Jeffrey Bland, PhD: Nutritional Medicine Sage & Father of Functional Medicine

Joseph Pizzorno, ND

I know of no one who has done more to show healthcare, both conventional and natural, the path to true health and healing than Dr. Jeffrey Bland. I have known Dr. Bland for more than half my life. He changed the course of and the lives of many others.

It started for me in 1975 when I graduated from naturopathic medical school, and along with other fortunate students, was in Dr.. Bland's study club. Each month, he would walk into our meeting, and hand each of us a stack of 15-20 research articles. Dr.. Bland would challenge us to think deeply about the true underlying causes of disease. We came to love and Dr.ead those sessions in which we learned so much, but were stretched so far-a preview of the neuronal challenge-testing that is now a hallmark of the Institute for Functional Medicine symposia. All of us, as intelligent, gifted clinicians, were awed by his brilliance and constantly inspired to be better. While the group of dedicated healers has grown Dr.amatically over the years, the experience of learning with Dr. Bland retains the essence of those first days.

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Bland has lectured on nutritional and functional medicine to over 100,000 doctors in more than 50 countries. His books and articles have been published in more than 25 languages, and he has been integral to the initiation of many of the institutions and organizations that now form the framework of this medicine. How did this master of nutritional biochemistry, regarded by many as one the most influential leaders in healthcare reform, come to think so differently from the standard dogma of his conventional education?

Jeffrey Bland started down this path from a very traditional academic route. He graduated from the University of California at Irvine in 1967 as its first chemistry/biology double-major. He had a rewarding undergraduate experience as a member of UCIs first intercollegiate basketball team and as one of the first musicians at the university to gain performance honors. After graduation, he moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he was a graduate Student in neurobiochemistry at the University of Oregon, receiving his PhD in 1971. With a National Science Foundation research fellowship, his ambition was to focus on research-and teaching. During graduate school, his first son, Kelly, was born. He fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and hiking, camping, skiing and water sports, and therefore decided to accept a teaching position at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

Six months before he was to start his new job, his second son, Kurt, was born. And as it is with everyone, "life is what happens to us while we're busy making other plans." Three weeks before Jeff was to start his new teaching position, Kurt died from sudden infant death synDr.ome (SIDS). This was a life-changing event for Jeff. He remembers constantly thinking "if in my life I can help one family prevent this from happening, it will have been a life well served." This led Jeff to the work of Linus Pauling and orthomolecular medicine.

Somewhere within the complex web of physiology and biochemistry he hoped to find an explanation of how tragic suffering and premature death could be prevented. This assumption changed the focus of his career and set him on a path toward integrative and functional medicine.

Dr. Bland recognized that he had much to learn about physiological chemistry, so he pursued postdoctoral training in clinical chemistry at the University of South Carolina Medical School, becoming a certified medical laboratory director in 1975.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Bland held research and teaching positions at the Oregon Health Sciences Center, the University of Hawaii Medical School, the Toronto College of Naturopathic Medicine in Ontario, Canada, Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and the Linus Pauling Institute for Science and Medicine. The focus of his research was evaluating the influence of various antioxidantS on cellular physiology. In 1976, his work received the dubious honor of being printed on the front page of the National Enquirer under the heading "University Professor Finds the Secret of Aging."

In reading the article, Jeff was surprised to learn that he was the "professor that had discovered the secret of aging...vitamin E supplementation." His published scientific work in this area did, however, contribute to an increasing understanding of the mechanism of action of vitamin E and other antioxidants at the cellular level.

During his year at Evergreen State College, Dr. Bland, Betty Kutter, PhD, and I team-taught an innovative course titled, "Is There a Healer in the House?" Many students from that course went on to becomeclinicians and medical researchers. In 1978, when we started John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, Dr. Bland was the first person we invited to join the board of trustees, and he worked with me to create the science-based curriculum that set the foundation for the institution's many later successes.

In 1978, Dr. Bland was also actively involved in the first meetings of the American Holistic MedicalAssociation (AHMA), where for many years he presented seminars on nutritional medicine. During thisperiod, he had the privilege of debating Dr. Victor Herbert at a meeting of the AHMA, which was known by many who attended as an "event" of classic indications of the transition from the old to the new concepts in nutrition.

During 1982, his first book on clinical nutrition for the health professional, The Medical Applications ofClinical Nutrition, was published.That same year, his first book for the general public, Your Health UnderSiege: Using Nutrition to Fight Back, was published and became a Book of the Month Club selection. In 1982,

Dr. Bland took a sabbatical to work at the Unus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, where he directed the Laboratory of Nutritional Supplement Analysis. During the next two years, he was deeply influenced by Dr. Pauling.

