So I’m writing this from San Francisco. Berkley to be exact. It is 5.24pm and Caryn and I have made it back to our dorm rooms at the end of the Ancestral Health Symposium and taking some down time before heading out to dinner with the rest of the NZ contingent to have a debrief over dinner and a well deserved glass of wine. I had prepared two blog posts actually – to put up on line that were somewhat related to the AHS (as in, they are a summary of an excellent talk given by Peter Attia on cholesterol that he gave at the AHS in 2012). However, given I have half an hour in between now and dinner I thought I would quickly jot down some highlights of the trip so far. As you know, I’m neither systematic nor logical in how I collect my thoughts, and this blog post will reflect that. These are merely some of the many things that have piqued my interest.
Some key take home points from three of the first speakers on Day one of the conference:
Dan Pardi – creator of Dan’s Plan talked about the integration of technology to help people stay motivated in their health and wellbeing goals. Now, this concept is nothing new – anyone with a pedometer or fitbit (or anyone that tracks…anything) will be familiar with these tools – however, for some, the idea that we can use technology as a way to advance health through an evolutionary health model seems somewhat contrary to the goal of getting back to basics that many advocate. this talk was a good reminder that ancestral health is not about trying to emulate the environment of our ancestors and eschewing technology – it’s about finding ways of enabling us to meet these health goals.
Grace Liu, a researcher in the gut health area talked about how our changing environment has affected the diversity of the bacteria in our gut and how this has impacted on health. Some challenges included:
- the introduction of agriculture;
- our decreased exposure to mud and manure;
- electricity and the invention of refrigeration eliminating the need to ferment our food in order to preserve it;
- using antibiotics to to fatten livestock; and for infants
- being born by caesarean and the increasing use of formula all presenting challenges for the growth of that bacteria.
Grace’s recommendations for people who want to help preserve gut health by increasing the diversity of the bacteria were to:
- Include fermented foods
- Include resistant starch (a type of starch that is used as a fuel for the bacteria in our gut, and found either in strains of fibre or particular foods such as potatoes and unripe bananas)
- Lifestyle (manage stress, make time for meditation, minimise environmental toxins in all forms)
Denise Minger, known predominantly for her critique of the China Study and author of Death by Food Pyramid (a great read of the history of the dietary guidelines) gave a somewhat surprising talk regarding the plant based versus a carnivore diet for overall health outcomes. Most people would have expected the obvious outcome that anyone improving their diet will experience health benefits because the baseline diet was so bad. Not so. In fact, what Denise found was the the very antithesis of the paleo approach to diet was very successful at improving health outcomes for people that were long lasting and sustainable. She first investigated Walter Kempner’s work on the Rice Diet. A typical day’s intake looking something like this:
Breakfast: 1 c brown rice, 1 small glass of orange juice, 2 figs and unsweetened coffee
Lunch: 1c brown rice, 1 c stewed tomatoes, raw carrots and 1 glass skimmed milk
Dinner: 1.5 c Russian Pilaf, 1 bowl mixed carrots, cabbage, cucumber, ½ c fresh fruit cocktail
Based on 2400 Cal per day, 350g rice, unlimited juice and fruit and totaling between 100-400g/d of sugar, this diet was successful in reversing kidney disease and enabling people to regenerate insulin production. An analysis of the Pritikin diet illustrated that it was useful in reducing tissue attoxia (lack of oxygen in the tissue) and finally Esselstyn, famous for the diet that helped reverse heart disease in a small group of patients that had suffered a coronary event, has very recently published a trial that found heart disease symptoms reversed in 198 patients following the diet for three years. I’ve tried to find the corresponding research but have only found this white paper. Further, though one may argue that no one could stay on these diet plans for the rest of their life (and, indeed, Kempner – it was revealed – used to whip his clients if they fell off the diet bandwagon) both the Esselstyn and the Kempner diet’s appear to enable people to reverse their health issues for the long term – even when returning to a more sustainable diet. Denise points out that the health benefits seen on a very low fat diet (both of these were 10% of their calories coming from fat) are very much the same as those on a very high fat diet (80% fat) and that low fat studies (at around 30%) aren’t low fat enough to show the actual health benefits. While this is all very well and good – what is the point of following such an extreme diet approach if it isn’t something that can be followed in the long term? Or even in the short term? I don’t know if the corporal punishment approach would go down that well with my clients. But, then, I’ve not tried it. At any rate, this certainly provided food for thought – even if that food is rather bland and wholly unsatisfying.
And – dinner time. Short and sweet (well, shorter by about 200 words), you can see from the little I’ve provided you with, that there is undoubtedly more to follow to debrief you on the latest research going on in the ancestral health field. Not only that, but I will have to post a blog about the food experience to date on the trip also as Caryn and I make our way from San Fran to LA. That in itself is as interesting as the conference for the likes of Caryn and I.