my, you know, I guess real first exposure to you at the PLMI conference we did in Seattle. Um, I think it’s, you know, been almost over a year ago now coming at the, the end of the fall, uh, going into winter. And you know, you just amazed me. You’re always on the forefront. You’re asking the correct, the correct questions. So I was just super excited to have you on and really want to thank you for your time.

jeff Bland (00:42.07)
Well, thank you. I think what you’re doing is extraordinarily important. This is where the frontier lies and we need to get people to understand how they can be pioneers in this new frontier.

Hannah Went (00:52.537)
Yeah, definitely. And I kind of want to start with a unique question. As I was creating kind of my agenda or my talking points for this episode, I was listening to a bunch of your podcasts or features where you’re speaking and reading through a lot of transcripts of others who have chatted with you. But I found something in common that really just made me smile. A lot of them mentioned that you were their mentor, right? So I think you’re this.

figure in the space. And I think that really speaks volumes to everything you’ve done for the field of functional medicine and PLMI, which we’ll get into your background a little bit later. But you’re truly an inspiration. And I mean that when I say that, but that got me to thinking who was your mentor throughout your career, Dr. Bland?

jeff Bland (01:38.672)
Well, first of all, thank you. I guess what I’ve learned in the course of my now 77 years of living is that if you stick around long enough, eventually become piece of the furniture, you become part of the furniture. So yeah, I think that longevity has something to be said before it, I guess. So my mentors were really three principal, I think, figures as I look back. The first is my father, who is a tremendous guide.

always was there to support me. He was an aerospace engineer. He was a science geek. And he was always supportive of anything I wanted to do, everything from photography to electronics to baseball to basketball to you name it. He was always right there to jump in and provide guidance and leadership and support. Secondly, I think I’d have to say would be my undergraduate research mentor.

I was very lucky. I ended up going to my last two years at the University of California, Irvine, which is a brand new school at the time. I was in the first graduating class there and I had transferred over actually from UCLA. And I ended up having the opportunity to have as my research advisor, Professor Sherwood Rowland, who is quite famous actually because he and his postdoctoral student, Dr. Molina.

really discovered this whole thing about the ozone layer being threatened by freon refrigerant gases. And he won a Nobel Prize actually in chemistry for that discovery. He’s a physical chemist. And my undergraduate research, because it was a new school, we didn’t have a lot of doctoral students. They recruited a lot of undergraduates then into graduate kind of research. And so I ended up working for him on that process. And

It was important for me because it connected together environmental science with chemistry, with health. And so it kind of was my introduction into kind of going across disciplines and looking at things in a broader way. The third person in my list, I think would have to be John Wooden, the basketball coach at UCLA, who I unfortunately had the opportunity to play for as a, I guess you’d call it a great bench warmer.

jeff Bland (04:02.658)
But just being part of that team was the first national championship team where I went to UCLA. And he was just such a guy and such a figure for leadership and values. And then lastly, of course, in 1982, or actually 81 to 83, I took a sabbatical as a university professor by invitation from Dr. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner. And I.

Hannah Went (04:29.277)

jeff Bland (04:31.974)
I ran a research lab for Dr. Pauling in Stanford for a couple of years, and that was a true life and career-changing experience for me. So I would have to say those are the, of the four people that really kind of shaped how I was gonna use my years in my interest in science.

Hannah Went (04:47.473)

Well, what a lineup, Dr. Bland, you know, you have, you have all of these mentors for the, for you named in particular, just I think giving you a different aspect of, you know, kind of the way you’re learning, you’re merging these different fields, um, your sabbatical, you mentioned the leadership role from the basketball coach. So that’s, that’s phenomenal. I appreciate you answering that question because that was the first thing that came to mind. I think a lot of people look up to you and you’re an inspiration for a lot of people, so wanted to know who was there for you.

during your early career. I think I wanna get a little bit more into your background though. So since 1991, we know hundreds of thousands really of healthcare providers have participated in PLMI and IFM. And this collective knowledge has really positively impacted the lives of patients all over the world. So tell me a little bit more about PLMI and IFM. I know we just had the IFM conference, what it’s been two weeks now, maybe even just a week ago.

Um, and it’d be great maybe if you want to even describe PLM, I or IFM to those who’ve never heard of it before.

jeff Bland (05:53.162)
Yeah, certainly. So IFM stands for the Institute for Functional Medicine. And of course, that begs the question, what is functional medicine? And functional medicine was really born out of a collaboration with a variety of extraordinary thought leaders that I’d had the privilege of meeting. I started traveling and giving lectures quite extensively in the seventies. And it turned out that my wife and I put a kind of education company together called Stuart Seminars and started doing…

lectures on nutritional medicine to doctors. And that really came out of my experience with Linus Pauling. From that, my two years at the Pauling Institute, after I left, even though I had a family of young children and a mortgage and all those kinds of things, I made the decision to give over my tenure and to start a company called HealthCom to help teach doctors how to do nutritional medicine in their practice. When I think back, it was a crazy idea. I had no business plan.

