Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ancestral Health Symposium 2012: Evolutionarily sound diets and lifestyles may revolutionize health care

The Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 was very interesting on many levels. Aaron Blaisdell and the team of volunteers really did a superb job at organizing the Symposium. Boston is a great city with an excellent public transportation system, something that is always great for meetings, and a great choice for the Symposium. Needless to say, so was Harvard. Even though the program was packed there were plenty of opportunities to meet and talk with several people during the breaks.

We had our panel “New Technologies and New Opportunities”, which Paul Jaminet moderated. The panelists were Chris Keller, Chris Kresser, Dan Pardi, and myself. The first photo below, by Bobby Gill, shows Chris Keller speaking; I am on the far left looking at the screen. The second photo, by Beth Mazur, shows all the panelists. The third photo, also by Bobby Gill, shows a group of us talking to Stephan Guyenet after his presentation.

I talked a bit toward the end of the panel about the importance of taking nonlinearity into consideration in analyses of health data, but ended up being remembered later for saying that “men are women with a few design flaws”. I said that to highlight the strong protective effect of being female in terms of health, which was clear from the model I was discussing.

There is a good evolutionary reason for the protective effect of being female. Evolution is a population phenomenon. Genes do not evolve; neither do individuals. Populations evolve through the spread or disappearance of genotypes. A healthy population with 99 men and 1 woman will probably disappear quickly, and so will its gene pool. A healthy population with 99 women and 1 man will probably thrive, even with the drag of inbreeding depression. Under harsh environmental conditions, the rate of female-to-male births goes up, in some cases quite a lot.

I was able to talk to, or at least meet briefly face-to-face with, many of the people that I have interacted with online on this blog and other blogs. Just to name a few: Miki Ben-Dor, Aaron Blaisdell, Emily Deans, Andreas Eenfeldt, Glenn Ellmers, Benjamin Gebhard, Stephan Guyenet, Dallas Hartwig, Melissa Hartwig, Paul Jaminet, Chris Keller, Chris Kresser, Mathieu Lalonde, Robert Lustig, Chris Masterjohn, Beth Mazur, Denise Minger, Jimmy Moore, Katherine Morrison, Richard Nikoley, Dan Pardi, Kamal Patel, David Pendergrass, Mark Sisson, Mary Beth Smrtic, J. Stanton, Carlos Andres Toro, and Grayson Wheatley.

It would have been nice to have Peter (from Hyperlipid) there, as I think a lot of the attendants are fans. I attended Jamie Scott’s very interesting talk, but ended up not being able to chat with him. This is a pity because we share some common experiences – e.g., I lived in New Zealand for a few years. I did have the opportunity to talk at some length with J. Stanton, who is an inspiration. It was also great to exchange some ideas with my panelists, Miki Ben-Dor, Emily Deans, Stephan Guyenet, Chris Masterjohn, Kamal Patel, and David Pendergrass. I wish I had more time to talk with Denise Minger, who is clearly a very nice person in addition to being very smart. Talking about a smart person, it was also nice chatting a bit with Richard Nikoley; a successful entrepreneur who is in the enviable position of doing what he feels like doing.

I could not help but notice a tendency among some participants (perhaps many, judging from online threads) to pay a lot of attention to how other people looked in a very judgmental way. That person is too fat, his/her face is too red, she/he looks too old etc. So was this supposed to be the Ancestral Health Pageant 2012? There is nothing wrong with looking good. But many people adopt an evolution-inspired lifestyle because they are quite unhealthy to start with. And this includes some of the presenters. It takes time to change one’s health, relapses occur, and no one is getting younger. Moreover, some of the presenters’ ideas and advice may have much more dramatic positive effects on people other than themselves, because of their own pre-existing conditions. The ideas and advice are still solid.

A message that I think this Symposium conveyed particularly well was that an evolutionarily sound diet and lifestyle can truly revolutionize our health care system. Robb Wolf’s talk in particular, based on his recent experience in Nevada with law enforcement officers, made this point very effectively. The title of the talk is “How Markets and Evolution Can Revolutionize Medicine”. One very interesting idea he put forth was that establishments like gyms could expand the range of support activities they offer their customers, officially becoming the beginning of the health care chain. There are already health insurance plans that offer premium reductions for those who go to gyms. Being part of the health care chain would be different and a significant step forward - diet and exercise are powerful "drugs".

