The Ancestral Health Symposium

We’re back from the California and the Ancestral Health Symposium, which was a fantastic meeting – the most enjoyable symposium I’ve attended. Brent Pottenger, Aaron Blaisdell, and the host of volunteers who assisted them deserve tremendous credit for organizing it. Bravo!

It had the feel of a Paleo Woodstock: the leading names in the movement were gathered in one place for the first time, and there was a festive atmosphere, especially on the first day and at a pre-event party hosted by Aaron Blaisdell. For Shou-Ching and I, it was a delight to meet in person friends we had come to know through the Internet. We were pleased to meet some of our commenters – and had lunch with one, Mia.

Those who didn’t attend will be able to catch up on it later: presentation slides may be found here; videos of the talks and interviews will be posted here.

People and Pictures

Already there’s a great deal of information about the meeting online. Some participants were active twitterers – check out the Twitter tag #AHS11 for a blow-by-blow account of the meeting. I’m sure many attendees will be posting their own appreciations in coming days, but here are links to some of the early birds:

Richard Nikoley took a lot of pictures at Aaron’s Thursday night party and has more photos in his appreciation of the symposium. PaleoHacks has a thread for pictures from the meeting and a thread for recommendations about talks. Emily Deans has posts about talks and people.

Melissa McEwen, Stephan Guyenet, Chris Masterjohn, Jamie Scott, Andreas Eenfeldt, and Matt Metzgar have posts.

Many at the meeting remarked on how good looking the attendees were. You can find appreciations of looks from Melissa (“the conference was full of beautiful people”), Jamie (“I have never been around so many beautiful people in one room as I have been this past weekend.”), and Stephan (“I was very impressed by the appearance of the attendees”).

I was equally impressed, but that observation leads me to one more. Nearly everyone at the meeting had at one time been following bad diets and had to seek out Paleo. In Denise Minger’s talk, she asked how many people had been vegetarians at one time, and a startlingly large number raised their hands. To discover a healthy way of living, in a world full of mistaken information and unhealthy foods, is possible only for inquisitive, intelligent, discerning people. This was not only a beautiful, but a smart, crowd.

And so very friendly and cheerful. Good health, I believe, leads to good spirits. It was a pleasure to be around everyone, both during the meeting and after hours.

The Talks

A brief summary of the the most notable talks I saw:

S. Boyd Eaton kicked off the conference as the only speaker without a competitor in the parallel track; a well-deserved honor in light of his pioneering role in the Paleo movement. He spent only ten minutes on diet and moved on to expressing a quixotic hope for decreases in the global population in order to restore a more Paleo-like environment. Among the highlights was a picture from the Korean DMZ, a 400-square mile depopulated area that has apparently regained a flourishing wildlife.

Loren Cordain followed with an excellent talk, most of which will be familiar to his fans. I liked his talk a lot, in part because his slides on hunter-gatherer food intakes support our macronutrient ratios.

Staffan Lindeberg gave an excellent talk that also revisited material from his work. A few factoids: blame for the invention of vegetable oils goes to David Wesson, who figured out how to detoxify cotton seeds in 1899, thus giving us “Wesson oil”; and autopsy studies show that at age 40 most people already have atherosclerosis, a disease that is non-existent in wild animals and thus is presumably caused by industrial diets.

Robb Wolf finished the morning session and was his usual dynamic self. Shou-Ching, who hadn’t yet listened to one of his podcasts, was impressed.

If Friday morning felt like a celebrity fest, Friday afternoon was the meat of the symposium. Two Friday afternoon talks were among the best of the meeting.

Emily Deans’s talk was magnificent, pulling together a rich thread of material. Jamie Scott gave an inside look at the practical side of improving health in a corporate setting.

Dr. BG and Dr Tim Gerstner gave an outstanding talk, one of the best of the meeting. Dr BG’s story was fascinating and fast-paced. She and her sister are writing a book, “Jillian’s story,” about Dr BG’s autistic niece who has seen great improvements from chelation therapy. Heavy metal toxicity is an important subject and it looks like Dr BG and her collaborators are going to make an important contribution. We went to dinner Friday night with Dr BG, her sister, Dr Gerstmar, and J. Stanton of gnolls.org, and had a wonderful time.

In attending these two great talks, I missed two of the star attractions of the meeting – Stephan Guyenet, whose talk I would dearly love to have seen, and Gary Taubes. The buzz of the main ballroom when we got back was that Gary had, in the question session, cut to the front of the question line in order to challenge Stephan in some fashion. I expect this video will be the most downloaded one of the conference. UPDATE: Video of Gary’s questioning is here and a detailed account here.

Curious to hear about Stephan’s talk, we had returned to the main ballroom during the break, and stayed to watch Michael Eades. He gave a very nice talk focusing on the pre-history of the Paleo diet – going back to some early clinicians, one of whom was a friend of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who had tried low-carb Paleo diets on their patients with success.