Hannah Went (06:51.465)

jeff Bland (06:52.586)
I had no experience in business whatsoever. And now I’m suddenly going to move out on my own at the peril of the marketplace. But it turned out to work out fine. It was not a linear path, but it worked out. It worked out actually more than fine. It worked out very well. And during those years, my one calling card was giving courses. And so my courses went around the world. So I met all these people. I’ve now traveled over 6 million miles. It’s hard for you even to say that, but.

Hannah Went (07:20.233)
Oh, wow.

jeff Bland (07:22.366)
Yeah, it’s a lot of trips around the world, that’s for sure. But my wife then in the late 80s said to me, Jeff, you’re talking about all these interesting people you’re meeting and people that have innovative thoughts about what healthcare should be and how it should be organized. Why don’t we sponsor a meeting and have a whiteboard meeting that brings some of these thought leaders in and we can just sit down and not talk about licensure, about reimbursement, just kind of idealize what would healthcare look like?

by putting all these thought leaders together. And that she organized to happen in Victoria, British Columbia, and Vancouver Island in 1989. And it turned out to be a magnificent three day experience. I think all of us that there were about 45 people that attended that we invited. And then we made a decision, well, let’s meet again the following year in 1990 and continue the conversation. It was during that second year that I…

recognize that what we’d been speaking about all that period of time in terms of constructing a different model was really related to function. And I was breaking down function in my mind into four different quadrants that kind of aggregate together to form whole body function. That’s physical function, metabolic function, cognitive function, and behavioral function. And what I was recognizing is that we were developing tools to be able to quantify each of those subsectors of the word function.

And so if you were able to quantify those, you could ostensibly conceive of rolling them together into an aggregate that was really a new definition of health that would be focused on upstream or root cause versus downstream diagnosis and treatment of disease. So when it came back to the group on the second year of the last day of that meeting, I said, hey, I think we ought to consider calling this functional medicine.

Hannah Went (09:15.593)

jeff Bland (09:16.406)
The group pushed back pretty strongly because they said, no, well, just a minute here. I see why you’re going with that word, but you know, it’s a word that has a lot of pejorative implication in medicine back in 1990. It’s either geriatric disability medicine or it’s psychosomatic medicine. It’s all in your mind. And that was what was called functional medicine at the time. And so I said, well, that’s true. That is historically the way those words have been used.

Hannah Went (09:26.121)
I’m going to go ahead and turn it off.

jeff Bland (09:45.826)
But I’ve been following the literature pretty closely and I’m starting to see functional endocrinology, functional cardiology, functional radiology, and they’re using it in very different way. And the reason that I think it’s coming about is that we have new tools that are being able to actually measure function at the cellular level. And so maybe we should escape to where the puck is going and call it functional medicine. And so everyone finally said, okay, give it a whirl.

And then that became the Institute for Functional Medicine. Now, the interesting thing to me about this whole concept of choosing that word is that over time, a lot of the intuition that this group of thought leaders had, which were considered wild cards at the time and maybe fugitive ideas, have really proven to be more than 80% correct. I think it was pretty remarkable.

Hannah Went (10:40.787)
You’re welcome.

jeff Bland (10:42.134)
the number of things that we kind of collectively forecast way before the time was of its age and starting to predict, maybe predicts a little too strong a word, but at least speculate that this might be a trend that we would see emerging in the future. I think it has proven to be correct because now as you mentioned, Hannah, we have several hundred thousand practitioners now that have affiliated with this concept.

And the term, which is really a way of talking about systems biology in medicine. If you think of what systems thinking does, it really measures function. It doesn’t just measure pathology downstream. It measures upstream or root cause. So I think we were the harbingers of how systems biology gets placed into medicine. And huge amounts of advances have been made in that area over the last 10 years.

that makes us look like we were pretty smart. Now, just to close out this story, so I don’t look like I’m filled with hubris, it turns out that not a, well, probably 10 years after we started the Institute for Functional Medicine, so that would be around 2000, one of our members came up and said, Jeff, do you realize that there’s an article published in the Lancet in 1845 entitled functional medicine?

Hannah Went (11:46.985)
I’m sorry.

jeff Bland (12:06.934)
Now I follow the literature pretty closely and I like looking at historical things and I didn’t believe that he was right. I said, no, I would have known about it if it was in the Lancet, because I follow the Lancet, but he was right. Willoughby Wade, who was the Dean of the Medical School at Birmingham University in England, had published lectures on functional medicine that appeared in the Lancet in 1845. And although they’re written in the language of the age, which is different than the way we write today.

Hannah Went (12:18.13)

jeff Bland (12:36.994)
they basically described a lot of what we later called functional medicine. And so I don’t claim credit. I think we just took the concepts and moved it to the next level.

Hannah Went (12:43.168)

Hannah Went (12:50.893)
Yeah, that’s fascinating. I mean, you’re right though. They’re, they’re the group you’ve created, IFM, especially really early on, you were just really good at forecasting and speculating the trends. And then looking back, you actually, you know, found the article from 1945 proving kind of your, your thought experiment, so to speak. So

jeff Bland (13:10.334)
Now, just a minute. Everything you said is right, except it’s 1845.

