Ancestral Health Conference Wanaka – an overview of the talks
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The AHSNZ one day conference bought together health and fitness professionals, and interested others to hear presentations on a variety of topics related to ancestral diet and lifestyle. The focus of the Wanaka conference was the importance of human connection to the land for optimal health. It was a wonderful day, the talks were enlightening, and it was fantastic to catch up with like-minded people from all over New Zealand.
I took a few notes from the conference. Here is a quick overview of the pieces that stood out to me from the presentations. I am really not doing these talks any justice, I’m really only giving MY quick impression and highlights, so go to links for articles written by the authors.
Here is the view we were treated to from the venue:
Dr Anastasia Boulais, AHSNZ president, and medical doctor based in Christchurch
Holistic Health: What can modern medicine learn from our ancestors?
First up Anastasia showed us how the medical model is causing more problems than it cures, and ultimately showed how one small health problem (caused by a bad diet) can lead to first one drug, then another, then further health issues (‘side effects’) then more drugs and more health issues. For example proton pump inhibitors given for indigestion leads to reduced absorbtion of minerals and vitamin B12, which have consequences that lead to further issues, more prescriptions, which lead to further health issues like loss of balance and increased potential to bleed. If this person then falls and hits their head, death is the outcome. This may sound radical but it is a reality in our modern health system where a prescription is the first line of treatment.
Anastasia then went on to talk about how many people view taking care of their health as going to the gym 3 times a week, but neglect the other 165 hours in the week. “Health is not a gym appointment in your diary” We are disconnected from the fact that looking after our health, and the health of our community and planet is a 24 hour a day task. For example, think of how your day goes. Do you have a healthy sleep, do you spend time outdoors everyday in the sunlight, are your relationships satisfying? Do you sit all day and then think you’ve made up for it by taking a walk or going to the gym? Do you think about your movement all day? What about your food? What about the food that your food eats? Does it support your health? Have you thought about how your daily activities contribute to the health of the planet?
My take away from Anastasia’s talk was to think carefully about my entire day and everything I do, and evaluate, ask myself “Is this activity enhancing my health and the health of my environment – or is it having a detrimental effect?”
Anastasia’s talk flowed on nicely to Wanaka Organic Farmer John McRae’s talk.
John McRae, Organic Farmer, Wanaka: Health of the Land, Health of the people.
John gave a riveting introduction, describing blow-by-blow his deteriorating health, beginning with an ache around his kidneys, for which his doctor prescribed painkillers. This progressed to pains down his legs, and then throughout his body. John saw specialist after specialist, spending around $7,000 on medical tests only to be told there was nothing wrong with him. After collapsing (in his undies on a cold night, to be found by family the next morning) on the floor of his bedroom, he went to one more health practitioner. This person had him fill out an extensive questionnaire asking about every single symptom. The doctor then told him exactly what was wrong – multiple nutrient deficiencies particularly magnesium (cramps and pain) from an extremely poor diet – it sounded like he lived on red meat and coke, and ate almost no vegetables. Combined with the poor diet he had multiple chemical exposure from their large use on the farm. After being given a new diet that provided the nutrients he needed, and removing the damaging food (like sugar) John’s health improved and his symptoms never returned. This led him to think about 2 things – the chemicals used widely on farms and their toxicity that were affecting his health, and the food and chemicals that the animals consume. I.e. “What food does the food we eat consume?”
One interesting effect is that the earthworms increased from 7 per spade to 120 over three years.
For example – his chickens which live in the pasture and eat a high nutrient diet, therefore in theory have high nutrient eggs. The chickens follow the cows, eating the fly larvae that hatches in the dung – a rich source of protein. They are fed supplemental grains – an organic mix of 7 different grains. They are also given a mineral mix of kelp and other minerals so they get nutrients typically low in NZ soils, for example selenium, copper and boron. In theory these get incorporated into the eggs to provide nutrients for the humans that eat them. John plans to get his eggs tested against cheap eggs to compare nutrient content. Note the moveable chicken coop; at night the chooks all go to sleep inside, and the farmer tows the whole barn to the field the cows have been moved to.
The farm is not just a farm, it has a whole supportive community linked to it, and people who donate their time to work to develop the farm.
James Murphy: Nutritionist, Christchurch
Biophilia- It’s in our nature
We need to be connected with nature to keep us healthy, not just psychologically but physically.
James started his talk with a really cool picture of a plastic army of soldiers – and gave a great analogy of how our immune system is like an army. Our immune system needs educating on what to attack and what not to attack. The biodiversity of bacteria in our environment is critical for this role, as from birth they colonise our body – gut, mouth and skin. If our soldiers are educated properly they don’t over-react or under-react, they don’t mistake our own (tissue) for foreign invaders. The immune system also has a complex communication process between the different types of ‘soldiers’ and miscommunication also causes problems.
