Category Archives: Good People - Page 2

Christmas Gifts

It’s the most wonderful time of the year:

Shou-Ching and I are working hard on our cookbook and on raising Luke, so blog posts have been scarce. But we will resume blogging in a few weeks and rest assured, we think constantly of our readers.

In the meantime, I’d like to post a few ideas for Christmas gifts and Christmas charity.

Support the Blog

We’ve compiled a long list of PHD-recommended items under the “Shop” tab. Here are links (if you don’t see any products, exempt us from your ad blocker.)

At no cost to yourself, you can help support our blog and our research by starting your Amazon shopping from this site. A big thank you to everyone who shops Amazon from our site. To search all of Amazon, start from this portal:

Perfect Health Retreat

I’ll be blogging about the retreat in January but let me just say – it’s an awesome experience and a great bargain. If you’d like to give the gift of health to a loved one, a Retreat reservation is a great way to do it.

Perfect Health Retreat

Now for a few that aren’t about us.

Rachel Albert

Rachel Albert, who blogs at The Healthy Cooking Coach, has been a long-time member of the ancestral health community. Rachel gave a warm welcome to Shou-Ching and I when we began blogging, and we are proud owners of a copy of her excellent Garden of Eating cookbook. Rachel has metastatic breast cancer and no health insurance. She has started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover some of her health care expenses. If you are looking for destinations for Christmas charity, this is a good one.

A Few Deserving Businesses

A few family-owned small businesses have sent us samples that we can enthusiastically endorse.

Sproutfield Farms sent us some delicious pork. Quality of ingredients is the biggest factor in cooking, and their pork is outstanding. We especially liked the pork butt.

We occasionally hear from readers who can’t find good quality meat products locally. There are many quality farms, such as Sproutfield, who take orders over the Internet and ship with dry ice. US Wellness Meats, for example, has been a long-time sponsor of ancestral health community events.

But be sure to check out your local farmers. Hilltop Angus Farms, the meat supplier for the Perfect Health Retreats, sells locally in North Carolina. Friend of the blog Allan Balliett is a farmer in Shepherdstown, West Virginia who sells in the DC area through Fresh and Local CSA.

Tessemae’s All-Natural sent us a collection of their sauces. All are made with PHD-approved ingredients. All were delicious. We LOVED the hot sauces, both mild and extra hot. You can learn about the company from their video.

Erik Organic Furniture sent us a lovely hardwood cutting board. Their Amish craftsman make hand-made fine furniture using the finest hardwoods. If you want the finest possible furniture, and to support hard-working craftsmen, check out their site.

Healthy Nation Coalition Letter Regarding USDA Dietary Guidelines

The Healthy Nation Coalition has written an excellent letter to the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggesting improvements to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which are currently being drafted. They are asking for signatures in support of their letter. There are currently 600 signatories to the letter. It deserves more.

To view the letter, go here. To sign in support of the letter, go here.

Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Letter to the FDA

The Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance is a group devoted to helping small farms and ranches maintain their ability to produce food in natural, healthful ways in the face of burdensome government regulations which often, intentionally or not, favor large agribusinesses.

The Alliance is currently seeking signatures on a letter to the FDA protesting its failure to respect legislated exemptions for small farms.

To view the letter, go here; to sign in support of the letter, go here.

Merry Christmas!

Blessings to all of our readers!


If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. – Meister Eckhart

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all our American readers, and thank you to our readers everywhere!

Thanksgiving Day is a day of gratitude, and yet historically the holiday grew out of death and suffering. The first official Thanksgiving Day was declared by the Continental Congress in 1777 during the Revolutionary War, and Thanksgiving became established as an annual holiday in 1863 during the Civil War. The original American Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Mayflower Pilgrims who had arrived late in the New World, as winter was beginning; nearly half died that winter. Yet the 53 survivors befriended the local Indians and, with their help, soon flourished. After their first year, Edward Winslow described their success:

[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us: we often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them; the occasions and relations whereof you shall understand by our general and more full declaration of such things as are worth the noting, yea, it hath pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us, that not only the greatest king amongst them called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have either made suit unto us, or been glad of any occasion to make peace with us, … so that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood, as in the highways in England, we entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us.

