ODS Director's Message

Harmonizing the Science of Resilience: Special Issue Spotlights Accomplishments of the Trans‐NIH Resilience Working Group

Stefan M. Pasiakos, PhD, FACSM

October 2023

Abstract background technology concept in blue light, human body surrounded by icons for molecules, medications, microscope, body structure, brain, DNA, technology, and atoms all representing human resilience factors. For my first message, I want to highlight the work of Dr. LaVerne Brown and the ODS Resilience & Health Studies Program. Dr. Brown leads ODS efforts to coordinate scientific approaches to explore the effects of dietary supplements and their constituent ingredients on human resilience. She and her colleagues, Dr. Barbara Cohen and Dr. Rebecca Costello, began this effort to address the variability and equivocal nature of dietary supplement research. Many factors contribute to the apparent “noise” in dietary supplement research, including limitations in experimental design and methodologies and a focus on disease-based outcomes. To address these limitations, the ODS Resilience & Health Studies Program spearheaded the development of a new resilience framework for dietary supplement research.

Dr. Brown and her ODS colleagues did not develop this framework in a silo. They built a coalition of experts across academia and federal government, establishing the Trans-NIH Resilience Working Group comprised of more than 25 scientists from 14 NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices (ICOs). Together, they were able to clearly demonstrate how their resilience framework differed from previously published models of resilience.

Previously published models of resilience applied strategies that improve the health of a system by acting on the risk, stressor, or a particular disease endpoint. The ODS and Trans-NIH Resilience Working Group resilience research framework recognizes that different stressors and risks can be constant occurrences, and understanding the factors that strengthen a system despite concomitant exposures to stress and risk provides a window of opportunity to optimize health. Because resilience outcomes can be attributed to pathways that are unique and unrelated to any disease pathway, studies of dietary supplements that are intentionally designed to explore resilience outcomes may expand our understanding of the effects of dietary supplements.

These concepts, and much more, are described in a recent special supplement published in the journal Stress and Health. Dr. Brown and her ODS colleagues led and co-authored the special supplement titled, “Harmonizing the Science of Resilienceexternal link disclaimer,” which includes contributions from 32 authors across NIH ICOs as well as scientists from the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and academia. Each article in the special issue demonstrates a shared view of resilience that refers, in general, to a system's capacity to recover, grow, adapt, or resist perturbation from a challenge or stressor.

The special issue explores commonalities among viewpoints on the science of resilience at NIH, and four domains of scientific study were highlighted: molecular/cellular, physiologic, psychosocial and spiritual, and environmental/community resilience. Examples include sleep and physical activity (Baumgartner et al.external link disclaimer; Guida et al.external link disclaimer), behavioral and social processes of resilience across the lifespan (Elwood et al.external link disclaimer), whole-person health (Pitcher et al.external link disclaimer), and ageing (Colon-Emeric et al.external link disclaimer). The special issue also explores recent advances in understanding the factors associated with resilience in military populations (McClung et al.external link disclaimer; Polusny & Erbesexternal link disclaimer). Other concepts closely associated with or used as a surrogate for resilience, such as health restoration, prevention, reserve, coping, spirituality, and post-traumatic growth, are also addressed (Langevin et al.external link disclaimer). This special supplement represents one of many activities at ODS focused on exploring new approaches for studying the role of dietary supplements in human health.

Next steps to advance the science of resilience include coordinating a workshop to identify measures/metrics of resilience in NIH-funded research. A primary goal of the workshop will be to explore validating measures of resilience and to determine the applicability of those measures across biomedical domains. These efforts will help facilitate the development of a database of validated metrics of resilience that will serve as a useful tool to aid investigators in the design of studies exploring the role of dietary supplements on resilience as it relates to health optimization.