Everyone is confronted with major career and professional decisions throughout their adult lives. For Dr. Bland, 1984 was a pivotal year. He was challenged with the decision to either return to his tenured faculty position at the University of Puget Sound, where he had developed the largest research group at the University and had won the Brown and Haley Distinguished Professor Award, or to take a bold step and give up his tenure to start a research and conSulting company focused on teaching doctors how to implement preventive and nutritional medicine into .their practices. Against the wise recommendation of his father, who indicated that Jeff knew nothing about business and had a great job as a professor, he made the decision to "increase the size of the classroom," and started the company HealthComm International. The mission of .HealthComm was to provide clinical and scientific support for nutritional, lifestyle, and environmental approaches to both the prevention and treatment of chronic illness to healthcare providers. After many years of educational and commercial success, HealthComm merged with Metagenics, Inc. in 2000.

In 1991, Jeff and his wife, Susan, founded the lnstitute for Functional Medicine (IFM). This institute was formed to advance the field of health care, and was characterized by being patient-centered rather than diagnosis-centered. The Institute for Functional Medicine focused on correcting underlying physiological dysfunctions, rather than on the end-stage disease treatment typical of Western medicine.

Since its inception, the Institute for Functional Medicine has had more than 10,000 health professionals use its services, has held 11 international symposia, had more than 500 healthcare providers graduate from its 6-day clinical training program ("Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice"), and successfully achieved accreditation from the American Council on Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide Category 1 continuing medical education courses for physicians. The Institute for Functional Medicine has also published a number of texts, including the recently released, Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach, 2nd Edition.

In 2000, Jeff and Susan Bland donated their ownership of the Institute for Functional Medicine so it could become a public-trust, non-profit 501(c)3, independent, postgraduate educational institution, fostering the concepts of functional medicine.

Long before the IFM took shape in 1982, Dr. Bland began his monthly educational tape program, which has enriched and educated more than 10,000 subscribers in 36 countries. It started under the name, "Metabolic Update," became "Preventive Medicine Update," and now is titled "Functional Medicine Update." The program is available in both audio tape and CD-ROM formats, and the revenue from "Functional Medicine Update" now helps fund the non-profit Institute for Functional Medicine.

In 1994-1995, Dr. Bland spearheaded development of the "Natural Products Quality Assurance Alliance" (NPQAA). This group comprised more than 200 industry leaders in the production of various natural products, including foods, nutritional supplements, and cosmetics. After meeting for more than a year, the NPQAA published a comprehensive monograph that defined, for the first time, standards of quality assurance for the production of natural health products. This monograph was used by Senator Orrin Hatch in his communication to the Senate, which ultimately culminated in the passage of the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) in 1995.

Dr. Bland is now actively engaged in nutrigenomic research. The role that nutrients play as dietary signals in modulating gene expression patterns, and subsequently modifying the health of the individual, is rapidly emerging. Dr. Bland believes that this advancing technology is opening the door for the era of personalized medicine. Dr. Bland and his colleagues have established a nutrigenomics researchlaboratory and clinic, which has resulted in the publication of several papers on the role that nutrients play in modulating gene expression, protein assembly, cell signaling, and metabolic function.

If a person is shaped by mentors, then Dr. Bland has been very fonunate to have a strong group of mentors in the development of his expertise in integrative and functional medicine. As an undergraduate, he worked for Dr. Sherwood Rowland, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry for his discovery of the adverse influence that fluorocarbons were having on the ozone layer. In his graduate studies, Dr. Bland worked for. Dr. John Keana on the neurochemistry of tetrodotoxin. In his postgraduate studies with Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Roger Williams (see IMCJ issues 1.1 and 2.2 for a history of these conceptual leaders), he learned from these fathers of molecular medicine and biochemical individuality, and, of course, he began under the tutelage of his own father, a "truth seeker" with an uncompromising commitment to knowledge. These mentors all played important roles in the development of Dr. Bland's thirst for understanding of why people become ill.

The path of those practicing integrative and functional medicine is anything but straight. To attain training and experience in this area, one must seek out the right guides and teachers. Activism is required in becoming a skilled practitioner in the integrative and functional medicine areas. The natural selection that goes along with this process weeds out many of those who are "dabblers."

Several reasons can always be found for not making the change to this discipline: a more secure educational path, greater peer-group support, a clearer opportunity to be financially secure, a greater number of opportunities for professional growth, etc. For those who are drawn to the question of why people get sick and what to do about it, however, there may be no better place to grow than in the incubator of integrated and functional medicine. Dr. Bland's background represents the remarkable path that can develop when a person continmilly asks "why?" and is unwilling to take a partial answer as the response.

Those who have been actively involved in integrated and functional medicine for the past 25 years all seem to have this characteristic in common. I have learned a lot from Jeffrey Bland, including how to use the disciplined rigor of science to transform my understanding of health care. Most importantly, I've learned from him a relentless desire to understand, as well as tolerance and inclusion. Without prejudice or preconception, Dr. Bland has taught and enhanced the institutions of all the healthcare disciplines. All of us who have chosen this path of advanced healthcare share the only qualification that Dr. Bland requires - an intense desire for learning.

-Integrative Medicine, Vol. 3 No. 4 August/September 2004