It is often assumed that since Thanksgiving was a harvest festival, the Pilgrims must have been giving thanks primarily for prosperity. But in truth, their greatest blessing was friendship and peace with their neighbors. It is love and fellowship which most deserve our gratitude.

I posted my tribute to Mathias this week because these connections between death, love, and gratitude were in my mind. His life was brief, but rich in love; see the comments from Mathias’s grandmother Cheryl and mom Kindy. A dinner party is a good thing, though it comes to an end; a life is a blessing, be it however short. Mathias remains a blessing, and a reason for gratitude.

Shou-Ching, Luke, and I have much to be grateful for. I had originally intended to review today some of the health results sent in by readers, but I will save that for later. Suffice it to be said that we have many lovely online friends and are grateful for all of you. We wish you the best of health always.

Into every life, adversity will come. Yet no adversity, not even death, can extinguish our causes for gratitude. Therefore,

Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. . . . Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness endures to all generations. (Psalm 100: 2,4-5)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Farewell Mathias

Longtime readers will remember Mathias and Zachary, the unfortunate children suffering from Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation, a genetic disorder that leads to horrifically painful spasms beginning in early childhood, and death as a teenager. I wrote about their case in Ketogenic Diet for NBIA (Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation), February 22, 2011.

The ketogenic version of PHD had remarkable effects for the NBIA kids. Mathias and another boy who tried the diet, Zachary, regained control their limbs, and the spasms and pain went away. Kindy, Mathias’s mom, wrote in 2011:

Both boys have begun smiling and laughing all the time.

Nothing inspires happiness more surely than the cessation of extreme pain!

My speculation is that a ketogenic (or high-fat) diet helps in NBIA by allowing Coenzyme A, the crucial enzyme which is under-generated in NBIA, to be redistributed from organs like the liver and muscle, where it is manufactured in abundance, to the brain where it is most needed. On a ketogenic or high-fat diet, more CoA is created and it is more often bound in water-soluble forms (such as acetyl-CoA, acetoacetyl-CoA, and HMG-CoA) that can cross cell membranes and enter the brain.

Mathias and Zachary continued to do well on our diet for over three years. Kindy recently wrote:

Zach is actually doing really well.  He is following your diet still (not into the ketogenic range but otherwise following it more or less precisely) …  He is off nearly all of his medicines and is able to do things that he never could in his life.   He is not well – but he is not in pain and has no spasms, and is doing school work etc.

An aside: I’ve been hearing recently from a number of people who experienced great benefits in neurological conditions – NBIA, epilepsy, migraines, and others – following the ketogenic version of our diet, and later transitioned to the regular version of PHD with more carbs and less fat, and continued to maintain all the neurological benefits they had first achieved on the ketogenic diet. Perhaps it was not the ketosis that was crucial, but some other aspect of PHD, such as reduction of inflammation or improved nutrition.

Mathias also was doing very well, until he developed pneumonia last summer. Possibly his genetic mutations disturbed immune function; in any case, the pneumonia led to fatal complications. Kindy wrote:

I want to let you know that on June 23, Mathias died of septic shock.  He went into the hospital 10 days prior with pneumonia and we were packing to go home on the following Friday when he got a sudden fever.  The doctors asked us to stay one more day – his lung x-rays were clear but they were concerned about the fever.

On Saturday, his fever went to 41 degrees Centigrade.  On Sunday, it went to 42 degrees.  Despite every available antibiotic and all other attempts to save him, Mathias died peacefully with a strong heart (153 beats per minute – and breathing on his own).

He was surrounded (even in Intensive Care) by his whole family, plus his aunt, and two of his long time helpers – plus two of his nurses and two doctors.  We thought it would be a few more days and we were all hugging him, and laughing with him and telling him stories.  From one second to the next, his heart stopped.

We choose to believe that Mathias decided – down to the last second – what and how he was going to leave his earthly body.  He had no cramps, no spasms, no pain. He just let go surrounded by love.