Again, I was torn between two great speakers as I very much wish I could have heard the talk of anthropologist Craig Stanford, who was opposite Eades. I had a pleasant chat with Dr. Stanford at Aaron’s pre-meeting party and it turns out our professional paths seem to be criss-crossing: I am working on a book on evolutionary biology, applying my economics ideas to the problem, and he is considering writing a book on diet. Small world!

Friday’s last talk was by Chris Masterjohn, who gave a superb exposition on LDL receptors, how LDL-R status can influence LDL time in the blood and oxidation status and, therefore, health. I had read most of the material on Chris’s blog, but still took copious notes. Chris is a most impressive and well-organized speaker.

On Saturday I started with Seth Roberts and Tucker Max. Seth’s talk was excellent – the gist can be found in recent blog posts, such as the one on butter reducing his coronary calcium score.

Tucker Max’s talk was fascinating in light of Todd Hargrove’s recent guest post here (How to Do Joint Mobility Drills, July 26, 2011). Tucker’s idea was that violence, both against animals (hunting) and people (warfare, homicide), must have been a critical factor shaping Paleolithic culture, and that this had important implications: Paleolithic peoples must have spent a lot of time play fighting as practice and as a fitness technique; and they must have developed philosophies, like those associated with all modern martial arts, to develop calmness and serenity in the face of violence – since the natural human reaction, panic, is unhelpful. It sounds as though mobility and serenity practices such as Tai Chi or yoga, which Todd endorsed, and components of religions such as Zen Buddhism may be modern descendants of Paleolithic martial arts. I liked this talk because it reminds us that “ancestral health” encompasses more than diet.

Mat Lalonde’s talk was outstanding. The subject of food toxins is extremely important for health, under-researched by scientists, and lacking in good overviews. (Step Two of our book is among the best, but only scratches the surface.) Mat reviewed research on a number of major food toxins, and discussed the ability of these toxins to survive cooking, enter the body, and contribute to disease. The talk had only one disappointment: Mat dis-associated himself from what he called “your movement.”

Mark Sisson and Denise Minger gave two of the most pleasant, fun talks at the meeting, as befits their super-positive personalities. Luckily on Saturday the two sessions were in neighboring rooms and it was possible to see some of each.

Nora Gedgaudas gave an excellent talk on the use of diet as a clinical approach to mental health disorders. It had plenty of citations that I’m eager to track down. We are fans of ketogenic dieting for neurological diseases, and Nora obviously is too – indeed she promotes a diet that verges on zero-carb. I think this will work well as a fast-acting therapy until she meets a patient with toxoplasmosis or some similar protozoal brain infection, but that the benefits of ketosis have to be balanced against long-term risks of glucose deficiency.

Melissa McEwen gave a fantastic talk about the evolution of the gut. It was fact-filled, science-rich, and entertaining. Interesting part: there is significant human variability in, for instance, colon size and structure. This is important because the digestive tract is really the only part of the body that evolves in response to changing diets. There has been some talk about different populations needing different diets; Melissa’s work suggests that instead of “metabolic typing” we may some day do “gut typing” to determine an optimal personal diet.

John Durant gave an entertaining and informative talk on the history and future of zoos. We had just visited San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly Wild Animal Park) earlier that week, and the Bronx, Washington DC, and Cleveland zoos fairly recently, so I enjoyed John’s take.

Andreas Eenfeldt and Richard Nikoley were another duo that were hard to choose between. Richard is entertaining at all times, and Andreas had an interesting story about the low-carb diet revolution in Sweden. I tried to catch both talks as best as I could.

After fitness talks from Doug McGuff, Frank Forencich, and Erwan LeCorre we chatted with friends new and old before leaving for the airport for our redeye flight back home. Shou-Ching pulled out her camera for a few photos. Here’s one:

All in all, a fabulous meeting. I think the Ancestral Health Society is going to have a big impact, and can’t wait for AHS 2012. Thanks, Aaron, Brent, and everyone else responsible for this enjoyable event!

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25 Comments.

  1. The Ancestral Health Symposium | Low Carb Daily - pingback on August 9, 2011 at 7:26 pm
  2. It was great to meet you Paul and Shou-Ching! You two are just as lovely as one might guess from your blog!

  3. Paul,

    I’m so bummed I missed it. Next year!

    Interesting about the idea that certain calmness practices may have emerged from a martial setting. Seems possible in the east, but I can’t think of any examples in the west. There are many people and indeed cultures that do lots of fighting, and most are probably not good breeding grounds for the development of serenity practices or buddhist philosophies!

