Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reflections on the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium

I just returned from the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium in Atlanta.  Despite a few challenges with the audio/visual setup, I think it went well.

I arrived on Thursday evening, and so I missed a few talks that would have been interesting to attend, by Mel Konner, Nassim Taleb, Gad Saad, and Hamilton Stapell.  Dr. Konner is one of the progenitors of the modern Paleo movement.  Dr. Saad does interesting work on consummatory behavior, reward, and its possible evolutionary basis.  Dr. Stapell is a historian with an interest in the modern Paleo movement.  He got some heat for suggesting that the movement is unlikely to go truly mainstream, which I agree with.  I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with him and found him to be an interesting person.

On Friday, Chris Kresser gave a nice talk about the potential hidden costs of eradicating our intestinal parasites and inadvertently altering our gut flora.  Unfortunately it was concurrent with Chris Masterjohn so I'll have to watch his talk on fat-soluble vitamins when it's posted.  I spent most of the rest of the day practicing my talk.

On Saturday morning, I gave my talk "Insulin and Obesity: Reconciling Conflicting Evidence".  I think it went well, and the feedback overall was very positive, both on the content and the delivery.  The conference is fairly low-carb-centric and I know some people disagree with my perspective on insulin, and that's OK.   The-question-and-answer session after the talk was also productive, with some comments/questions from Andreas Eenfeldt and others.  With the completion of this talk, I've addressed the topic to my satisfaction and I don't expect to spend much more time on it unless important new data emerge.  The talk will be freely available online at some point, and I expect it to become a valuable resource for people who want to learn more about the relationship between insulin and obesity.  It should be accessible to anyone with a little bit of background in the subject, but it will also be informative to most researchers.

After my talk, I attended several other good presentations.  Dan Pardi gave a nice talk on the importance of sleep and the circadian rhythm, how it works, how the modern world disrupts it, and how to fix it.  The relationship between sleep and health is a very hot area of research right now, it fits seamlessly with the evolutionary perspective, and Pardi showed off his high level of expertise in the subject.  He included the results of an interesting sleep study he conducted as part of his doctoral work at Stanford, showing that sleep restriction makes us more likely to choose foods we perceive as unhealthy.

Sleep and the circadian rhythm was a recurrent theme at AHS13.  A lot of interesting research is emerging on sleep, body weight, and health, and the ancestral community has been quick to embrace this research and integrate it into the ancestral health template.  I think it's a big piece of the puzzle.

Jeff Rothschild gave a nice summary of the research on time-restricted feeding, body weight and health in animal models and humans.  Research in this area is expanding and the results are pretty interesting, suggesting that when you restrict a rodent's feeding window to the time of day when it would naturally consume food (rather than giving constant access during both day and night), it becomes more resistant to obesity even when exposed to a fattening diet.  Rothschild tied this concept together with circadian regulation in a compelling way.  Since food is one of the stimuli that sets the circadian clock, Rothschild proposes to eat when the sun is up, and not when it's down, synchronizing eating behavior with the natural seasonal light rhythm.  I think it's a great idea, although it wouldn't be practical for me to implement it currently.  Maybe someday if I have a more flexible schedule.  Rothschild is about to publish a review paper on this topic as part of his master's degree training, so keep your eyes peeled.

Kevin Boyd gave a very compelling talk about malocclusion (underdeveloped jaws and crowded teeth) and breathing problems, particularly those occurring during sleep.  Malocclusion is a modern epidemic with major health implications, as Dr. Boyd showed by his analysis of ancient vs. modern skulls.  The differences in palate development between our recent ancestors (less than 200 years ago) and modern humans are consistent and striking, as Weston Price also noted a century ago.  Dr. Boyd believes that changing infant feeding practices (primarily the replacement of breast feeding with bottle feeding) is the main responsible factor, due to the different mechanical stimulation it provides, and he's proposing to test that hypothesis using the tools of modern research.  He's presented his research at prestigious organizations and in high-impact scientific journals, so I think this idea may really be gaining traction.  Very exciting.

I was honored when Dr. Boyd told me that my 9-part series on malocclusion is what got him interested in this problem (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).  His research has of course taken it further than I did, and as a dentist his understanding of malocclusion is deeper than mine.  He's a middle-aged man who is going back to school to do this research, and his enthusiasm is palpable.  Robert Corruccini, a quality anthropology researcher and notable proponent of the idea that malocclusion is a "disease of civilization" and not purely inherited, is one of his advisers.

There were a number of excellent talks, and others that didn't meet my standards for information quality.  Overall, an interesting conference with seemingly less drama than in previous years.


Chris L said...