We are privileged and honored to have known such a brave, smiling, incredible person.  He did more and affected more people in his 9 years of life than most people do in their entire lives. He was always happy, always smiling – a gift to everyone around him.

Thank you for being part of the forces around his life who helped support him, love him, and provide him with the best life that was possible for him. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Mathias RIP

Farewell Mathias. May you rejoice in God’s kingdom, where all love and all are lovable, and all tears are wiped away. Requiescat in pace.

Seth Roberts: An Appreciation

Seth Roberts died on April 26. He collapsed while hiking near his Berkeley home. The cause of death was occlusive coronary artery disease and cardiomegaly.

Seth was one of the leading figures in the ancestral health and quantified self movements, and one of the editors of the Journal of Evolution and Health. It is fitting, therefore, that the day following the Ancestral Health Symposium, there will be a memorial for Seth at UC Berkeley. The memorial was the idea of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and will feature talks by Taleb, Tucker Max, Tim Ferriss, Gary Taubes, and John Durant.

Many of his friends have offered tributes, and I can second their praise. Saul Sternberg: “I would judge him to be the most interesting and original thinker I know.” Aaron Blaisdell: “His warm companionship, unique intellect, insatiable curiosity, and infinite creativity will be missed.”

Seth was a special person – one of a kind. Few scholars can match his creativity. Anyone who loves ideas quickly became his fan.

Seth and I discovered each other at the same time – at the first Ancestral Health Symposium at UCLA in 2011. We began reading each others’ blogs, and began an occasional correspondence. When Shou-Ching and I did a revised edition of our book for Scribner in 2012, he contributed this blurb:

“The sanest overview of what to eat I have ever seen. If you are going to read only one thing on the subject, read this.”

It was characteristic of Seth that he sent me a private message, “I want you to know I really mean it.” I’ve just now noticed, and am flattered, that PHD is the only ancestral community blog on Seth’s blogroll.

He was a fascinating conversation partner, but generally demanded more information than he gave. Andrew Gelman in his reminiscence of Seth wrote: “Seth was always interested in what people had to say. His conversational style was to ask question after question after question after question.”

When he and I were together, he always steered the conversation to a favorite topic: “Why is modern science so unproductive?” Biomedical science transitioned to its modern form about 1950, when chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes became the major killers. Yet, after 60 years of effort and, currently, $30 billion per year in federally funded biomedical research and $50 billion per year in pharmaceutical industry R&D, medicine has failed to cure any major disease, and has generally failed to elucidate causes. At AHS 2013 in Atlanta, Seth and I sat together at lunch and ended up staying an extra hour, missing talks, to discuss why that has been so.

I suppose he chose different topics of discussion with different people, and chose this topic with me because I brought a broad perspective to the issue, having been a physicist at MIT, Berkeley, and Harvard; a vicarious participant in my wife’s biomedical research career; and a practitioner of personal science to fix my own health issues. I had also had practical business experience and knowledge in economics, so I had some ideas about what institutions and cultures enable work to get done effectively.

Seth and I were both fans of personal science, and were optimistic that the ancestral health and quantified self movements could generate scientific knowledge. However, Seth trusted and relied upon the personal science approach more than, perhaps, anyone ever has. Above all, Seth treasured his own experiments.

This was both strength and weakness. It made him extraordinarily creative. From the food-flavor appetite retraining method of the Shangri-La Diet, to his tactics for improving sleep and mood, to his methods for improving reaction time, he repeatedly discovered new influences upon health.

He was also a careful experimentalist. I found his data trustworthy – it had the ring of truth, and often led me down fruitful pathways. For example, Seth’s “faces therapy” introduced me to the role of social interactions in entraining circadian rhythms. (See my blog posts here and here for more about faces therapy, including links to Seth’s blog.) Here is some of Seth’s data, as I present it in a talk at the Perfect Health Retreat:

Seth Roberts 01 - Faces and Mood

Notice that when Seth stops looking at human faces, his mood is worsened only on the second day, not the first. And then when he resumes, his mood does not improve on the first day, but only on the second.

