I was privileged to be able to speak at this year’s Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS18) in Bozeman, Montana.
Founded in 2011, this is the conference’s 6th event, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend 5 of the 6 conferences.
Around 300 people with a wide-range of backgrounds – from medical professionals, to research scientists, to everyday people – gathered at Montana State University for 3 days of lively fun.
AHS is one of my favorite events. Large enough to have a broad range of opinions and discussions, and yet small enough to maintain an ‘intimate’ atmosphere. The people are uniformly friendly, the crew running the conference do a great job, the talks are interesting, and the cost of the event is very reasonable.
While the location for AHS19 hasn’t been selected yet – current runner-ups include San Diego and Phoenix – head on over to the website for the Ancestral Health Society
1 – Ivor Cummings – High in the small intestine (near the beginning) ‘K cells’ release a hormone called GIP which increases insulin levels and increase fat storage. Low in the small intestines (near the end) ‘L-cells’ release hormones such as GLP-1, PYY and more. These hormones promote satiety (feeling full or lack of hunger).
If you eat a lot of “crap food” (highly processed, high sugar foods) you get a high release of GIP and a low release of GLP-1 which can help lead to high insulin, insulin resistance, blood sugar problems, and obesity.
If you eat a lot of “good food” (whole real foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and minimally processed grains) you do not provoke a high release of GIP but promotes the release of GLP-1 which increases pancreatic function and satiety.
FASCINATING Factoid: Bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery, gastric bypass surgery) bypasses the K cells which seems to be the reason that diabetes can disappear within days after the surgery.
2 – Ivor Cummings – More than just the foods themselves. The processing of carbs seems to be the biggest problem. Refining protein and fats doesn’t seem to change them fundamentally, but processing carbs does.
Grinding carbs up massively increases insulin response, in a bad way. A mouse study showed that JUST grinding up food caused it to become massively obesogenic (obesity causing).
Highly ground carbs are much easier for the body to access and digest. They digest much more quickly and cause problems.
3 – Dr. Steve Turpin – Why do we get dry eyes? Human eyes are covered by a ‘tear film’. That film has a watery inner layer and a fatty outer layer. Kind of a like a glass of water with a layer of olive oil at the top. The oil helps to keep the water from evaporating and drying out.
Our upper and lower eye lids have glands that secrete the oil. When we blink we have muscles that squeeze those glands and squeeze out some of the oil. Our tear glands produce the water layer.
A disruption of this water and oil system causes dry eyes.
A major factor affecting this is incomplete blinking, funny as that sounds. If our eyelids do not close completely the glands in the eyelids don’t release the oil. Without the oil the water layer evaporates and our eyes dry out.
What we’re looking at changes how we blink. When we are relaxed and looking off into the distance, such as looking out at the sunset we are blinking at about 15 per minute.
Working on the computer will slow the blink rate to 3-14 blinks per minute.
In a conversation with someone your blink rate skyrockets to 15-26 per minute.
Also the amount of complete vs incomplete blinks changes. With computer use the amount of incomplete blinks increases.
To help dry eyes:
1. Blink better & more often (and he often recommends blinking exercises)
2. Limit direct fan use (air blowing in your face)
3. Use desktop humidifier
4. Work less hard (high cognitive demand decreases blink rate)
Also our eye glands are rich in hormone receptors. Post-menopausal women and men with andropause have a huge increase in dry eye, because low hormones cause a lack of simulation to the glands
4 – Dr. Tommy Wood – Modern sports result in an evolutionary mismatch. Modern sports are not ancestral.
The Hadza are our best studied ancestral population. They get about 2-3 hours of moderate to vigorous activity per day – walking about 3.5 – 7 miles per day – with 0-30 minutes of that being ‘vigorous activity’.
They burn around 2000 calories per day.
A moderate level ‘serious’ athlete can put in 2-3 hours of vigorous activity per day, and require 6000ish calories per day.
This is not healthy, so don’t think that running a marathon, or an ultra-marathon, or being a triathlete is a healthy thing to do. It’s certainly a tremendous accomplishment, to be proud of, but it takes it’s toll on your body, and is not in line with healthy ancestral exercise patterns.