    This also reminds me that Dr. Cobb, the creator of Z-Health, started as a trainer in Tony Blauer’s self defense system. One of its main premises is that any useful “real life” defense technique should assume that the user will experience a massive rush of adrenaline and other involuntary protective reflexes. So the techniques are built around an assumption that this type of response will occur and that some of the more exotic and technical moves practiced in many other systems will be impossible to execute. Anthony Colpo actually discussed this idea at length a couple posts ago.

    In any event, I have little doubt that paleo man would have would have had a lot of incentive to get good at fighting, that he would have found plenty of time to practice, and that a wide body of practical knowledge would have emerged as a result. Interesting topic.

  4. Did Stabby crash Denise Minger’s talk and propose?

  5. Thanks, Bill! It was a pleasure!

    Thanks, Todd. I thought Colpo’s post about rapid flinch-inducing tactics as a low-damage way to disable an attacker was really interesting. What a great technique.

    Hi Paul,

    Unfortunately Stabby wasn’t able to attend. The greatest defect, perhaps, of the conference. He would have been a great speaker. What other conference can boast a speaking raccoon who is expert in diet?

  6. Hey Paul,

    Do you know if videos of the presentations will be available online?

  7. Hi Matt,

    Videos will be available, but I don’t know when.

  8. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for the summary of the conference for those who would’ve liked to be there but couldn’t make it. It looks like everyone enjoyed themselves!

    PS – Looking forward to your new book!

  9. It sounds fabulous, something I would love to attend myself. But since I still have a lot of weight to lose that won’t budge no matter what I try I’m certainly not one of “the beautiful people” so would probably have to hide in a corner somewhere. 🙂

  10. Debbie, no need to be shy. If you look closely there are imperfections in almost everyone. Certainly there are flaws in my appearance, and Shou-Ching’s. I think this smart crowd is aware how hard it is to recover from obesity, and indeed most chronic diseases.

    I hope to see you next year! If it’s held at UCLA again we’ll have to organize a lunch meeting for PHD readers in the food court.

    Best, Paul

  11. Paul and Shou-Ching,

    It was really a pleasure to meet you in person!
    Thank you for being so kind and asking me (a mere mortal) to join you for lunch. It was a highlight of my day!
    I also really liked the presentation by Dr. BG and Tim Gerstmar. Lots of great info!

    I can’t wait for AHS12 and really looking forward to your talk this time. I think it’s a great idea to have a PHD readers lunch next year as well.

  12. It would be perfect if we could have the opportunity to see few videos from held presentations.

  13. Toppmötet, Ancestral Health Symposium | Primalisten - pingback on August 11, 2011 at 10:12 am
  14. Hahah, Debbie. I had the same thought. 🙂

    Paul, thank you for the summary. Lots of good reading! Such a wonderful thing that so many people of the online ancestral health community were able to be together in person. I’m sure there will be other symposia, but the first will always be a special historic event.

    Best wishes, Marilyn

  15. Hi Stavros,

    The first few videos are up. The camera focuses only on the speaker, not the slides, so you need to go to the slideshare site in a separate window and follow along there.

    Hi Marilyn,

    Yes, but hopefully with you and Debbie present future meetings will be just as exciting!

    Best, Paul

  16. I am struck by this from Paul’s post: “Good health, I believe, leads to good spirits.” Have been on PHD for only about 3 weeks and I am amazed by my new outlook on life. I was not ‘unhealthy’ before (by modern standards)– but I feel so much more able to see the positive now. Thanks a million.

  17. Hi Pia,

    Thanks for commenting, you’ve made my day!

  18. For anyone who feels that they have too much extra weight to attend next year’s AHS, please don’t let that stop you. At one of the AHS talks I attended, during the Q&A at the end, a questioner preceded her question by saying “I know I may not look like a success story with the weight that I still need to lose, but I have lost 100 pounds so far”. The crowd gave her an ovation before she could ask her question. People are interested in improved health (whether it’s weight loss, or disease elimination/avoidance, etc) for all of us – we’ve all been on different roads to get to where we are at this point. I thought it was a very friendly, supportive gathering and would encourage anyone with the interest to attend.

    Besides that, if everyone had to look like John Durant or Denise Minger in order to attend, I’m sure the two of them would have an interesting conversation, but they would miss the rest of us!

  19. I’ve taken the liberty of “streamlining” Robb Wolf’s talk at AHS: http://www.streamlnr.com/s/4F9MW2YP/

    One down, many to go!

    (This one of the first uses of an alpha product I am toying with. Anyone else please let me know if you’d like to help do the rest of the AHS content, and I can get you a login: http://www.streamlnr.com/cc/ancestral-health/)

  20. Hi Paul,

    Listening to some of the presentations, I was wishing I could see a presentation from you. You have so much to offer. I personally thought a talk regarding glucose optimization would have fit in nicely with the other topics.

    Are you considering presenting for AHS 2012?

    Thanks,
    Mark

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