Humans have become disconnected from the importance that nature plays in our lives, and we have increasingly damaged nature – to our detriment.
People who are connected to nature are happier. So if you feel down – go and take a walk in nature or plant a garden, and don’t worry about a little dirt on your vegetables.
Dr Greg Brown, MD Wellington
Rejecting Reductionism: Ancestral Health, Circadian Rhythms and psychiatry.
With the increasing number of medications prescribed – one might wonder if we have an epidemic of neurotransmitter deficiency.
We certainly do however have an epidemic of anxiety and depression.
Greg mentioned a book that he read that made a big impact on him: The Emperor’s New Drugs
From the book an interesting fact: If you give people a placebo drug with side effects – it works (If a person takes a pill that is giving them a side effect – they assume on a drug trial they are taking the real thing)
So what is going on with our mental health?
A Mediterranean diet is linked with less depression and greater mental resiliency. What is the mechanism? Inflammation – that is, chronic low-grade inflammation (which you can’t feel) leads to elevated levels of cytokines. Increased cytokines leads to increased depressive like behaviour. A good example is the side effect of taking interferon for Hep C. A classic side effect is depression.
Antidepressants have anti-inflammatory effects which might be why they are successful.
What causes increased levels of inflammation?
- Stress over your life, and particularly early stress as the Dunedin longitudinal study showed. Early life stress leads to increased levels of C-reactive protein. http://www.pnas.org/content/104/4/1319.short
- Leaky gut – there is an increase in IGG and IGM immunoglobulins against gut bacteria in those with depression. The brain also relies on intact tight junctions. The microbiome is strongly implicated in depression.
- Sleep; sleep problems both acute and chronic raise cytokine levels especially IL-6 which is implicated in depression
- Circadian rhythm disruption is a hallmark of mood disorder. As a practitioner – finding out about a person’s daily rhythm and sleep quantity and quality is important.
So we have a perfect storm:
- Individual predisposition
- Childhood trauma and stress
- Inflammatory diet
- Disrupted circadian rhythm
- Lack of sleep
- Microbiome- unhealthy
- Dislocation from the land
All culminating in a mismatch causing an increased incidence of depression and anxiety in people today.
Dr Greg Brown Website: Wellington Wellness
Article Resources used by Dr Brown:
Kate Callaghan, Nutritionist, Wanaka
Nourishing your gut microbiome for optimal health
Kate started off with a list of microbiome disruptors, and had us stand up if we had experienced any of these microbiome insults:
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Oral contraceptive pill
- Proton pump inhibitors (taken for reflux or indigestion)
- Caesarean births (shown to increase risk of allergies, asthma and obesity)
Unsurprisingly everyone in the room was standing. So as a modern human – every one of us has a damaged microbiome.
Microbial implanting starts within minutes of birth. As a baby comes through the birth canal it is covered in it’s mothers bacteria, if it comes into the world via a C-section – it is covered instead with skin bacteria from the staff handling the baby and other bacteria from the hospital environment.
Breast milk provides B infantis, which helps the intestinal lining and the immune system programme correctly. It also provides oligosaccharides – indigestible carbohydrates which is food that nourishes the gut bacteria. Gut bacteria also comes through the food we eat – food from the land has bacteria that colonise the gut, processed food is sterile and does not provide these beneficial flora.
By age 3 your microbial community is stabilised.
The gut bacteria of rural African children has larger amounts of bacterioides and lower numbers of firmicutes, likely fed by the large amount of starch vegetables they eat. This is good.
In people with IBS the microbiome differs significantly from those without. IBS is often triggered by a gastrointestinal infection.
The gut bacteria affect your brain and mood – the bacteria in the gut stimulate the vagus nerve. Depression and anxiety may stem from the gut, partly because 95% of your serotonin (your happy hormone) is made in your gut.
Having a healthy gut microbiome is good for your skin – as there is a gut / brain / skin axis, and poor microbiome contributes to acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema.
What happens when you take antibiotics?
After 5 day course it takes 4 weeks for your gut bacteria to return to baseline. However, it can also permanently change it – leading to an increased risk of IBS and being overweight.
Processed food, as well as being sterile has higher levels of omega 6 rich vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners and sugar, which in excess cause intestinal inflammation.
Stress can also cause an increase in pathogenic gut bacteria.
How do you fix this your microbiome?
- Eat organic food – free of antibiotics, chemicals and hormones that kill healthy bacteria.
