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How to Come Back to the World

If you’re like me, there’s a mess of advice vying for my attention as I begin to shape my personal strategies to leave the house and return to some version of normal life. So many voices, so many agendas, so much noise to filter, and now at such high stakes.

But I’ve come to a realization inside all of this noise, and it’s a simple one. This is up to me. As with so many decisions around health, I get to make this call. If you’re like me, that’s a scary, empowering, and daunting prospect, all at once.

In forming my own “personal protection plan,” I’m keeping a few big thoughts in mind:

  • This pandemic is a window into a deeper story unfolding in our society, across our planet. There are lots of different windows into this story, but this particular one lets in a powerful breeze. 
  • Every moment of life carries some degree of risk. We can use this new reality as a way to measure and evaluate risk in more productive ways. We can re-prioritize behaviors and focus our energies where they’re needed most.
  • The first responders and essential workers are heroes, warriors, saviors, yes. But they’re also our friends and family. They are not other. They are us. We’re all in this together, always have been.
  • Immunity is not as simple as a sprained knee or viral infection. It’s not a topic for cold-and-flu season. Immunity is the way we meet the world, every second of every day, and it’s the right place to start for improving your personal health, regardless of the specific disease vapors circulating through your air.

It’s Up To You

There is no single way to re-enter the world, but there is a stark realization that it’s up to us to figure it out. Deference to some higher authority is not a viable option. Most of us will not wake up one day to a green-lit government decree and go straight to the movie theater. Most of us will ease back into things and test the waters in our own peculiar ways.

I’m reminded of a conversation with Doug Greene, an early investor at Big Bold Health and a pioneer in the natural foods world. “Getting people to modify their behavior, that’s such a challenge,” says Greene. “How do we get healthy habits baked into our everyday lives before things reach crisis level?” For Greene, the answer to that question lives in small steps, in fun and achievable goals. He starts the day with a loaded smoothie. He keeps a notebook on the kitchen counter to track healthy behaviors, from diet to exercise, meditation, and sleep quality. “I really think you upgrade human behavior by doing these small things, and only you can do it. You make these decisions, and there’s some tension baked into that. You have to overcome the fears around individual responsibility when you realize you can’t always punt to the doctor.”

“I really think you upgrade human behavior by doing these small things, and only you can do it … You have to overcome the fears around individual responsibility when you realize you can’t always punt to the doctor.” — DOUG GREENE


Makes good sense to me, more sense than anything in my newsfeeds. Why not use re-entry as the clarion call for change that it is? Why not place the rejuvenation of our health, and the planet’s health, high up in the mix as we take our baby steps back out into the light.

Sam Beer, Jeff Bland, Angelica Mill
Jeff Bland & Sam Beer at Angelica Mill

 

It’s Up To Us

Amidst all the noise, there is one storyline that always gives me pause. I pause when I see the pollution clouds over industrial centers in China dissipate during quarantine. I pause when East Coast relatives describe spring days with clean, crisp air like they remember from their youth, decades ago. 

We know this stuff. Our personal health is part and parcel of larger systems of health. Our health depends on the planet’s health, and our ability to rejuvenate immunity at a global level depends upon renewal at a planetary level, too. We now get to prove we know it as we set the terms for re-entry into social life.

I’m reminded of another conversation with another key investor in Big Bold Health, Ruth Westreich, a vocal activist for change in health care. “We all know the language of disease,” says Westreich, “so let’s start to delineate the language of health. My entry point for that kind of thinking is this world we live in, a world in need of repair, and our ability to overlay epigenetics and lifestyle choices with that. We have some powerful ways to look at all of this together now.”

It’s an important reminder to guard the re-entry process from growing selfish. Here is an opportunity to reset the terms of life going forward. That’s a big deal. Shouldn’t we get expansive in doing so? Or should we focus on the quickest, easiest ways to tick off boxes on our to-do lists? The planet doesn’t much care for my to-do list.

“You can eat carrots all day,” says Westreich, “but if the soil’s depleted, you might as well be eating cardboard. The toxins in our environment keep us from being healthy. You can’t get where you want to be with health in a polluted world.” Let’s stretch that line of thinking even further. With our most disadvantaged citizens bearing the heaviest toll of this pandemic, can we ever get where we need to go with so many left behind?

“We all know the language of disease, so let’s start to delineate the language of health.” — RUTH WESTREICH

 

These are my thoughts in returning to life. I have a say in determining the version of life I return to, and together we determine a new collective vision for what modern life should look like. I’m going to try not to fear that responsibility. I’m going to go broad and expansive enough to acknowledge the interconnectedness of it all — the plants we eat, the people we love, the planet we share. Healthy choices abound across that chain, and we’re all about to make a lot of choices.

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Rediscovering Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat

I first heard about 2-HOBA from Sam Beer, a gentleman farmer on the front lines of saving buckwheat in the Appalachian foothills of Western New York. Actually, “front lines” gets it wrong. Beer is the only real grower of Himalayan Tartary buckwheat in this entire country, and through Angelica Mill, he’s become the lifeblood for some of Big Bold Health’s first products targeting immuno-rejuvenation.

There’s a big difference between common buckwheat and Himalayan Tartary buckwheat, a species that carries higher loads of key phytonutrients. This is not the buckwheat you find lining the shelves at your local grocery store. With Himalayan Tartary buckwheat, the nutritional science points toward dramatically higher levels of a flavonoid mix — namely, rutin, quercetin, hesperidin, luteolin, and diosmin — and dramatically higher levels of 2-HOBA. The presence of 2-HOBA in foods is rare, and Himalayan Tartary buckwheat is the best food-source we know for it.

Sam Beer at Angelica Mill
Himalayan Tartary buckwheat

The Power Of The Small Farmer

“It was everywhere,” says Beer, referring to his favorite species of buckwheat, “and disappeared from everywhere almost simultaneously. After World War II, farmers started to walk away from these low-yielding, peasant crops. Modern agriculture went a way that just didn’t suit tartary buckwheat very well.” The story of Himalayan Tartary buckwheat is a story of protecting and rediscovering an ancient grain lost to the modern food supply. In the pursuit of yield, uniformity, and crop consistency, maybe we lost something along the way. Maybe we lost access to important compounds like 2-HOBA.

“After World War II, farmers started to walk away from these low-yielding, peasant crops. Modern agriculture went a way that just didn’t suit tartary buckwheat very well.” — SAM BEER

 

The story of Himalayan Tartary buckwheat is also the story of the wild, and the power therein. “We’ve only worked with four land races from North America,” says Beer. “These are farmer-bred cultivars, so by nature they’re just more variable. No one’s narrowed down the genetics. There’s this sense that they’re still evolving.” This evolution walks an entirely different path from the monocultures of modern agriculture where genetics and cross-breeding can take a plant far afield from its original, wilder progenitors.

 

Sam Beer with Himalayan Tartary buckwheat
Sam Beer at Angelica Mill

 

And the story of Himalayan Tartary buckwheat is also the story of Sam Beer himself, of a small farmer who happened upon a special crop and spent decades advocating for its role in the modern diet. “We backed into this,” says Beer. “I got the tartary buckwheat seed by mistake. This all started with those 50 seeds, and the years it took to get the fields up to scale, before we even needed field-scale equipment. We can’t offer a price competitive with highly-automated freight-train-scale agribusiness, but we can promise attention to detail every step of the way, from planting the seed to sealing the bag.”

The market came back to Beer because that attention to detail matters in food. That attention to detail leads to quality more than quantity, to higher nutritional value, to a crop that can deliver 2-HOBA to a company like Big Bold Health.

The Power Of An Open Mind

I next heard about 2-HOBA from Dr. Naji Abumrad at Vanderbilt University. A surgeon in training and practice, Abumrad was born in Lebanon and perhaps this informed the open mind he has brought to several key advances in dietary supplements and personal health. “Regardless of the discipline at hand, I was always cognizant that we’re more prescriptive in this country,” says Abumrad. “We find a problem, diagnose it with the knowledge available at the time. In the Middle East, there’s a holistic approach on equal footing with the allopathic. There’s real interest in what we would call alternative medicine.”

This equal footing for the alternative approach led to HMB, itself a powerful ingredient for muscle and lean tissue in the body. “The team behind HMB got interested in how aspirin works, how NSAIDs work,” says Abumrad. “We collaborated with investigators at Vanderbilt to identify the pathways of arachidonic acid, and in doing so, found that minute amounts of 2-HOBA, like you’d find in buckwheat, seemed to prevent the binding of injurious compounds.”

In this light, HMB is the proof of concept that would surface Abumrad’s next powerful ingredient, 2-HOBA. The work continues to assess this ingredient’s ability to rejuvenate the immune system in concert with HMB, and to promote the kind of autophagy that clears out the debris of damaged cells for the flourishing of vital new ones. The immune system presents a special opportunity to promote this kind of rejuvenation. Immunity is where we meet the external world and process its signals. It’s a system where new cells are produced at rapid pace, more than a million with every ten passing seconds.

If 2-HOBA is a powerhouse for immune function, then this story comes full circle. Those “minute amounts of 2-HOBA” found in common buckwheat during nutritional research get less minute with Beer’s super-buckwheat. “Terroir could play a meaningful role here with the tartary buckwheat out of Western New York,” says Abumrad. “There’s much more 2-HOBA there than common buckwheat, but you’ll likely still need to supplement even more.”

 

“Terroir could play a meaningful role here with the tartary buckwheat out of Western New York. There’s much more 2-HOBA there than common buckwheat, but you’ll likely still need to supplement even more.” — DR. NAJI ABUMRAD

 

Ancient Wisdom Through The Lens Of Modern Science

This is what it takes to bring an ingredient like Himalayan Tartary buckwheat, with a promising phytoactive like 2-HOBA, center stage. It takes a farmer and a doctor working at twin purposes. It takes a scientific mindset both attracted to and respectful of the age-old lessons taught by Mother Earth. It takes an ancient grain once lost to the Western world and the Western diet to rejigger our very perceptions of immunity and how we might best rejuvenate it.

REFERENCES

  1. Pitchford LM, Driver PM, Fuller JC Jr, et al. Safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of repeated oral doses of 2-hydroxybenzylamine acetate in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. BMC Pharmacol Toxicol 2020;21(1):3.
  2. Pitchford LM, Rathmacher JA, Fuller JC, et al. First-in-human study assessing safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of 2-hydroxybenzylamine acetate, a selective dicarbonyl electrophile scavenger, in healthy volunteers. BMC Pharmacol Toxicol 2019;20:1.
  3. Thakur R, Verma ML. Food bioactives with special reference to Himalayan tartary buckwheat. Saarbrucken, Germany; LAP Lambert Academic Publishing: 2017.