Hannah Went (13:15.105)
Oh, you said 1845.

jeff Bland (13:16.61)
1845 was the 19th century. That’s how old this was.

Hannah Went (13:22.149)
Well, thank you for clarifying that is very important. So we’re going back even farther. So it’s just amazing. And that was my first time actually at IFM, I was with True Diagnostic and we had a booth since post COVID and the conversations that we had there were very high level and just amazing. I really enjoyed the company and the healthcare providers that we got to meet there. And they talked very highly of all of the lectures as well.

jeff Bland (13:24.398)


jeff Bland (13:52.65)
Well, let me say something to that. I really appreciate you bringing that up. So when we started the Institute for Functional Medicine in 1991, my colleagues who were in the traditional medical model asked what I was doing. And I described what we were up to. And they said, so you intend on educating doctors who are licensed in their practice about

how to apply systems biology concepts. So that means they’re gonna have to open up their biochemistry books, their cell biology books, their physiology books, their genetics books. You’re expecting them to go back and do that. And I said, well, I guess inherently that’s probably true that we’re gonna have to relearn things, maybe some of which we didn’t even like learning the first time. And that’s gonna be part of the criteria for the Institute. And…

Hannah Went (14:29.805)

jeff Bland (14:48.662)
They looked at me almost laughingly and said, well, good luck. You’re not gonna find, you might find 10 people that are willing to do that. But I think it’s quite a testament to the integrity of the people who have come into the functional medicine movement, that they’re willing to do that. They’re willing to go back and study things they didn’t even really like the first time around. And they’re also paying for it because there is a…

Hannah Went (14:51.782)

Hannah Went (14:55.613)

jeff Bland (15:13.182)
a fee that supports the Institute for Functional Medicine. It’s a non-for-profit organization, but it still has structure that needs to support. So they’re paying, they’re out of their office, and they’re opening up textbooks to relearn things that maybe the first time they weren’t even that excited about. And now we have literally hundreds of thousands of people that have done that. So it really gives me great sense of confidence that the…

The strive to be better at the craft of doing medicine is inherent within people within our community, as long as we can re-enchant them with the excitement as to why they went into medicine. They went into medicine to help people, and unfortunately what they found out when they got in it, often it was like they were working for drug companies, selling drugs, or they were working for insurance companies, filling out forms, and they weren’t doing why they really went to medical school as much as they wanted, which is helping…

Hannah Went (16:00.041)

jeff Bland (16:09.942)
patients. So I think we believe what we’re trying to do is to provide a re-enchantment to the practice of medicine that allows practitioners to be the kind of people they wanted to be to help people in their strive for better health.

Hannah Went (16:28.881)
Definitely. It’s Dr. Blaine, it’s so funny. You just brought that up because I literally was talking with one of my healthcare providers at the end of the day, yesterday, I called her and we chatted and she said, Hannah, I’m so sorry I’ve been off the grid. I was getting my certification for IFM. And she said it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but it was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in years. And I received, you know, I passed, I, you know,

a full week of work to slowing down my work so I could dive into these books again and relearn verbatim, relearn what I forgot in school, but what I truly want to do and may come to fruition in my practice. So that’s just fantastic. I’m really glad to hear about the history with IFM and I’m excited to see it grow as well. And I think…

kind of talking about what you’ve seen throughout your career, Dr. Bland, how have your views on medicine changed throughout the years?

jeff Bland (17:26.022)
Thank you.

jeff Bland (17:35.03)
Yeah, I think the most dramatic change for me, and I’m gonna exaggerate this to make a point, so don’t take me literally, it’s more figuratively, is that I used to be very, very strong in the word prevention. And I was the president early on in my career of the Northwest Academy of Preventive Medicine that had doctors in this organization that was focused on preventive medicine. I don’t think there is anything wrong philosophically with

Hannah Went (17:42.887)

jeff Bland (18:04.662)
the concept of prevention. But in actual fact, if we see how well prevention has worked in our society, it has not worked that well. And the reason it has not worked that well, I believe, is that prevention is still tethered very strongly or tied to the disease model. And so what we’re always talking about is preventing a disease, biomarkers of disease, which is always taking us back to in-stage, which is fear.

If you think of disease, it’s not something people love to talk about and they’re exalted in their conversation. You hope that you don’t get your number pulled and you hope you don’t get a disease, but the word disease is not a topic of conversation that leads to great sense of excitement. What leads to excitement is people being able to fulfill the life of all their expectations of performance, of function, so that they can do throughout the different ages, what they really want to do and how they aspire to perform.

And that is an uplifting concept. So I tend to move away from the term prevention to the term function as it relates to resilience. What we really wanna do is build resilience in people so that they can accommodate the inevitable stresses of life. Every human being is confronted with things of the unexpected. As they say, life is what happens in between our plans. And that construct…

of how you respond. Look at SARS-CoV-2. Some people, it was a lethal event, exposure to that virus, and others just, it was like a mile cold. It was the same virus that had a whole different pathophysiology associated with the resilience of that individual. How much do we focus on resilience and how much do we focus on the end-stage disease? Well, our attention was, let’s find some kind of a vaccine or…

Hannah Went (19:38.28)

jeff Bland (19:59.81)
some kind of a therapeutic agent that would defend us against the infection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That was good. I’m certainly not criticizing that effort. But how much time was spent in, okay, why do certain people have inherent resilience and other people not, whether they’re vaccinated or not? And if we learn something about those properties, could we do things with people to improve their functional health so that they were more resilient?