5 – Dr. Tommy Wood – Methanobrevibacter (a methane producing bacteria (archea for those who want to get nit-picky) that is often involved in SIBO and can cause severe constipation) can be a positive adaptation in athletes by slowing the gut and allowing more time for nutrient absorption. However many athletes find that without intense exercise they suffer from chronic constipation.
6 – Dr. Mike Mew – ‘Crooked teeth’ are not a genetic issue, they are a ‘disease’ caused by our modern environment.
You don’t find crooked teeth present in our species until civilization. For the majority of people we don’t see it until 250 years ago. You don’t see it in any of the other 5400 species of mammal, and we see very little crooked teeth in indigenous populations alive today.
The key factor in the development of healthy jaws and therefore teeth is muscle usage. The more we use our teeth and jaws (as growing children and early teens) the more normal our teeth will be (come in straight and without crowding).
Without enough chewing (modern foods tend to be soft and require little chewing compared to more ancestral foods), or if you block the nose and force a person to mouth breath, you will affect the development of the face. You will get small downward sloped faces (it’s very common, you can look around almost anywhere and see people with ‘weak’ chins or very little chin), high palates, and crowded, crooked teeth.
A face that is not the right shape does not work correctly:
1. You will get ear, nose, and throat problems like a deviated septum, sinusitis, frequent ear infections, tonsillitis, and sleep apnea
2. A ‘misshapen’ face will put pressure on the facial lymphatics predisposing to acne. It will also put pressure on the venous drainage (veins, or how deoxygenated blood comes back to the heart and lungs) out of the brain. He says he doesn’t feel this is CAUSING MS, Parkinson’s Alzheimers, but is an accelerating factor.
3. You will also see vagus nerve compression which could lead to issues with the heart, lungs and (critical for my work) the digestive system
Why are we seeing so much sleep apnea these days? One reason of course is the rise in obesity, but another pointed out here is because we have misshapen jaws and faces which means that we have smaller airways which are much easier to have problems with.
7 – Michael Rose, PhD – Is there ‘real’ science behind the idea of ‘Paleo’ or ‘Acnestral Health’? Michael is a research scientist in the field of evolutionary genetics, and he and his research group set out to answer the question, how fast can populations adapt to a new but not completely novel diet, and used fruit flies to test his hypotheses over thousands of generations.
We know that natural selection will rapidly improve adaptation to an environmental change in the young (before they reproduce) and weakly or not at all in the ‘old’ (after reproduction). This is because any organism that can’t respond well to a change long enough to have kids will not pass on it’s genes to the next generation, and those ‘unfit’ genes will quickly disappear. While those who can thrive during the change will go on to have more kids and their genes will become more common.
After we’ve have kids, what happens to us isn’t of much importance to future generations (genetically speaking) and so there is not much natural selection after reproduction.
Michael talks about they proved this with fruit flies. This type of fruit flies naturally evolved to feed on rotten apples (their ‘Paleo diet’). They were brought into the lab and given a banana based diet for about 1000 generations (fruit flies don’t live very long; mimicing the dietary changes humans saw after the agricultural revolution). Then about 10 years ago they were then put on an orange based diet (mimicing the recent human change to an ‘industrial’ diet)
Uniformly the flies did worse on the orange diet (newest) than either the banana (‘agricultural’) or apple (‘Paleo’) diet.
Now the answer to the question of whether (most) humans have adapted well to a traditional agricultural diet.
After 1000 generations, the flies did just as well on the bananas as they did on the apples WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG. In later life the flies did better on the apple diet (‘Paleo’) than the banana diet (‘Agricultural’). And this is consistent with what we saw about natural selection above.
Michael’s scientific work says YES! At least through middle age, but not so much after that.
For groups with a long history of eating agricultural food, there is little health benefit in changing to a Paleo diet while they are young. After middle age, there is.
DrG note: Of course we’re talking about populations here and not individuals. While this suggests that everyone would see benefit changing to a Paleo-style diet after middle age, some people are going to find tremendous benefit at any age. If you’ve felt better and improved your health eating a Paleo-style diet, this is not a reason to go off that eating style.
8 – Dr. Dawn Lemaine – Elephants rarely get cancer (5%), mice have a cancer rate of about 100%, and humans are in between at around 50%.