- Eat fermented foods – 34 of 42 trials showed that beneficial effects of lactic acid bacteria in IBS. As well, take probiotic supplements.
- Eat prebiotic foods rich in starch that nourish bacteria, like cooled potatoes and rice, unripe bananas, acacia fibre, potato starch, asparagus, garlic, artichokes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, leeks and radish.
More on this topic from Kate here:
Kate Callaghan website and blog: The Holistic Nutritionist
Matthew Stewart Osteopath
JFK, Cinderella and the Maasai: Connecting Tissue, Health and Movement
This talk had a very intriguing title which had us all curious
Matthews talk was about fascia – the whitish stringy fibres surrounding muscle that make a continuous tensioned system through the whole body. (Fascia is somehow like Cinderella – ignored yet important)
Mathew gave a fascinating history of the work done by Dr Hans Kraus, who used his system to work with president Kennedy to strengthen his body. Known as JFK’s secret doctor
Mathew had us use our springy tendon fascia system by instructing us all to bounce on the balls of our feet, landing softly and bending at the knees and then springing up again. Bouncing like the Maasai everyday will strengthen your fascia, however it takes 6 – 24 months to strengthen. The trick is to be consistent and do this every second day. There is a 30% fibre turnover in 6 months and 75% in 2 years.
Does foam rolling loosen fascia? No – but it does move fluid around and it massages nerve endings that are positively affected.
Interesting fact: The Kenyan runners who win more marathons than anyone else do so because of their skinny legs, it’s all in the fascia!
More about Matthew Stewart here
Matthew Stewart : North Sydney Osteopathy
Dr Andrew Dickson
When did BMI become the truth?
First – here is a great slide encapsulating what ancestral diet and health is:
We place far too much importance on the measure of BMI, for health, performance and aesthetics.
Andrew talked a lot about BMI in relationship to running, as he himself is a larger runner. People don’t have a fear of larger people running – the fear is only of ourselves if we got that way.
We need to focus not on our size or weight, but on functionality and social utility of our bodies.
Andrew speaks of marathon runners who have high BMI and gave us his personal example of running a half marathon of 1 hour 35 minutes with a weight of over 90kg and a BMI that classifies him as obese. Interesting write-up here: ‘Big’ runner seeks Clydesdale category
Take home: Size =/= health. Focus on a healthy body, and train for functionality.
And a complete write-up of Dr Andrew Dickson’s talk is here: My Recent Presentation at the AHSNZ Conference Wanaka October 2014
Jamie Scott, Health researcher, AHSNZ President
What is the best type of training for endurance racing?
Elite athletes spend 75 – 90 % of training at low intensity, and 10 – 25% above VT2
On the other hand amateur athletes spend a lot of time training at high intensity: Jamie gave the example that many amateur cyclists tend to treat every training session like a race, and go too fast. They should in fact cut out anaerobic threshold training.
The different training levels: VT1 – just starting to puff. VT2 – breathing increased – almost out of breath.
The perception is that elite train at high intensity, however that is not the case – most training is done at lactate threshold – 75 – 90% is done at a low level, with training to gain technical mastery.
Only a sparing amount of training done at very high intensity.
What about fuel for training?
A glycogen replete state is still the golden standard for best performance.
Train your body to use fat more efficiently; becoming fat adapted can be done through fasted training, a low carb diet or twice daily training – all these mean you train in a lower glycogen state, and further decrease glycogen stores. In effect they put cellular batteries in the red zone which upregulates cellular signalling pathways inside the cell. This creates more machinery inside the cell to make it more efficient. On the other hand , if you carb load before you train this blunts cellular signalling. It is best to train in a low energy state. This will ‘teach’ your cells what to do when they run out of fuel – typically 2 -3 hours into an event.
Strength training is also important for endurance athletes as it improves economy, it gives increased power, it increases type II muscle fibres – this allows you to sprint within a race. It also reduces the risk of injury, and develops flexibility. Runners often prioritize stretching over strengthening, this is a mistake.
More on Jamie Scott here: AHSNZ profile
Previous similar talk by Jamie: High Performance Evolutionary Fitness – Using EvoBio to Optimize Training for Endurance (AHS12)
We finished the day off on the lakeside with a movement workshop and freeze tag:
More Conference Pictures here: AHSNZ Facebook
Future AHSNZ Conferences
The Next AHSNZ Conference in March 2015 will be held in Wellington Early 2015: Keep an eye out here for further details
Next year’s International Conference will be held in October in Queenstown – here is the venue, wherever you are in the world – use this as an opportunity to have a trip of a lifetime down-under. Watch this link for more: Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand