I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the 2018 Ancestral Health Symposium. The conference was conducted by the Ancestral Health Society and this year’s edition was hosted by Montana State University.
The Symposium was a gathering of thought leaders and change makers in the fields of health, fitness, medicine and nutrition. Geared toward academics and practitioners, the conference included presentations and workshops by over 50 leading and internationally-renowned scientists, researchers, physicians, and wellness educators. The discussions and workshops were focused in cutting-edge science and data interpretation, with the underlying mission of aligning current practice with ancestral genomics. The goal of sharing and advancing knowledge in health policy and practice was foremost in the proceedings.
The Ancestral Health Society is a nonprofit organization committed to collaboration among science, medicine, and health professionals focused on addressing our growing disease epidemics resulting from the evolutionary mismatch between our modern lifestyle and our ancestral genetics. I came away from the meeting feeling validated, energized, and inspired. I’ve put together a number of key points from some of the sessions in which I participated. If you’d like additional information about the organization, the conference, and/or the presenters, check out The Ancestral Health Society and you’ll see the great things in which they are involved.
I’m going to mention a number of presenters below, and offer a few sentences about their message. If you’d like to hear my impressions, PK and I recently recorded a Podcast episode on just that topic. If you would be so kind, please keep in mind that what follows below are just quick excerpts from my notes and are not intended in any way to be comprehensive reviews or to misrepresent the speakers. Enjoy.
Dave Feldman, a senior software engineer, shared some very interesting research on cholesterol. The main point was that LDL is a surrogate of saturated fat consumption with a 2-3 day lag. Consuming high amounts of fat will potentially “use up” the LDL boats and show a 20-30 mg/dL drop in that measure on a blood test. He also identified what he termed the lean mass hyper-responder who has high HDL, low triglycerides, yet high LDL (but without any of the commonly associated disease markers), and theorized that this may be due to the fuel delivery process in these individuals.
Ivor Cummins, BE(Chem), CEng, MIEI, PMP spoke about root causes and solutions for chronic disease. He demonstrated that underlying heart disease and many other lifestyle problems are the modern issues with vegetable oils, processed carbs, environmental toxins, stress, poor sleep, and sedentarism. He presented the challenge in management of these conditions with respect to how much of that can be accomplished via ancestral lifestyle patterning versus modern procedures and other interventions, given the current crisis state of disease pandemic.
Darryl Edwards, MSc, emphasized the role of movement as a genetic necessity as well as an oncologic intervention. Exercise and activity are upregulators of cellular function and play a role in both preventing and treating every disease, including cancer. We need to move more and keep our natural animal functions alive and to embrace the elements of play and joy.
Tommy Wood, MD, PhD provided valuable information on the athlete’s gut. Training can be beneficial for the gut, but particularly high, frequent doses of chronic training can cause digestive and absorptive disturbances. Modern sports training, with frequent and chronically high levels of frequency, duration, and intensity, may actually be inconsistent with our genes, as our ancestral movement patterns were not quite so contrived. He posited the question to ask oneself, “Do I eat to fuel my workouts, or do I train to the level that my natural nutrition supports?” The relationship between eating and training is indeed food for thought, and you know I’m not joking here.
Chris Knobbe, MD shared some amazing data regarding age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vegetable oil consumption. AMD has traditionally been viewed as a byproduct of aging and genetics. New research strongly correlates the displacing foods of modern commerce, especially “vegetable oils” (which we recognize as industrial seed oils such as canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and sunflower), as the driver of this problem worldwide. Processed food strongly correlates with all modern diseases such as CVD, HBP, T2D, and cancer as well.
Michael Ruscio, DC presented on vitamin D and sun exposure. He cited studies which demonstrate how the sun is exponentially more effective at vitamin D (actually a hormone) synthesis than any supplement. Humans have the capacity to store vitamin D quite effectively. There is a biologic sweet spot with exposure. Duration varies significantly between individuals with respect to ethnic background and melanin content in the skin. Sunscreen is useful beyond one’s exposure limits. The sweet spot is actually cancer protective, as opposed to being merely benign.