Hannah Went (20:19.549)

jeff Bland (20:28.25)
And these things would come and go without being catastrophic jeopardies to global security. So I think that that’s why I’ve kind of changed my mentality over the years from being very prevention focused to being very resilience focused. Because I think resilience goes beyond prevention. Or to say it another way, I think health is more than the absence of disease.

Hannah Went (20:49.401)
Yeah, yeah.

Hannah Went (20:55.565)
Oh, I like that.

jeff Bland (20:58.39)
the absence of a disease. So lower your cholesterol so you don’t get heart disease. Have a mammogram so you don’t get breast cancer or serious in-stage breast cancer. The other equation is to say, actually my health as a woman is more than my absence of breast cancer. My health as a woman has all sorts of endocrinological implications of which breast cancer is only the end point of a disaster.

All the others are related to how well I want to perform and how resilient I am. That’s where we are focusing.

Hannah Went (21:33.425)
Yeah. So focusing more on that systems biology and medicine, as you mentioned earlier, right? Yeah. And I think just digging a little bit deeper, um, of course, podcast being named everything epigenetics. I’m going to have to ask about epigenetics, Dr. Vland. So when do you remember first learning about epigenetics and we’ll, we’ll go in deeper and dive a little bit more, but I also want to know how it’s changed your views on functional medicine.

jeff Bland (21:35.767)
That’s right.

jeff Bland (21:58.518)
Yeah, thank you. So every student of biology learns about epigenetics, although they may not have known about it. And it’s developmental biology, it’s embryology. When I say the obvious, we all start from a single fertilized egg, but yet we end up with 100 or more different cell types. How does that happen? How do we end up with all these differentiated cell types from a single…

fertilized egg when all of those cell types have the same genes. The only way that can happen is certain cells express their genes differently than other cells. So the one becomes a nerve cell and the other becomes a Cardiac site and that is epigenetics. That’s what is going on in developmental embryology is the silency of certain parts of our genome, our book of life and allowing other chapters in our book of life to be read and expressed.

So this concept of epigenetics is actually in the repertoire of knowledge of every person who has ever studied biological sciences. The concept, however, was that process of epigenetic modulation of gene expression stops fairly early on in life, probably at delivery after pregnancy. So you have a lot of it going on in fetal development. Then once you’re born, you’re…

breathing oxygen, you’re probably over most of your epigenetic remodeling. That was the theme. So it was kind of locked in stone from then on because you didn’t want your kidney cell to become the heart cell. And so you have to have these things that are well in place. And so that model of epigenetics has been a dominant theme in all of health sciences. And it’s really tied very closely to the Mendelian concept of genetics.

This thing that Gregor Mendel discovered through crossover of peas, that we have these dominant recessive characteristics is still a guiding principle in biology and medicine. It is true. But what is now recognized is you can modulate the way that those characteristics are expressed so that they appear in variegated forms even though you have dominant and recessive.

jeff Bland (24:23.526)
So I consider you have a coarse tuning knob, which is called genetics, and then you have a fine tuning knob, which is called epigenetics. And if you think of Indian corn, it’s an interesting example, because Indian corn is a mosaic that comes from the same genes, but the kernels of the corn can be very, very different colors. And that has to do with the way those specific cells that made that kernel of corn.

express themselves based on their epigenetics and things that were discovered by a woman geneticist actually who was not hailed until near the end of her life for having made this discovery. And so the construct that epigenetics is operational throughout all of our life, maybe certainly not at the speed it is when we’re an embryo developing, but even in older age.

we can remodel these what are called metastable epi-elials that still can be modulated through epigenetic marks. And that those epigenetic marks, and this is the big wild card discovery, are a result of experiences that are signals that come from how we’re living our life. So the signals that come from our diet, from our environment, from our relationships.

Hannah Went (25:41.658)

jeff Bland (25:49.23)
from our activity patterns, from our sleep, all these variables that we might consider soft science are actually the hard variables that modulate epigenetic remodeling as we go throughout our life. And so if you think, act and behave junk, you look and feel junk. Not solely because your genes were bad, it’s because you turned on your alarm genes through epigenetic modulation. So this is a huge, huge paradigm shifting concept.

that moves us away from the fixed determinism of Mendelian genetics to the modulation of the epigenetic world of plasticity, that we have the plasticity. And it’s not a one-way street. You can epigenetically modulate so that you have an advantage to your environment, but you can also epigenetic modulate so that you have a disadvantage to your environment. And part of that is related to the decisions that we make.

as we travel through life. And so that gives us a lot more ability to put our hands on the control rod levers of our life. And if we’re willing to accept that, we can not secure with a surety an outcome, but we can certainly improve the probability of a positive outcome.

Hannah Went (27:07.737)
Yeah, definitely. That was perfectly put. I remember, you know, not even really hearing the word epigenetics when I was in school, but you’re right. You know, we’re learning it in our book, maybe just not knowing it. It’s probably one day of lecture and that’s about it. So I’m excited to see how epigenetics really changes the functional space. And if we’re able to use systems biology into medicine by measuring, of course, there’s more to epigenetics and just the biological age, DNA, epigenetic methylation markers.

there’ll be systems age that are available. So age of your organ systems, according to your brain, liver, pancreas, et cetera, that I think could maybe be useful for the type of functional medicine. And again, taking more of that overarching body approach rather than just preventative and trying to stop disease. So we’ll see where that grows. And if it will, I’m curious to see the application as well in terms of testing or…

you know, different research too, which I know you’ve been involved in as well.

jeff Bland (28:07.822)
Well, again, I want to applaud what you’re saying, because I think you’re right on the tip of the spear here. I’ve been asked for years. I wrote a book, because I didn’t realize it at the time, was the first book on nutrition and genetics. And it was called Genetic Nutritioneering, and it was published in 1989. And I would have questions asked by people saying, well, why the heck would I want to have my genes tested?

I mean, what am I going to learn? I don’t want to learn that I got an April wee and I’m going to get Alzheimer’s or I’ve got a bracket one or two and I’m going to get breast or in a mutrile cancer. So why would I want to know my genes? And my answer is that it’s the most precious thing that you own is your book of life, your 23 chapters encoded in your genes. And the more you know about that resource, the more that you can help guide yourself in intelligent decision-making.

You’re still in charge. You may decide whatever you want to decide, but at least you have the knowledge to make some informed decision about how you might want to live. And when you have your genes sequenced, they’re not going to change over time. You may get some mutations, but your genes will stay fixed. So one good sequencing of your genes can be a lifelong learning experience for you from which as new information becomes available, you have access to how it applies to you. So I recommend everybody should have their genes evaluated.

Then the next question is, well, why would I want my epigenome to be analyzed? Because you said that’s going to change all the time. And what I would say is if you think of the genome as being your hardware, then you think of the epigenome as being your software. Then you’d want to know how your software is running on your hardware to produce your phenotype, how you look at and feel. Now, admittedly, that can change over time.

But you’d want a baseline to kind of get a sense. So we track that, as you mentioned, in the H-clock determinations. But H-clock determinations are really related to the cell type that you are using to determine your epigenetics. And that relates to the experiences that cell has been through as it relates to being marked. So if we look at astronauts in Skylab, remember one twin was on the ground, the other twin was up in Skylab.

jeff Bland (30:31.518)
And although they were genetically homozygous, that when the twin came back from space, his epigenome had changed relative to his brother, his twin brother. And over some period of time and back on land, his epigenome, when sequentially measured, then became more like his twin brother, who had been on land all the time. So this shows how plastic or how variable

our life can be. Now, that’s fairly extreme environment. Maybe not everybody wants to be an astronaut, but it demonstrates the principle that by having your epigenome analyzed, it gives you a marker as to how you’re traveling in the way your genes can be expressed into your function. So I consider that another important part of a person’s catalog of information from which we as a society today are the first.

Hannah Went (31:01.744)

Hannah Went (31:07.878)

Hannah Went (31:17.171)

jeff Bland (31:26.722)
humans ever living on this planet, they had the opportunity to have that access of information to their life process at levels of discrimination never seen before. Then the question is, how do we want to use it? Do we want to just consider it’s geekism and it’s biohacking, or do we want to say, no, this will be informed into such a way that it’ll go to cloud and come back to us through AI evaluation. So we don’t have to become experts in all the machinations, but we have to know the outcome.

that can guide us in making good decisions.

Hannah Went (31:59.229)
Correct, yeah, I think we’ll see a lot of different outcomes created and see where it goes from there. And I like that you mentioned the twin study as well. A lot of research going on in epigenetics and twins. I don’t know if many people know this actually, but Dr. Steve Horvath, who has pioneered a lot of the epigenetic age clocks is a twin himself. So I know he does a lot of studies comparing him and his brother with the epigenetic age clocks and their outcomes and do different things with their lifestyle. So.

We’ll see where it goes and curious to see. I really like though, you made such a great point. We are really the generation that is able to use these epigenetic markers first. So I think with a lot of the biological science companies and the artificial intelligence coming out, we’ll be able to see kind of how they build the modules or what specific outcomes that they’re building it for. And of course,

As you were alluding to, I think knowledge is power. I agree. I think everyone should get their genetics measured, their epigenetics measured. And baseline is a good start. I would applaud anyone for getting a baseline on their epigenetics, but I think where the real value comes is in that longitudinal testing and analysis as well. So I think that will hopefully be something that a lot more people are achieving in terms of getting tests every six months, 12 months, et cetera, once we find out even more about the retest window too. So.

