The difference between rejuvenating and boosting your immune system

We’re all looking for ways to optimize our immunity these days. The pandemic has us rethinking some of our basic assumptions around immunity, like this concept of “boosting.” We have this idea that simply boosting immune function is the way to go, but there’s a major catch here.

Boosting the action of immune cells that are unhealthy or damaged—and we all accumulate these as we age—will only boost immune dysfunction. I want to introduce you to a new concept that takes an entirely different approach. It’s called immuno-rejuvenation, and it’s a much better approach for optimizing our health.

My friend and mentor, Dr. Jeff Bland, is pioneering this concept of immuno-rejuvenation over at Big Bold Health. Instead of blindly boosting the immune system you’ve already got, rejuvenation uses your built-in programming to rebalance and reboot that system’s function. Rejuvenation is way more foundational and longer lasting than a basic boost.

The revolution of rejuvenation

Here’s why rejuvenation is better than that tired, old, conventional approach to immune health:

Rejuvenation works to reset your immune system at a cellular level. You’re not just building more of the system you’ve already got. You’re retraining the entire system to work properly.

Your immune cells turn over fast, so you essentially build an entirely new immune system every few months. Would you rather recreate the old one, or build a better one?

What’s the opposite of immuno-rejuvenation? Immuno-senescence. That’s the damage that accumulates in your immune system as you age. We all get old, tired “zombie” cells dragging us down into dysfunction and disease. Rejuvenation fights the zombie cells to make room for new, healthy cells.

How rejuvenation happens in your body

Modern immune systems face unprecedented challenges, like accumulated toxins in the environment, calorie-rich diets that provide little nutrition, and global sharing of microbes, to name just a few.[1] Repeated exposure to stressors like these can skew immune function, creating an imbalance between our immune systems’ core capabilities to play offense and defense. Over time, this can set the stage for inflammation, susceptibility to infection, hypersensitivities, and other signs of immune imbalance.

The emerging science in immunity shows us a better way. Immuno-rejuvenation is possible, and it can happen throughout the body in ways that help renew immune function:

The basic level of rejuvenation takes place in cells. Under the proper conditions, cells are activated to perform deep spring cleaning through a process called autophagy. This is how a cell collects its damaged parts in a specialized digestion chamber and then divides into a new, refreshed cell plus a bag of garbage ready for collection.[2]

Rejuvenation also occurs within the parts of a cell. The best example involves mitochondria. These are cell components where energy is processed and stored. But energy isn’t easy to handle—think of electricity—and mitochondria can age rapidly from this wear and tear. This brings us to mitophagy, a rejuvenation process for renewing damaged mitochondria, similar to autophagy.[3][4] Optimal immunity takes expert coordination of energy production, so this is a big deal.

The most complex form of rejuvenation takes place in tissues, like those of the liver, intestines, or heart. Tissue rejuvenation is especially important when cells have become so damaged that they lose the ability to rejuvenate. These are the zombie cells we don’t want, and harnessing the regenerative talents of stem cells may be a key to replacing them.[5] Rejuvenated cells function more like new cells, whereas boosting old cells only magnifies their compromised state.

How to switch on immuno-rejuvenation

New research is showing us how to cultivate the rejuvenation we need for better aging. Here are a few simple changes that can have a big impact:

  • Avoid overeating and late-night eating.
  • Stay physically active. Intense exertion—like interval training and martial arts—is especially effective, but check with your doctor before launching into a demanding new workout.[6]
  • Enjoy a plant-rich diet featuring colorful fresh produce—especially foods that are rich in rejuvenating prebiotics and polyphenols, like Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat.[7]
  • Include omega-3 fats from sustainable fish and supplements, and probiotic bacteria from fermented foods and supplements in your everyday diet.[8]
  • Avoid unhealthy food choices that prevent rejuvenation, like overly-processed, fried, highly-sweetened, and junk foods.
  • Give rejuvenation a chance by getting 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night.

Positive stress is rejuvenating

Rejuvenation is about more than just surviving. It’s more than dosing with vitamin C and zinc to fight a cold. It’s more than just overcoming one stress after another.

