Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ancestral Health Symposium

Last Thursday Tracy and I drove to L.A. from Phoenix so that we could participate in the Ancestral Health Symposium at UCLA.  I feel grateful that Aaron Blaisdell and Brent Pottenger invited me to speak at the conference nearly a year ago. They put together an awesome event.

We got a bit of a late start Thursday morning.  Mapquest says the drive takes a little over 6 hours.  We were right on track until we got to Pasadena and hit rush hour traffic at about 6 p.m.  It took something like an hour and a half to cover the last 20 miles.  At one point, we waited about 20 minutes just to traverse an exit from one road to another.  Welcome to L.A.!

We were hoping to arrive at Aaron's home shortly after the Thursday evening presenter gathering started but didn't get there until about 7:30 p.m.  The party was still in progress though we unfortunately missed a presentation by Denise Minger.

We were very hungry, having eaten very lightly since our pre-trip breakfast at about 9:30 that morning.  There were hardly any vegetables and fruits left, but they had some nice red wine, the first thing Tracy got for us, and they still had salmon and steaks on the grill.  After the wine, Tracy and I split a small steak, had a little salmon, and shared a small bowl of strawberries with new friends.

At the party and the symposium, I was pleased to meet people I previously knew only via electronic communication.  When I first walked in, I saw a young man I thought looked a little familiar, but couldn't place his face.  It was Stephan Guyenet, he put a name to my face before I could identify him.

Next I met Jimmy Moore in the kitchen while Tracy was getting the wine.    Next came Denise Minger (yes she is a real person, contrary to vegan myths), then Richard and Bea Nickoley, and Chris Masterjohn. I really enjoyed talking with Richard and Chris as Tracy and I waited for the food.  As the evening progressed, we met Rob Wolf, Mark Sisson, Loren Cordain, Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, Staffan Lindeberg, Gary Taubes, Mike and Mary Dan Eades, Seth Roberts, and Dr. BG

The next morning Tracy and I walked down 14 flights of stairs of the Palomar hotel then 15 minutes to the Ackerman hall on UCLA campus to check in.  There I was pleased to meet Doug McGuff.  I had in mind to ask him a question about some recent research I saw on retention of training effect from resistance training in older people, but got distracted because there was some problem finding Tracy's admission ticket in the electronic data base.  The kind fellow at the door waved at me, saying "Don, you're okay, come on in," but I said "not without Tracy." Fortunately I had brought the hard copy of the ticket.

Once in we went to the table to get our name tags, where we also met Rob Wolf's wife Nicki.  

After check in, we walked rapidly back to the hotel to change our clothes.  We were right on time to get to other presentations, until we got to the parking kiosk.  The attendant tried to show me on a map how to get to the only lot still having empty spots.  I thought I had it, but the UCLA roads were under construction and not well marked, so I couldn't really follow the map.  I got lost at some turn, and ended up at a lot for student dorms, a ways from the Ackerman hall.  We asked some one for re-directions, which again were difficult to follow because of the construction.  We found some students who finally gave us directions that took us off campus for a short drive, circumventing the construction, and found the lot. Unfortunately, by that time we had missed Loren Cordain's presentation.

We finally got to the hall shortly before Staffan Lindeberg gave his presentation on his work with the Kitavans.  Well worth watching.  I wanted to ask him a question, but I had to leave before the end of his presentation in order to get to the other hall where I was scheduled to speak.  I got the impression that he said his team has found no Kitavans on their native diet with atheroma, and apparently no one has found atheroma in any wild animal living on its native diet.  This contrasts with some human tribes, such as the Masai, who have extensive, although apparently stable atherosclerosis.  I found this supportive of my developing ideas on human dietary adaptation. 

I did my presentation Friday morning at ~11 a.m.:  Ancestral Nutrition: An Alternative Approach.  When the video link is available I will let you all know.  It seemed well received.

At my presentation, and later, we were glad to see our friends from Phoenix, Marty Wilson (Ecotone Wellness), Cathy Pisano and Karen Marco (Fooditude), and Keven Kula (Ready State Fitness).

After my presentation, there was a lunch break, but most of it I spent talking with people who had questions after my presentation.  Then we went back to the main hall for an interview, which didn't happen during the break because we couldn't find the video camera guy.  He appeared with the camera just before Stephan started his presentation.  I was very sorry to miss it.   The interviewers, Tess and Alyssa, the Planetary Girl, spent the length of Stephan's  presentation interviewing me, very interested in my approach to paleo, sustainability, and perspective on adjusting dietary proportions to male vs female metabolism using an evolutionary context.

After the interview we attended Linda Frasseto's talk on her work using paleo diet, one of the few clinical studies on paleo diet published in peer-reviewed literature.  Her paleo diet approach was very high in plant foods to supply, if I remember correctly, a ~12g/d intake of potassium and a 12:1 K:Na ratio.  It produced some remarkable improvements in metabolism and blood pressure, but was more effective in salt-sensitive individuals than in 'normal' people.  Since the diet she used improved insulin function,  I asked her if she knew of any research connecting K:Na ratio to insulin function.  She did not, but Loren Cordain said he did.  I will follow up on that.

By the way, her version of 'paleo' was 45% carbohydrate and much of that from carrot juice (essentially simple sugars), and only 30% fat.  She also worked to keep the caloric intake up at maintenance levels, which was difficult according to her report.  It was among the facts that got me thinking again, there is no universal application of 'paleo' diet (just as there is no universal vegetarian diet).   In contrast to her study, this one produced a 'paleo' diet that was low in calories (1445 on average), 24% protein, 39% fat, and 32% carbohydrate.  This might be fine for people wanting to lose weight, but we can't assume that this diet will have identical or beneficial effects for someone maintaining weight and eating 2500 calories per day, because increasing caloric intake at the same proportions will result in greater absolute intakes of fat, protein, and carbs.  Especially in the case of protein, the more you eat, the more toxic waste you produce (acids, ammonia and urea), which puts additional burden on detoxification systems.