One thing that caught me a bit off-guard was Robb’s strong advocacy of the use of a drug, namely metformin (a.k.a. glucophage); even preventively in some special cases, such as with sleep-deprived law enforcement officers. I have to listen to that talk again when it is up online, to make sure that I understood it correctly. It seems to me that changing the nature of shift work among law enforcement officers, at least partially, may be a better target; current practices appear not only to impair the officers’ health but also their effectiveness in law enforcement activities. Besides, I think we need to better understand the nature and functions of cortisol, which is viewed by many as a hormone that exists only to do us harm.

Sleep deprivation is associated with an elevation in cortisol production. Elevated cortisol levels lead over time to visceral fat accumulation, which promotes systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation is possibly the root cause of most diseases of civilization. But cortisol itself has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and visceral fat is generally easy to mobilize through intense exercise – probably one of the key reasons why we have visceral fat. I think we need to understand this situation a bit better before thinking about preventive uses of metformin, which nevertheless is a drug that seems to do wonders in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Beth Mazur was kind enough to put up a post with links to various Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 summary posts, as well as pictures. Paul Jaminet has a post with an insightful discussion of our panel at the Symposium.


Jo said...

Wonderfull wrap-up! Everytime I read one of your posts it gives me so much to think about.

Todd B said...

I attended AHS12 and saw your panel presentation. Interesting discussion by all the panelists. I really enjoy your blog and would love to see you have your own presentation next year. Did you submit a propsal for this year? Would you consider it for next year?

Malibu said...

This is one of the best writeups i have seen. i particuarly like how youbcalled out peoples obsession with others looks and bodies. as if the olympics didnt destroy and knock on bodies enough. I agree with you. would like to see you write aboit the female evolution side as well as cortisol!

J. Stanton - gnolls.org said...


I've followed your work for a long time, and I continue to both enjoy and learn from it. It was a pleasure to finally meet you! Unfortunately time is short at these sorts of events: I look forward to further dialog in the future.


Ned Kock said...

Thank you Jo.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Todd. Unfortunately July-August are usually very hectic for me. If it wasn’t for Paul Jaminet inviting me and putting the panel proposal together, most likely I wouldn’t have gone, as I had not submitted anything myself.

As for next year, AHS13, we’ll have to see. Thanks for the encouragement; it makes a difference!

Ned Kock said...

Thanks Malibu. Cortisol is an interesting hormone – a jack of all trades with an undeservedly bad reputation, I’d say.

Ned Kock said...

Nice chatting with you JS. I meant it when I said that you are an inspiration!

Miki said...

It was a real treat to be able to meet you as I have been an avid reader of your blog for a long time. I also hope to see you presenting next time.
I thought most people looked just great! So different from the people I saw on the subway coming in.
See you next year

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Hey Ned,

Nice summary, sorry I missed getting to meet you. I do want to comment re: the underlying current of judgmentalism -- especially as someone who's often criticized for supposedly doing so.

I do think that if someone is promoting a way of eating or exercising or both, they ought be an example of the success they claim. You are correct that for many, their current health/condition/appearance is an improvement, often quite vast, but not necessarily exemplary vs. comparable folks in the general population. I can certainly relate to that, and as you say, we all age and there ain't no stopping it.

Now we can't expect everyone to wear "before" T-shirts everywhere, but in many cases, there are no such comparisons to be had anywhere -- even in their books that might include vague references to past issues. Only claims, and if that's all there is, then current appearances are really all anyone has to go on. In others, their current appearance does not match up with past successes and that is more than fair scrutiny.

I'm thinking back to when I was 20-something and even 30-something, and that's a huge part of the target demographic. Lots of promises are being made on lots of amazing purportedly enduring transformational stories. I'm thinking that were I still in that demo I would be comparing some of the older folks to my own parents ... that is a natural thing to do. Quite frankly, it's a tough sell to say "eat like this or that causes obesity/disease" and either not do so or do so with diminishing returns and feel it is somehow wrong for the young whippersnappers to pass any judgment. Same some in the arena who look decrepit (and that's compared to my own father who is five years older) or as old as my mother who is 15 years older and have those sloping old lady shoulders like my mom is just now getting at a 20 years younger age. (Yes, I have names in mind but not trying to draw controversy to your comments).