When we made the switch from single celled organisms (bacteria, etc) to multicellular organisms (plants, animals, fungi) we opened the door for cancer.
All cells have the program to ‘eat & divide’ that is the central tenant of all single cellular life, and that must be suppressed in multicellular organisms. Everyone has to work for the good of the whole organisms, not just for their own well-being.
The upkeep of the cells of our body is expensive, and as we discussed in the point above, what happens after an organism reproduces cannot influence evolution, so this upkeep tends to diminish quickly after reproductive age (“middle age”).
By some estimations DNA damage occurs at the rate of 1 million events per day per cell. DNA maintenance by our body is good but not perfect. Eventually this damage can / will lead to cancer
Different organisms have different life strategies. Mice work more on the ‘reduce mutation rate’ by having a short, fast life and reproducing very quickly. They don’t invest heavily in repair and upkeep of their cells and virtually all mice will have cancer towards the end of their lives.
Elephants are the opposite. They live long lives, mature late, and reproduce slowly. They invest a lot in cellular upkeep and repair. In contrast to both mice and humans which have 1 copy of a tumor suppressing gene called P53, elephants have 20 copies! That means it’s very unlikely for an elephant to get cancer.
However, this tumor suppression decreases fertility – it’s expensive to keep up the body cells, and that takes energy away from reproduction. That’s why these mutations remain in the gene pool.
For example, people with the BRCA gene (a defective gene for tumor suppression which is linked to a greatly increased risk of breast cancer) are more fertile and have more children (the mouse life strategy).
9 – Dr. Dawn Lemaine What can oncology can learn from agriculture – avoid resistance!
Resistance is the ability to survive an intervention designed to kill you, and is produced by selection pressure. So when we ‘carpet bomb’ weeds and bugs with herbicides and pesticides we produce resistance (the only pests left are the ones that can survive).
Resistance decreases fertility because it diverts resources from reproduction. “An umbrella is a burden, unless it’s raining”
If we wanted to engineer resistance we would use an agent at a high dose, continuously, over a long time (for chemotherapy this is the current standard, using the ‘max tolerated dose’).
The maximum tolerated dose IS important with curable cancers! Use it!!! For example, 85% of pediatric cancer can be cured.
But in general the cancers of late adulthood are not curable when advanced. So we are not trying to cure, we want to manage effectively
If instead of the max tolerated dose, what if instead we gave small doses, infrequently and only as needed to control symptoms?
In a small trial of this adaptive therapy on metastatic prostate cancer (spread throughout the body). 11 people were given this intermittent treatment, and 10 saw stabilization of their cancer (neither better nor worse), and 14 of 16 on max tolerated dose progressed (their cancer worsened).
The goal is to try to ‘double-bind’ the cancers – when they develop resistance to one drug, it creates sensitivity to a second drug. Trials giving testosterone and then rotating anti-androgen therapy in metastatic prostate cancer and estrogen and anti-estrogens in estrogen sensitive cancers (such as breast, ovarian, and uterine) show promise.
10 – Alison Moore, PhD – The term menopause was coined in France in 1812 to designate the fact of menses (your ‘period’) ending, and was designed by them to undo the negative labeling of this transition. It was supposed to reassure women that there was nothing to worry about.
However they also begin to gather symptoms of which women complained.
Doctors began to survey women. Older peasant women reported no negative symptoms of menopause, while urban middle and upper class women had many symptoms.
Peasant women did not menstruate regularly – periods of hunger, later onset of menses, many pregnancies. They were very active, had many children and ate far more seasonal fruit & vegetables compared to urban women.
In contrast the 19th century middle class woman was discouraged from vigorous physical active. They were mostly sedentary. Dietary changes among the elites included high calorie diets, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol.
Additionally corset wearing (in the middle and upper class urban women but not peasant women) in 18th and 19th century lead to core muscle atrophy and loss of abdominal blood flow.
Alison left us with the question of whether the idea of menopause symptoms was and is a nocebo (negative placebo, that is when you expect something to be bad, it often is)?
And the notion that men had a ‘menopause’ as well was common and widespread around this time as well.
There you have it!
10 things I learned at this years AHS18. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Please note: Any mistakes in understanding a speaker’s works are mine alone
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