Interesting to say the least. Dr. Blaine, one more question. You briefly, briefly hinted on this. What work do you think needs to be done in epigenetics to further solidify the concept of nutrition as medicine? Or do you think it’s already there?

jeff Bland (33:36.778)
I don’t think it’s entirely there. I think the fundamental groundwork is there. I mean, for instance, there have been many studies on the role that various phytochemicals play on epigenetic remodeling in cell-based studies, in animal studies, and now starting in human trials, like sulpheraphane is a good example of a compound from the glucosinolate-containing vegetables of the cruciferous vegetable family. And…

Hannah Went (33:39.439)

jeff Bland (34:06.294)
have shown that it has effects on the methylated enzymes that are associated with epigenetics. And so we have mechanistic studies now that have identified how different principles that are found in food can influence epigenetic process. And we’ve even got some really good animal studies showing that you can actually phenotypically show changes, like for instance, in detoxification ability of an animal that upregulates its…

detoxifying enzyme through epigenetic remodeling. The next frontier is to make sure that this applies to humans in ways that we can demonstrate with the kinds of, I would call it, N of one studies where the person is controlled against himself. They are compared against himself. I think community-based, population-based studies are gonna be really hard to prove epigenetically because there’s such a variation.

of heterogeneity among different individuals, that I think you end up with a statistical mess a little bit when you assemble a community-based study. But if you look at a person against themself, the so-called N of one type protocol, you can discriminate and then you can aggregate N of one studies into population-based studies. And I think that’s a different statistical approach towards proving that the…

lifestyle and diet directly influence in an individual, their epigenome. And then of course, where do they influence the epigenome? Can you show what functional effects they have ultimately on the production of enzymes or proteins that modulate function within specific cell types? So I think we’ve got a future ahead of us for young new researchers coming up, but the nice thing is the tools are pretty robust.

and the compression of time to do these studies is being witnessed. I think back to the early days of epigenomics, I mean just doing the bisulfate degradation studies in a very simple model took years of graduate student time. Now we can get that done in hours versus years. So I think that we’re going to see a very, very great acceleration of information coming available over the next few years.

Hannah Went (36:25.253)
Yeah, I think so too. I think we have a little bit of evidence there for nutrition, like you mentioned, the phenotypes in different animal models. It’s hard in humans because the interventional trials or for that matter, any type of clinical trials are gonna be far fewer in between. We’re starting to gain a lot of information behind how different interventions, foods, supplements, et cetera, actually change the epigenome. But I do agree with you that it’s really hard because of the heterogeneity. We have to have the N of one precision

functional-based studies to see how things are shifting in an individual’s epigenome. So I totally agree with you when we have to look at also the differentiated methylated regions that change before and after, and then we have to dive a little bit deeper and see well which positions are changing or are shifting and then which genes are being turned on or turned off or more expressed or less expressed as well to actually even…

understand why this is happening in the first place. So there’s kind of a pathway you have to go through. It’s not as simple as testing, taking sulforaphane and then testing afterwards. That one’s a little bit more familiar. So maybe that was a bad example, but you get my point for what it’s worth.

jeff Bland (37:37.951)
Well, it’s worth a lot. I think you’re right on target. We just did a collaborative project with True Diagnostics with the intervention with a complex phytochemical mixture that was very high in specific polyphenols. I think it was a really, really interesting experience for us. I’ve done…

Hannah Went (37:39.665)

Hannah Went (37:46.845)

jeff Bland (38:00.83)
many human clinical trials over the last 40 years. And we had, I think, a very well-controlled trial. We had 50 people that started off. We ended up with 47 and completed the protocol over 90 days. And I thought they were very diligent and dedicated to the study. So we had a pretty tight study group. These were apparently healthy people. And we were looking at different methylation patterns post-supplementation with the polyphenol mixture.

And what I think we teased out of the data, at least to date, is those individuals that are more out of sync with regard to their methylation age to start, they already have a great deviation, are more likely to respond to intervention. And that’s not probably surprising, meaning the dynamic range is greater for those that are already in not optimal shape. If you take people that are pretty healthy to begin with and they’re in pretty good…

Hannah Went (38:55.439)

jeff Bland (38:59.914)
epigenomic shape, you have a very narrow dynamic range for improvement. But if a person is kind of out of whack, you’ve got a lot of variability to improve. And so what we did find, at least preliminarily, is the individuals that started off with a higher immune age than their birthday age, their chronological age, had a statistically significant improvement in their immune age over intervention, where the group at large didn’t show that.

that degree of change. So the more you need it, the more you can respond. Maybe that’s the good news story of how one can modulate the epigenome.

Hannah Went (39:40.197)
Yeah, definitely. Did you find anything else in that study? Or I know we’re still going back and doing some bioinformatics, I believe, with that trial in particular, and that you did that with Big Bold Health too, which you can give an introduction to as well, but anything else noteworthy there?

jeff Bland (39:55.122)
Yeah, I think the other noteworthy thing is deconvoluting the methylation patterns of the epigenome into immune cell subpopulations show some really interesting statistical correlations. We know that when you’re measuring methylation of the epigenome in blood plasma, your 10% of blood is white cells.

And that Buffy coat, which is composed of white cells, has many different archetypes of white cells. And each one of those may have its own unique methylation pattern. So when you’re doing kind of a bulk evaluation of immune blood epigenome, you’re looking at all the contributions of neutrophils, macrophages, monocytes, lymphocytes, and so forth. So by deconvoluting using certain kind of high powered bioinformatic algorithms, you can start to

look at the differentiation of the different immune cell populations, which gives you a kind of a better interrogation then of where was the change occurring at the innate immune system or the adaptive immune system, and how does that reflect changes in the phenotype of the individual relative to their immune cell function. So I think all of that was part of the outcome of our study that we were very excited to see these correlations starting to be developed.

Hannah Went (41:19.101)
Yeah, I think I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. I think epigenetics in terms of single cell investigation or immune cell subset percentages, the deconvolution method is an entire field within itself. So I think we’ll see that continue to grow and really boom underneath epigenetics.

jeff Bland (41:40.849)
So, let me give you a thought here because, you know, I’m speaking at a very high level maybe of esotericism. Let me take it down to a more ground level. So how does that correlate, if at all, and I think it does, with the way people might be living various activities of daily living?

One of them, actually there are three common experiences that all people share. One is breathing oxygen, another is consuming water, and the third is eating something. Everyone has those three. I guess you could put a four saying some degree of motility, exercise. But those three things of oxygen, water, and food are critically important to maintain any degree of function.

So one might ask, if you then look at food, how impactful is that on the epigenome in remodeling, particularly in adults? And if we then look at Dan Buettner’s work in the blue zones, in these regions of the globe where people, you circle with a blue marking pen, you circle these regions with a Sharpie that have a lot of centenarians that are still healthy.

And these centenarians don’t seek out modern medical services, Vilcambama, Costa Rica, Himalayan mountain regions, even Loma Linda, California. These are people that have certain dietary and lifestyle habits. And I was speaking to Dan Buettner about this and was discussing our study. And I said, it was interesting that we chose a complex mixture of phytonides that are derived actually from an ancient food, 4,000 years.

Hannah Went (43:07.91)

jeff Bland (43:24.87)
old called Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat, a food that was lost in America 200 years ago. I could go through a whole history, but I’ll save people from that anguish. Just to say it was lost 200 years ago. And we rediscovered it with a single person that was growing it in upstate New York, a former Cornell University Ag professor and his wife was a nurse, had this little hobby farm and they were growing about five acres of this ancient seed. It’s not actually a grain, it’s not gluten containing.

but it was consumed as a principal food and still is in regions of the Himalayan mountains. And when we examined it, we found out that it had the 50 to 100 times the level of immune active nutrients of any other food we could find. Even common buckwheat, it was 50 times higher. And so it developed genes over years to be able to survive in this very hostile environment with extreme temperature variations, bad soils,

drought, all the high sun intensity, and it developed a very strong immune system. It turns out that plants have immune systems as do we, and when we eat the foods that plants make as part of their immune defense, lo and behold, it speaks to our immune system. They cross talk. And so what we found is that this concept of food translates into the epigenome in very real ways through this research in them.

Hannah Went (44:42.345)

jeff Bland (44:51.842)
The stronger your diet is in immune strengthening nutrients, the more impact you have on your own immune cell epigenomic patterning. So I think that’s how it translates down to daily living is through these really important things that we’re discovering. And by the way, it’s even got another level that we’ve discovered, because we’ve been doing microrisal soil experiments as part of our regenerative agriculture advocacy. So we have a soil scientist, Emily Gris, that works for us.

Hannah Went (45:04.969)

jeff Bland (45:20.858)
And so we did field trial plots with different mycorrhizal inoculants on the soil to see if different fungi and bacteria when we put it in the soil could influence the phytochemicals in the final plant. And lo and behold, we find they did. We’re just publishing that paper. So it’s all interconnected, the immune system of the soil to the immune system of the plant, to the immune system of the human, to our epigenomic modulation of our immune system in our body. It’s a really magic.

Hannah Went (45:35.511)

jeff Bland (45:49.993)
concept when you think about it.

Hannah Went (45:52.093)
Yeah, it’s truly magical. Everything is interconnected. Even the way we breathe, our environment, the toxics around us, the air, our thoughts and how we process them, all interconnected. And I appreciate you bringing that down from more of a higher scientific level and explaining that. Not to bring it back up to a scientific level, we do have some really nice work coming out with several collaborators. I believe it’s even in pre-print now where we discover about 12,

new different immune cell subsets were able to predict by looking at your epigenome and different associations with lifestyle factors too. So more to come on that. I know we’re getting close to the end here, Dr. Bland. I have a couple more questions for you. What do you want to see accomplished in this field? What are you looking forward to or hoping there’s a breakthrough in?

jeff Bland (46:45.376)
Well, I think we’re going through the breakthrough right now. I think we’re going through a paradigm shift. And, you know, for all the bad stuff that SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 delivered to the world,

there are some takeaways that are some good things. It reminds me a lot of, I was a young professional at the Pauling Institute during the start of the HIV AIDS epidemic. And prior to HIV AIDS, there was very little known about the function of the immune system, quite honestly, other than gross architecture of the immune system. And it was really through that period of time, the early 80s, where we had tremendous advances made in immunology and flow cytometry became available.

single cell analysis of immune cells started to become prevalent. We started looking at T helper and T suppressor cells and natural killer cells. That’s all language it was birthed out of HIV AIDS with tremendous amounts of money put into research to better understand the immune system. Well, I think the same thing now is happening post COVID-19 and now we got this scourge of long haul COVID which…

is seen in many different ways in different people, but it’s certainly very real. It reminds me a little bit of the chronic fatigue syndrome issue that came out after HIV AIDS. And, you know, there’s a lot of people that tried to push back saying it was all psychological, there was really no organicity. But now we’re starting to see, no, there is organicity to long-haul COVID. It has something to do with the marking of the immune system and functional changes in organ physiology.