I say this knowing full well that my appearance at AHS would have been a mixed bag I'm sure. Many would have been surprised that I tend to look far better in person than in pictures, while others no doubt would have commented negatively on my size, etc.

Ned Kock said...

Thanks Miki, nice talking with you.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Evelyn. I see your point, and it makes sense. Still, there may have been too much of a focus on that at AHS this year. Btw, have you seen this thread on Paleohacks?


Aaron Blaisdell said...

Ned, thanks for the comments. It was a distinct pleasure to meet you at last, as I've been a staunch follower of your blog, advocating it to my friends and family. I wish we had more time to talk, but that's how conferences are. I do hope you have a chance to give a more in-depth presentation at a future symposium.


Ned Kock said...

Thanks much Aaron, and congratulations again on the organization of a successful event!

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Hey Ned,

Yeah, saw that thread and I can relate. Still it's different I think for presenters (often selling something) vs. attendees. Presumably if you're attending an event you may not even have started a journey and just want to learn, right?

I wonder how many are aware that the "nice" foul-mouthed Mr. Nikoley devoted an entire post to yours truly referring to me as a moron c*nt, threatened to possibly annihilate me (for sport of course), assisted Jack Kruse in his threats, and basically participated in several back and forths calling me a fat ugly b-word c-word who should be cut out from the community like a cancer and left to rot on the side of the road.

Kinda makes a person want to drop a grand merely to attend a conference where he's honored with a presenting role. That's not the reason I didn't attend, it was travel scheduling with husband changing jobs, but Nikoley and his commenters epitomize a lot of what's wrong in regards to this judgment thing.


Ned Kock said...

Hi Evelyn. You may recall that early when you started blogging I took your side on various issues; even in a Jimmy Moore interview where doing that clearly meant directly disagreeing with the host. And I’ve consistently kept that support, and would still even if we disagreed on certain issues. Having independent and well argued views, like yours, is critical to expand our knowledge.

The situation is somewhat the same with Richard. He is a successful entrepreneur, and a deep thinker with an independent spirit, who reminds me a bit of Arthur Schopenhauer (who too was rough on those he disagreed with, like Hegel). I’ve been commenting on his blog for a long time, and he and I agree on a number of issues. He is brutal sometimes on his blog, and foul-mouthed yes, but who am I to tell him what to say in his “home”?

No one is required to read his blog, and yet people keep on coming in droves. Many do that to experience online life vicariously through Richard’s no-holds-barred online persona. Some may even say things to cheer you on Evelyn, only to enjoy reading those exchanges you referred to, where you were at the receiving end of insults.

One could say that “that” is the problem with our online “community”. I’d agree on that being a problem, but would argue that it is also human nature.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Just to clarify, I don't think one way or another about a person for socializing with RN -- this isn't high school and if I haven't publicly thanked you for your support, let me do so now. Thank you.

I do take issue with those who are using his platform to promote women's causes. Uggh. Sorry. He just unleashed a screed against one of the volunteers for merely expressing her feelings. Agree or disagree, this is something he usually celebrates. But no ... since she's undesirable to men in his view she's not entitled to express her opinion.

Sorry to dump this here. Feel free to delete as needed.


nothing91 said...


"especially as someone who's often criticized for supposedly doing so."

You've been criticized for doing so because you've done so. It's not rocket science.

Melissa has done it too. She's relatively young so maybe that's the issue there. Not sure what your excuse is. :-)

dearieme said...

I presume that much of our ancestral time was spent as fruit-eating apes who also ate the creatures that enjoyed fruit, or fruit-eaters - insects, small mammals, birds and lizards, say.

The resulting diet sounds a bit too Macbethian for me.

Anonymous said...

"this isn't high school..."

Exactly. Thus, please go away from Ned's blog. It's generally a place for grown-ups. I'm guessing I speak for many in saying this.

Ned Kock said...

Evelyn’s comments are very welcome here.

PPLIC said...

Nice article. very interesting, thanks for sharing.

asim said...

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easterndrugs said...

I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible. ... She said a lot of providers do not support preventative care, which I ..... This could revolutionize and eliminate many problems with the agro industry .... that is good you have to prepare it-may it be cooked or raw eating.