To detect such an effect, and reproduce it, is a mark of a skilled experimentalist. Mark Twain once said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” Now imagine if burns from the hot stove afflicted Twain’s cat only after a two day delay. She might never make the association, and continue sitting on hot stoves for years.

Why the two-day delay? The obvious answer is that circadian rhythms in the body decay in 24 to 48 hours. And that is indeed the case. Here is another slide from that same talk at the Retreat:

Seth Roberts 02 - Circadian Decay

The amplitude of the gene expression cycle in circadian genes is cut in half every day without stimulus. Within a few days, amplitudes are too small to fulfill clock functions.

The moral: We need to stimulate our circadian rhythms daily, or at worst every other day.

Reading Seth was like that. Almost every finding Seth made, sent me to the literature, and led to new discoveries. But the conclusions I drew from his experiments were often different from his own.

For Seth the lesson of his faces therapy was that he needed to look at human faces in the morning, and avoid them in the evening. A friend of Seth’s, Ellen Rosenthal, wrote, “It was actually quite hard to see him face to face. He had discovered that exposure to human company (he usually described it in terms only of the human face) was a harmful practice if carried on in the evening.”

For me, the life-changing lesson was that I needed to exercise – another circadian time-giver – every single day.

There was rarely a single, unequivocal interpretation of his experiments. If the Shangri-La Diet worked by breaking flavor-calorie associations in the brain, was it better to retrain the brain by eating flavorless calories, or flavorful non-calories? Or perhaps the diet needed to be more diverse and variable, and so less prone to triggering Pavlovian eating. Experiments to clarify what was going on were never arranged, so far as I know.

The weaknesses of Seth’s approach to science show up best, I think, in how he ate. Although he considered ours the “sanest” diet book, he didn’t eat our diet. He prized his own experimental results above all else. If an experiment persuaded him that eating something would improve his health, he ate it.

To my mind, this led him on a somewhat fanciful peregrination through dietary parameter space. His approach risked two pitfalls:

  • In any complex optimization problem, a sequence of small improvements does not lead to a global optimum, for the same reason that climbing ever upwards does not lead to the top of the world’s highest peak. Odds are, it leads to the top of a small hillock from which there is nowhere to go. Without a larger view of the landscape, enabling one to find the vicinity of the highest peak, there is no way to guarantee a good outcome through a series of experiments.
  • Even a local optimum – the top of our small hillock – may be unreachable if one cannot accurately assess health. Seth’s experiments typically lasted days to weeks. But most modern health problems take 60 years to develop. So there was no way for Seth to directly appraise whether his diet would generate good health or poor health; he had to appraise its effect on readily measurable, quick-adjusting biomarkers. But how do we know those biomarkers are reliable indicators of overall health?

It is because of these two problems that our book, Perfect Health Diet, rejected experimental approaches to dietary science, and relied upon novel approaches grounded in evolutionary biology, and molecular and cellular biology.

But Seth was wedded to experimentation as a scientific methodology. This worked well as long as he was using sleep quality as a biomarker, since sleep quality is close to 100% correlated with health. He entered riskier ground, I think, when he selected reaction time as a biomarker to optimize. I doubt this has a simple relationship to health; I suspect one can improve reaction time while damaging health. And when optimizing this biomarker led him to consume large amounts of butter on top of large amounts of flaxseed oil, I think he should have recalled the arguments of our book, and been more persuaded by them than he was.

We never had a chance to discuss this issue. There were always topics other than diet to interest us when we were together.

Ironically, had he lived we might have discussed this by now. Seth and Bryan Davis of the Ask Bryan Podcast were launching a podcast devoted to stories of personal science, and had selected me to be their first guest. The day after Seth’s death, Bryan wrote, “Did you record that interview? I hope so. I sincerely hope so. Perhaps the final recorded words from Seth?” Alas, it will never be.

Seth had as much influence on this blog as any one. A Google search of this blog for his name yields 741 hits, more than almost any one else.

Seth was – and this is the highest praise I can give – a true scientist. He loved the truth, and worked ardently to discover it. He was creative and insightful. His death is a grievous loss.