I really look forward to seeing your talk on Insulin.

Is this the same Mel Konner who got a PhD in Anthropology and then in his 30's decided to go to medical school? I read a fantastic book about his journey to become an M.D. back in the 90's. Interesting if this is the same guy and he's now big in the Ancestral Health community. Makes sense given his Anthropological experiences but I don't recall much in the book that suggests a future movement to Paleo.

Asclepius said...

It sounds like some very interesting ideas were aired at the AHS - and it is good to see the paleo framework evolving.

I'm looking forward to seeing your presentation.

Thanks for the summary.

Robert said...

Regarding meal time and circadian rhythms, this 12 week RCT showed that eating more for breakfast (sun up) and less for dinner (during sun down) led to increased weight loss, waist circ. shrinkage, and improved metabolic perimeters, controlling for calories. The large breakfast group also saw increased satiety relative to big dinner which is interesting.


In another 90 day RCT, metabolic improvements were seen in lean PCOS patients on a big breakfast plan relative to a big dinner plan(author is Jakubowicz D out of Tel Aviv University).


Jane said...

Did you go to Shauna Young's talk? I hear she's saying autism is caused by manganese overload due to consumption of whole grains and legumes. Curious that the latest research has found LOWER manganese in autistic children.

Jennifer said...

Jane, Shauna's talk was concurrent with Dan Pardi's circadian presentation. I attended the beginning of Shauna's talk but found that it was heavily focused on manganese overload as the primary cause, which in my experience and research has not been the case. I moved to Dan Pardi's talk and was happily surprised with the quality and information presented, learning much more than I anticipated.

Brian said...

On the theme of sleep and circadian rhythm, I've been noting for years that my body naturally coordinates wake-up time with breakfast. If I start delaying breakfast, I find myself waking up later and later.

Catnip said...

I personally believe that circadian rhythm is of utmost importance and there are studies on pubmed regarding clock genes and their association with obesity. Diet is one factor in obesity, circadian rhythm is another. This is likely why mammals tend to fatten in early autumn when days become shorter and the last of the fruits are available for consumption. Also, catacholamines are lower at that time allowing for a lower energy expenditure and more adipose expansion.

Jane said...

Hi Jennifer
I cannot understand why Shauna Young was invited to AHS. She has completely misunderstood the manganese literature. Scientists can only get funding to study manganese if they focus on its toxicity, so that's what they do. You can make any metal look toxic if you try hard enough.

I agree about Dan Pardi. I hadn't read his work until yesterday, and I was surprised and very impressed. Surprised, because earlier I had found on his blog an endorsement of William Davis, who in my view has misunderstood the wheat literature in much the same way Shauna Young has misunderstood the manganese literature.

Colldén said...


There is also a more long-term study by the same group where they studied the impact of meal timing on weight maintenance after weight loss.


They found that whereas people instructed to eat mostly at night during the 4 month diet phase had regained nearly all lost weight 4 months later, the people instructed to eat mostly early in the day actually continued to steadily lose weight until the last follow-up point at 8 months.

All in all these results are very striking, but its a bit concerning that they all come from the same research group, though maybe they are the only ones doing controlled trials on meal timing...

George Henderson said...

Jane, William Davis is a doctor.
If he has misunderstood the wheat literature, then he has misunderstood it in the way that best reflects his clinical reality. This is what doctors are for, and researchers will end up improving their theories by the process of understanding what works, and what doesn't, in practice.

Ankur kumar said...


Is this the same Mel Konner who got a PhD in Anthropology and then in his 30's decided to go to medical school? I read a fantastic book about his journey to become an M.D. back in the 90's.

Jane said...

Hi George
I imagine you mean, Davis has found that if people stop eating wheat their health improves. Lots of people find that. Wheat which has had its micronutrients removed is not good for you.

Davis is a heart doctor. If you search 'magnesium' on his blog you will find things, but not if you search 'copper'. I posted a comment about copper and it appeared, but next day it had gone.

My comment included this quote from Leslie Klevay.
'... the Western diet is frequently low in copper. Copper deficiency is the only nutritional insult that elevates cholesterol (7), blood pressure (8), and uric acid; has adverse effects on electrocardiograms (7, 9); impairs glucose tolerance (10) ... and which promotes thrombosis and oxidative damage. More than 75 anatomic, chemical, and physiologic similarities between animals deficient in copper and people with ischemic heart disease have been identified. Copper deficiency is offered as the simplest and most general explanation for ischemic heart disease. ...'

Klevay thinks the problem is that much of the copper is removed when wheat is refined. Don't you think it's odd that Davis knows nothing about this? And deletes comments from people who try to tell him?