Amber O’Hearn, MSc, presented on nutritional ketosis, specifically regarding research which has been conducted on the Inuit population. Many Arctic people appear to have genetic variations which alter the degree of ketogenic states they can attain. Infiltration of their diet with flour and sugar, as far back as the 1800’s was documented and recognized to be a major confounder, as well as antiquated methods of data collection in early studies. The suggestions that ketosis is a safe state but one which was probably cyclic by evolutionary design was discussed.
Richard Feinman, PhD attacked the subject of the use of ketogenic diets in the treatment of cancer. Dr. Feinman gave a review on energy metabolism and a discussion on how some and perhaps many, cancer cells are glucose dependent. Starving those cells of glucose via a ketogenic diet has been hypothesized to be effective treatment but this is probably quite variable and requires further research. He suggested that a Part 2 of this talk would be offered next year.
Rand Akasheh, PhD provided an educational session on hyperinsulemia as the primary driver of practically all modern disease. Chronically high insulin levels are related to most disease processes. Chronically elevated insulin can occur well before many types of metabolic breakdown and other symptoms appear. This problem is well-recognized to be a by-product of high processed carbohydrate consumption in most individuals. Dr. Akasheh recommended that fasting insulin tests become a standard in every blood panel due to their low cost and powerful predictive value.
Diana Rodgers, RD, LDN enlightened the audience on sustainable farming and agricultural practice. She made a very strong case about how red meat, particularly beef, has been unfairly vilified. The issue is in the production. Cattle in their natural state which are mobile, grass-fed, observing the carrying capacity of the land, etc. can be good for sequestering carbon via grassland proliferation. A healthy diet of grass (not grains, hormones, and antibiotics), not only produces a healthy cow but an extremely healthy food for humans. Unfortunately, we have factory farming practices abundant in this country which create much misunderstanding as well as health and environmental problems.
Ben Greenfield, MA shared insights on the concept of biohacking versus ancestral living. This was his Part 2 in follow-up from a similar presentation several years prior. He presented numerous ideas and interventions for upregulating things like recovery, blood glucose response, telomere length, etc., and attempted to suggest that all these hacks are helpful when one can’t live an ancestral pattern due to modern life’s demands.
Kevin Boyd, DDS, MSc gave a talk on concerns regarding diminished facial development in modern humans. He documented that human face, jaw, and cranial size have been shrinking in size since the advent of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago. Formation of the palate, the nasal sinuses, tongue, mandible, and teeth are all related to this issue. Difficulties with breathing, swallowing, and dental crowding are all epidemic. This may be less of a genetic issue than simply a lack of fat-soluble nutrients including K2 (animal sourced) due to displacement and malabsorption caused by grains. This issue also correlates with reduced brain size in modern humans.
George Diggs, PhD cited implications evolutionary mismatch in public health. Professor Diggs provided data to suggest that we are filled with biases, cultural and religious practices, and even governmental doctrine, that cause us to act against our own health interests. Examples abound including some areas in southern Asia forbidding kids to be taught swimming for fear they will drown, and many others.
Nora Gedgaudas, CNS, TP, BCHN, received a standing ovation for her presentation regarding the challenge of eating in a healthy ancestral pattern in the presence of modern political and business interests. She challenged everyone to consider the conspiracy, agenda, and influence that exists in our modern food supply and how this absolutely challenges our quest for ancestral alignment. Industry infiltration into everything is propaganda-driven and regulated to “follow the dollar,” actually trillions of them. The amount of collusion is mind-boggling. We all need to be agents of change and this is no easy task, given the situation.
And that wraps up my little summary. There were a number of other presentations and workshops that I either attended and didn’t report on, or was not able to participate in due to the concurrent nature of some of the programming. I think the AHS was outstanding, and the messages included above probably represent “preaching to the choir” with respect to my audience. But you know what I’m going to say (write) next. Our greatest challenge and responsibility is taking up the torch and spreading this information to friends, families, and co-workers. Thanks for reading!