Questioning a "Diseased Illusion:" An Interview with Jeff Bland

With his newest book, The Disease Delusion, functional medicine pioneer, Jeff Bland, PhD, endeavors to help practitioners and patients alike fundamentally change how we view illness, health, and healing.

This deeply researched, yet thoroughly readable book challenges one of our most deeply held beliefs: the notion that chronic diseases are fixed and distinct “entities” to be treated with fixed therapeutic protocols.

DisDelusionCoverRather, Bland posits that what we call “diseases” are stable though dysfunctional patterns of imbalance in seven core physiologic processes. Genetics may predispose people to certain of these imbalances, but few illnesses are truly “genetic” in the deterministic sense.

Practitioners, Bland contends, should direct effort toward restoring physiological balance and correcting mismatches between a patient’s genetics and his or her environment and behavior.

The Disease Delusion brings together the major principles first laid out in the Institute for Functional Medicine's Textbook of Functional Medicine, but offers them in a more up-to-date format for a wider audience. The book echoes ancient principles underlying healing systems like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, but is equally grounded in Bland’s thorough understanding of physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology.

I caught up with Dr. Bland at the Institute for Functional Medicine’s 2014 International Conference in San Francisco to discuss The Disease Delusion, and his vision of the future of healthcare.

NG: “The Disease Delusion” is a provocative title, what would you say to people who might misunderstand and say, “I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. Are you saying I am making it up?”

JB: The title seems contradictory because we know there are diseases, and so one would logically ask, why would I call a book The Disease Delusion when it’s not a delusion when you have a disease?

The delusion is that most of us carry the view that these diseases came hard-wired into our genes, so, we get our breast cancer from our mother, our prostate cancer from our father, we get our diabetes from our parents and so forth, and that these are genetically related, inevitable conditions that we didn’t have much control over.

Over the last 25 years with the deciphering of the human genome, we didn’t find that genes coded for specific diseases; they coded for specific functions that would respond in that individual to their own environment, their own lifestyle, diet, exercise, stress, environmental exposures. When those individual responses come together to create a dysfunction in physiology, we later call it a disease. So it’s not that they are hard-wired and inevitable, it’s that they are unique to our own strengths and weaknesses.

Now does that mean people should be blamed for their disease? No! What that means that is that they should recognize that within their genes are powerful opportunities for great health! Everybody has in their genetic structure, health. And everybody has in their genetic structure the capability of disease. Some people have greater numbers of health attributes than others. However, all of us have the white light of good health if we turn on what I call our bliss genes and we turn off our tragedy genes.

Now how to we do that? By designing a specific lifestyle, environment, diet, exercise program that is matched to our genetic strengths and not playing into our genetic susceptibilities. It’s not a one-size fits all. The program for even your brother or sister might be slightly different than the one for you to optimize your genetic expression of the white light of good health.

So the concept of “disease delusion” is about the delusion as to the origin. It is a very empowering concept, because now it gives people the knowledge from these scientific discoveries that they can, with the implementation of an appropriate program, turn around what appears to be inevitability of disease, into the inevitability of good health. That’s the message of the book.

NG: Why did you choose to release this particular book now?

JB: Good question. I think there are two reasons. Number one is that when we authored the Textbook of Functional jeffbland3-copyMedicine in its first edition, it was written in 2001-3 and published in 2005, and then revised and republished in 2009. Over this period there has been the most remarkable revolution in understanding of the origin of chronic disease in the history of human science. We are living through an epic period in which the doubling time of information is every three years. So there is so much that has happened to give explanations for the origins of heart disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, dementia, arthritis, digestive disorders that we didn’t know when the Textbook was written.

Empowering people to have access to that information was one of the first reasons for writing the book. The second is that over the last 10 years since the Textbook has been written, the ability to test many of these concepts through research and clinical trials has been accomplished. Our own group has published probably more than 60 papers that relate to whether this model we propose really holds up, whether it’s true.

This is just a part of the broader body of literature. There’s exploding literature on clinical validation of these concepts. So I wanted to bring that weight of extraordinary new information to readers who are having to make decisions as they are growing older about how to manage their health. The options are far greater today than they were 10 years ago to create a health program particular to their needs.