AHS14 Pt 2: quick debrief

Wow, what a whirlwind 12 days. I arrived home this morning from LA at 5.45am with an additional suitcase and minus $85 for the 10kg it was carrying. I’m just thankful that I checked the luggage restrictions before heading to the airport or it could have been a lot worse. I am glad to be on home soil, not least because I think I averaged about 6h sleep a night for the time I was overseas. Now don’t go thinking it was because I was hitting any kind of night scene in a ‘bright lights, big city’ kind of way. Unless your version of that includes a cup of tea then you’re bang on. It was really that Caryn and I had so many things we wanted to see that sleep didn’t take priority. Thankfully, real life resumes and that will be rectified in the next week.

Of course, regular followers of my blog may be expecting a synopsis of the talks from the remaining two days of the conference, but I’ve been pipped at the post by the Ancestral Health Society which is brilliant – they’ve already uploaded a number of the talks and you can find them here. Which is great as the simultaneous streams meant that I was unable to see a number of talks I was interested in, so I’ll be able to catch up with them too. It also means I’ll be able to jot down a few take homes from the overall experience rather than focus on the talks. Both Caryn and I really enjoyed the conference as it was largely nutrition, largely paleo-based (unsurprisingly) and largely low carb too. Obviously there were a number of talks around the other tenets of ancestral health – but such a big part of it is around food (or how lifestyle interacts with nutrition) that we both agreed it was one of the most relevant conferences we’ve attended. Equally, we enjoyed that the conference was attended by people from such diverse backgrounds. While we all converged upon the University of Berkley because of our interest in evolutionary health – we mixed with personal trainers, researchers, academics, nurses, IT specialists, functional medicine practitioners…. Most conferences we’ve attended have largely been with others in our field, so it was a good opportunity to mingle with others on the basis of what they value more than what they have studied or teach in. As Caryn and I stayed in the dorms at Berkely we had an opportunity to mingle more than we would have with others, and enjoyed the company of Tim (who we met initially through Jamie and Anastasia), Darcie, Dana and Sarah either through bumping into them at breakfast or in the dorm rooms and all of whom we may see again next year in Boulder, Colorado for AHS15.

An obvious highlight of the trip was to meet in person those people I’ve either followed on Twitter, or that I’ve read their book or blog, or that I listen when I tune into their podcast. There were a number of ‘big hitters’ in the ancestral health space. It was such a pleasure to meet them and to not be disappointed. At the presenters dinner we sat down with Jamie and Anastasia and were joined with Michelle from Nom Nom Paleo, Steph from Stupid Easy Paleo and Dallas, half of the original Whole 9. I regularly direct people to these sites for recipe inspiration or information and it was great to recognise that they were people genuinely interested in helping others rather than only being motivated by making money. I also had a good chat to Dr Cate Shanahan – the LA Laker’s nutritionist and author of Deep Nutrition, and Caryn and I discussed Spartan events with Ben Greenfield and saturated fat and cholesterol over breakfast with Paul Jaminet, creator of the Perfect Health Diet. I also met Jimmy Moore, podcast host of Livin La Viva Low Carb, author of Cholesterol Clarity and Keto Clarity (which I’m reading right now – it is a brilliant guide for anyone interested in ketogenic diets). A further bonus was being invited to dine with Jeffry Geber (Denver’s Diet Doctor) and his family – along with Gary Taubes. We discussed bad science and what to do with it, and at the end of the conference we came away from dinner not feeling in awe of the company that we had kept but more inspired by the work that is going on to help spread the ancestral health message.

Importantly, though, the conference was a great chance to strengthen the ties with the NZ contingent of the ancestral health conference. I’m someone who values relationships over and above most things, and to be surrounded by like minded people is something that makes me feel energised and inspired. We made the most of being in one place to share meals, debrief the day’s events and get to know each other better. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss how the first bigger symposium of AHSNZ may look next year (as we’ve got another mini symposium organised for Labour weekend in Wanaka – more details to come.) I’m sure that Caryn and I weren’t the only ones to come away feeling that the work we are doing as practitioners and also at AUT is strengthening the ancestral health message.

We also got an opportunity to see what is on offer in the US market in the way of paleo-style snacks and supplements. A favourite for me was the Epic Bar – not for everyone, this meat and fruit based protein bar is not unlike jerkey with a softer texture. It really hit the spot one morning when a sit down breakfast wasn’t going to happen. Equally the Exo bar was another eye opener – a protein bar made with crickets as opposed to whey protein – yep, not a typo. It was delicious but, then, anything that includes cacao powder and dates can probably cover up any questionable flavour that a crushed insect might taste like. I am unsure if either of these ship to NZ, but like most things I am sure that something similar will likely be available at some point. Of course in amongst the more ‘real food’ like options were the paleo treats (almond flour cupcake mixture, anyone?) however I would say there is always a place for these items and to give these smaller companies exposure at a conference with 500 attendees is a win-win. They directly target those who will be interested in purchasing, and the AHS is able to raise funds to run the conference. And those Hail Merry Macaroons are super tasty and deserve the exposure they get.

And, with that – I’m done. It is 6pm NZ time, 11pm LA time, I’m exhausted and I’ve managed to get through about 1/8th of what I wanted to share. Not particularly informative in itself, the main purpose of this is to link to other sites which can help inspire and inform as much as to give you my impression of the conference. I’m already planning on attending next year in Boulder, but more importantly, I’m just excited to be part of the AHSNZ team. For those who are interested in being involved, it’s not too long before general membership will be open. The more people we get involved, the further the ancestral health message will spread. In the meantime, get your tickets for the symposium in Wanaka on Labour weekend at Rippon Valley winery here.

Ancestral Health Symposium 2014: Part 1

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:

  1. Include fermented foods
  2. 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)
  3. Exercise
  4. 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.

A foodie's delight. Not necessarily that new. Or that different, but just... in a different location. Though have to say, the fruit is massive here.

A foodie’s delight. Not necessarily that new. Or that different, but just… in a different location. Though have to say, the fruit is massive here.