Positive stress enhances your mental, physical, and emotional wellness and it’s a key part of encouraging the body’s natural ability to rejuvenate. This means training yourself to build up resilience, so you can adapt to change and bounce back stronger and wiser after difficult experiences.[9]

Let’s look at this from a plant’s perspective. Plants have robust strategies for dealing with soil degradation, temperature extremes, hungry animals, floods, and drought.[10] Any one of these can kill a plant, so many have developed an ingenious method of handling these threats—they stock up on phytonutrients that allow them to thrive in the face of adversity. These are exactly the kinds of plant nutrients that turn on rejuvenation in us, too.

Now you can begin to see the method to Dr. Bland’s new approach to immune health. He prioritizes three classes of nutrients—polyphenols from plants, omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and microbiome support through pre- and probiotics—because these are the very food sources designed for resiliency in the face of adversity. Time and time again, we see that when we listen to the natural world and harness its own tricks, our personal health stands to benefit.

So let’s talk about a few examples of positive stressors, starting with a few of my personal favorites:

  • Challenge your temperature resilience with a sauna and then jump into an ice bath, or start with hot and cold showers.
  • Fasting (as long as your doctor has approved it) can be done in many different ways, from intermittent overnight fasts to full days or longer.
  • Public speaking—it might feel uncomfortable but gets easier the more you do it. That’s your resilience building!
  • Visit new places and meet new people. Harmonize with their lifestyles instead of imposing your own.
  • Challenging bike rides. For me the longer, the better.
  • Horseback riding. If you haven’t ever been, it’s harder than it looks but also really fun.
  • Try any kind of new physical activity, like tennis, rock climbing, dancing—something that challenges your brain and body at the same time.

Final takeaways

It’s time to think about immunity in a new way. Boosting immunity merely exaggerates all the defects of an aging immune system. Rejuvenation reboots immunity, from your cells up.

If you’re excited about the concept of rejuvenation, there’s much more to learn over at Big Bold Health, including products that highlight one of my favorite new foods, Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat. If you’re interested in learning more about the ins and outs of rejuvenating your immune function, check out all of the information Dr. Bland has to share at bigboldhealth.com. And remember:

  • Boosting imbalanced or poorly-trained immune cells will only amplify immune dysfunction.
  • Immuno-rejuvenation is our bodies’ natural system of refreshing immune cells for optimal immune function.
  • Rejuvenation only happens when you let it, by eating well, staying vigorously active, giving positive stress an edge over the negative, and getting the rest you need to reawaken your rejuvenation and keep it active.
  • If you want to prioritize rejuvenation and train your immune system toward a more youthful state, remember Dr. Bland’s big three nutrients—polyphenols, omega-3s, and prebiotics.

References

[1] Haahtela T. A biodiversity hypothesis. Allergy 2019;74(8):1445-1456.
[2] Deretic V, Levine B. Autophagy balances inflammation in innate immunity. Autophagy 2018;14(2):243-251.
[3] Xu Y, Shen J, Ran Z. Emerging views of mitophagy in immunity and autoimmune diseases. Autophagy 2020;16(1):3-17.
[4] Gkikas I, Palikaras K, Tavernarakis N. The Role of Mitophagy in Innate Immunity. Front Immunol 2018;9:1283.
[5] Li Z, Zhang Z, Ren Y, et al. Aging and age-related diseases: from mechanisms to therapeutic strategies. Biogerontology 2021;22(2):165-187.
[6] Tylutka A, Morawin B, Gramacki A, Zembron-Lacny A. Lifestyle exercise attenuates immunosenescence; flow cytometry analysis. BMC Geriatr 2021;21(1):200.
[7] Leri M, Scuto M, Ontario ML, et al. Healthy Effects of Plant Polyphenols: Molecular Mechanisms. Int J Mol Sci 2020;21(4):1250.
[8] Sharma R, Padwad Y. Nutraceuticals-Based Immunotherapeutic Concepts and Opportunities for the Mitigation of Cellular Senescence and Aging: A Narrative Review. Ageing Res Rev 2020;63:101141.
[9] Moskalev A, Stambler I, Caruso C. Innate and Adaptive Immunity in Aging and Longevity: The Foundation of Resilience. Aging Dis 2020;11(6):1363-1373.
[10] Martel J, Ojcius DM, Ko YF, et al. Hormetic Effects of Phytochemicals on Health and Longevity. Trends Endocrinol Metab 2019;30(6):335-346.
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