So my thought is that we’re going through a very important transition right now to come on the other side, where we will see a convergence of wearable devices, informatics, artificial intelligence, the biometric analysis that is being seed with epigenetics and the advances that True Diagnostic and other companies are making with consumerizing that to really put people in touch with

jeff Bland (48:48.726)
the ability that they will have to make intelligent decisions about how they want the trajectory of their health to go. Not everybody will take advantage of that. And some people take the luck of the draw and they’ll do just fine because they’ve got galvanized genes. But I think for a lot of people, this will provide an opportunity to not think of themselves in a victim space, that they’re gonna be a victim of something you have no control over. It’ll put them in a seat of.

control and if we feel like we’re in a locus of control, we know from human psychology that also feeds into a sense of wellbeing, that the feeling of despair, despondency, depression, anxiety comes from a sense of no control. It’s like jumping out of a plane with a parachute that you don’t know how to use. No one gave you the instructions. And so I think that we are witnessing right now this transition that I’ve hoped for all of my…

professional life is what got me into this field to begin with back in the, in the seventies. And whether I’m going to be around when it really this full, fully articulated, I’m not sure. But I think that we’re seeing in a real measurable period of time, not geological time, that we’re going to have a tremendous paradigm shift in how we see health, how we assess health and then how we intervene in health so that we will not just be late stage treaters of disease.

we will be people improving individuals’ functional capability.

Hannah Went (50:16.886)
I certainly agree. You actually took the word right out of my mouth control. I think with functional medicine, with all of the wearables, with the consumables, with the education, you know, that’s why I’m doing this podcast in the first place. Everything that is out there. Once we are sitting in the driver’s seat and we’re no longer in the passenger seat of our own life and we’re able to.

you know, not be as anxious or depressed and really feel like we have control over our own lives, um, is, you know, the, the dynamic that we’re seeing right now and what we’re going through. So, um, couldn’t agree more with you on that. Dr. Blaine, I could seriously sit here and chat with you all day. You are a wealth of knowledge. And, um, I, again, I just really thank you for your time. I do have one last question. This is a curve ball question. It’s more fun. So Dr. Blaine, if you could be any animal in the world, what would you be and why?

jeff Bland (51:09.909)
I would be a swallow.

Hannah Went (51:11.961)
A swallow, that was quick. Why do you pick that?

jeff Bland (51:16.69)
Every spring, I grew up in Southern California. And when the swallows would come back to Capistrano Beach, that was the greatest moment for my father to symbolize rejuvenation, re-birthing of coming back home, starting life over, putting a new nest together, being free. And if you ever watch swallows when they come back, they look like they’re having a great time.

And so I’ve always captured that as a kind of a model. And it’s interesting, we have a golden retriever dog and we have a big field in the back of our house. And so the swallows come back to Washington state and they arrive in our place. And the first day they arrive, they start playing with our dog. And I used to think that I was making this up. I thought that, no, I just want this to be the case, but it’s not. These swallows,

Hannah Went (52:06.971)
Oh. Right.

jeff Bland (52:13.698)
We’ll intimidate the dog. The dog will start chasing the swallows. It knows the swallows are faster and can get away, but the swallow will go around in a circle and continue to engage with the dog for several minutes playing this game of hide and chase. And I just think, okay, that’s just straight old play. And we all need more play in our life. We all need more joy in our life. We all need to think that when we reborn, re-nourished, re-energized, the swallow is my model.

Hannah Went (52:43.403)
That is just beautiful. I love that answer, Dr. Bland. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen, you know, the

the swallows come back or even that interaction. So I’m definitely going to be looking out for that as, uh, you know, moving forward. So, um, this has been great. Um, I know you’re very, um, you know, involved, I think now on social media, Instagram, a lot of your, um, published paper. So I’ll make sure to link all of those in the chat for anyone who wants to connect with you or learn a little bit more about your work and all of the amazing things you’re doing in this field. So thank you so much, Dr. Bland for joining me at the everything epigenetics podcast.

Remember everyone listening, you have your control over your DNA. So next time tune in more to learn how. Thanks again.

jeff Bland (53:25.106)
Anna, thank you. Great job. Be well.


About this Guest Expert

Jeffrey Bland, PhD
Jeffrey Bland, PhD, is the founder of the Functional Medicine movement and president of Big Bold Health, is renowned for his work in systems biology and personalized lifestyle medicine, significantly contributing to natural medicine education and research, and currently focuses on immuno-rejuvenation and regenerative agriculture for global health improvement.

More About me

Everything epigenetic
Everything epigenetic
The Role of Epigenetics in Functional Medicine

More Episodes