One of the challenges I had with meat-based, low-carb paleo revolved around how to get 2500 calories daily without eating above 25% carbohydrate.  The nub for me involved the nausea and appetite loss that I would get whenever eating a large amount of fat.  Sometimes I would get such bloating and discomfort from high fat meals that I would  be unable to eat much but fruit and juice for a couple of days, completely negating the temporary increased caloric intake I got from the extra fat. This is an accepted effect of high fat meals (even Peter at Hyperlipid mentions it fairly often), not unique to me, which some might consider a benefit for people trying to limit energy intake, but it is certainly undesirable when it prevents adequate energy intake. At one point I decided to try drinking milk to fill in the calorie gap, adopting a 'pastoral' diet, despite my previous experience that milk increased my sinus congestion and allergy difficulties, hoping that in the context of a grain-free diet, milk would have a different effect on me.  Alas, it did not.

We had to leave the symposium shortly after that because we were hungry and had to drive back to Phoenix, because Saturday I started teaching at Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture.

But before we left, we had another chance to chat with Richard Nickoley and Bea.  We also met Erwan LaCorre of MovNat, and a few people who follow my blog. 

Before leaving we went down stairs to the student food concession.  We got a grilled chicken salad and an order of black beans from a Rubios concession. 

I was sorry to have to leave early and miss the presentations given on Saturday.  We had a wonderful time and look forward to the next opportunity to participate.  Thanks again to Aaron Blaisdell and Brent Pottenger, and the dozens of volunteers who pulled this off.


Me said...

Hi Don,

This is Tess. It was nice to meet and interview you. The planetary girl was Alyssa Rhoden who has this sustainability blog: http://ethicaleats.blogspot.com/

Jimmy Moore said...

It was fantastic meeting you in person, Don. AHS was a huge success and I'm glad you were able to be a part of it.

Don said...


I thought her name was Alyssa,but wasn't sure my memory was correct.


Great to meet you also.

izigr said...

Hi Don, I was the Asian guy in the blue shirt who stayed to ask questions. I really enjoyed your lecture and wish more folks attended it. Keep up the good work in your search for personal truth and demanding skepticism in this community.

Don said...


Thanks. It was a pleasure to meet you, hopefully I will see you next year at the AHS.

Anonymous said...

Hi Don

Thanks for your update on AHS.

Did Dr Lindeberg mention what technique he used for detection of atheroma in the Kitavans? Was it duplex ultrasound or CT or MRI? I was under the impression they had looked for Q waves on EKG to see if there was evidence of previous infarction, but had not looked for actual atheroma with imaging. That's what I remember from reading the published papers, at least. Unless one of these imaging methods (or autopsy) was used on a large number of them, it would be impossible to say if they had no atheroma, as lack of MI does not prove you have no atherosclerois.

Don said...

Hi Kurt,

If he did mention the method, I don't recall it. He did project cross-sectional images of blood vessels on his slides, so I assume he/they used CT or MRI, but not being a radiologist I couldn't by the image itself, briefly presented, tell you which was used. It seemed he felt pretty confident that the Kitavans fit into his view that animals on wild diets don't develop atheroma. Hopefully I understood him correctly.

He might have shared his slides, and at some point the video tape of his presentation will be posted, giving us an opportunity to clarify this.

Aaron Blaisdell said...

Hi Don,

Thanks again for participating! I'm sorry there wasn't much fruit/vegetables left late in the party. It was a pot-luck and so it was hard to predict what types of foods would be brought. Had I known, I would have put out the Persian cucumbers sitting in my fridge.

It was a pleasure meeting you and Tracy, though I wish I had more time to chat with you both.

I look forward to your participation in future AHS events!

Don said...


Actually, at that point in time, the wine was the most appropriate plant product for us!

Everything was perfect.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Don

I'll look for the video. Hopefully this will be published if it's not been already.

Don said...


This morning, I feel a little more uncertain about the images. I remembered that Lindeberg spent a few minutes at least talking on the theme "who wants to be normal?" and again, if memory serves me, it was then that he talked about atheroma being "normal" in modernized populations, but absent from wild animals and again, I thought he was saying or implying, the Kitavans. But this morning I don't feel confident that the images he projected were from Kitavans...as I dredged my memory, I think that the images were NOT of Kitavan blood vessels, because, again, if memory serves me, they (two images) showed a progression of intima thickness. Of course that doesn't mean he doesn't have images of Kitavans' vessels either. I look forward to clarifying this by watching his presentation again.

Ryan J said...

Hi Don,

I would be interested as well in any imaging data that you may find - please post it on your blog if you obtain any! Thanks.

Richard Nikoley said...


It is ridiculous that I and others get up in arms with a general ally before looking them in the eye.

I count myself lucky.

That I enjoyed speaking with you face to face and meeting your beautiful wife is an understatement.

I can't wait to see your presentation when it's up on video.

BTW, there's a podcast I did with Angelo Coppola of Latest in Paleo where we talked about the AHS controversies.

You didn't even get a mention. :)

I trust you know what I mean.

Richard Nikoley said...

Don, change your profile pic, man. You look so way better now.

[Don and his wife looked AMAZING. I'm not the only one to notice it. Far from it.]

Don said...


Thanks! You and Bea looked great as well. It was a pleasure to meet you both. I'll change that photo soon.