Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My own little AHS '12 wrap-up!

Last weekend, people from many different walks of life converged upon Harvard Law to listen, learn, carouse, and tweet about all things related to ancestral health and how it can improve modern health. The second annual Ancestral Health Symposium was deemed a smashing success by nearly everyone. Boasting a "Paleo-star"-studded list of presenters, I learned a ton, tweeted a ton, and made many new friends in the process.

Coming to the event as a first-timer and wee babe in the paleo blogosphere, I must say that every one of the presenters was pleasant and easy to converse with, even Dr Lustig (well, I thought he was easy to talk with, but I work with physicians). It's kind of a surreal thing to finally meet people who you feel like you know via electronic media, yet at the same time you realize that you don't know them at all..and they don't know you! Still, chatting with Robb Wolf, Drs. Eaton, Wahls, Lalonde (and other docs), Jimmy Moore, and Mr. Richard Nikoley himself was easy. It's invigorating to realize that these people aren't all that different from you; they're just further down the paleo road than you are.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my friends from twitter with whom I finally met in person, such as @cookingdirty, @merkatroid, @alechenderson, @vlprince, @primalbalance, @gone2croatan, @paleoperiodical, and I'm sure many others whom I've forgotten in this sleep-deprived state I'm in (please forgive me!). I promise to update this post with live links and expand on my thoughts very soon. Not to mention I have lots of photos, some of which I'll be posting ;)

In the meantime, here's my 30-second synopsis of what I learned:
Starches are tolerated well by some people. If you tolerate them well, peel the potato. Wrap the potato in bacon. Move, play, and get your community involved in the saga of their food!

My 15-second bite of what I wished was more prominent: I'd love to see a bit more anthro emphasis, perhaps even an anthro/paleoanthro track of breakouts. We're still learning from our ancestors, after all, and it's important to keep abreast of such things if we're hanging our nutritional hats on it

That's all for now!

P.S.  Keep an eye out for action on twitter from the @paleoposse! Comprised of the above tweeters (and some other awesome folks),  we hope to have a paleo-oriented podcast of our own unique bent in the near future!


Saturday, July 21, 2012


(The following is just a bit of a thought experiment that I began sometime last spring. Overall it seems like I'm better at asking questions than answering them--TP)

     It seems like there's this tacit notion that we are somehow different than people who have come before us. As if somehow we are conscious now, and by contrast humans weren't, in the millenia preceding civilization (was this the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Or part and parcel to the formation of civil society?).
     This seems to be the rub I see when I see that a "diet suitable for evolution" may not be "a diet suitable for modern health."  The very word "modern" is beginning to take on a very relative sort of meaning. If we were to go back 20,000 years and have a conversation of sorts with our ancestors, I would assume that they also believed that they were living in "modern times" (As comedian Steven Wright said, "It doesn't matter what temperature the room is, it's always room temperature.") 
     Perhaps "modern" isn't the best term to use. Maybe something like "industrial" times is better suited to emphasize our placement in the grander scheme of things. Or perhaps "a diet suitable for the months prior to the end of the world in December of 2012", if we really wish to be specific.
     Are we changing? Do we wish to stay the same, whether we admit it or not? Are we the first age of people to think such things? It would seem we have no choice in the matter; we will change. But for good or bad, our awareness of our state of being and our frailties leads us to negotiate and dicker with biology, to try and eek out a few more years ahead, all while failing to enjoy the ones we have now.
     If we selected for shorter lives, but they were lives free of pain and chronic disease and filled with love and passions and good food, is that a failure? Do we somehow "lose"? Then who won? Again, there seems to be a debt-debtor, win-lose argument flowing beneath all the commentary. And it seems that such subtext ultimately serves to distract us from soaking in the existence we have.
      Looking at egalitarian H/G bands, they share resources and have leveling measures. Wants are inherent to our consciousness, but I cannot think that they want for things any more than we do. Perhaps even much less. They have no fear of losing their iPod, no worries about their 403b plan.
If life is marked only by the fear of loss and scores of distractions, what is that to us? Are we missing the point (assuming that there is indeed a grant point, or that one could be made)?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What I've been up to...

It's been ages since my last post. Not for lack of ideas, but really for a lack of time and, due to my large perfectionist streak, unwillingness to write an article that wasn't fully developed. There was indeed plenty of writing, as I had my senior research papers and presentations to write and polish. On the upside, I have completed my undergraduate degree! People ask if it feels good now that I'm done. Too bad I'm not "done", as I have organic chemistry and physics to complete before I apply to med school.

Now to get to all the reading I put off during school. I'm looking forward to the Ancestral Health Symposium in Boston this August, and I'm looking forward to meeting all of the other ancestral health in attendance!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Quilt of Nuanced and Multifaceted Webs...On a Series of Tubes

I'm taking a break from lit reviewing and abstract writing for my senior anthro project, and I'm catching up on some podcasts. There was a bit of kerfluffle on twitter and the net about Jack Kruse and his Paleo Summit presentation. And lately his blog has had a series of posts on cold thermogenesis as part of "the ancient pathway," which I have to admit, causes a tiny little geek wearing a pink cashmere sweater that lives inside of me to get all riled up:

An...ancient...pathway? Whowhatwherewhyhow! Let's look on pubmed! Can we activate the Stargate with it? What does it all mean? How is this related to anthro? What's the evidence? What does John Hawks think? And does it come in paisley?
Choice of prints notwithstanding, I'm set to read Dr. Kruse's posts and see what I make of the whole thing before I comment further on cold thermogenesis and ancient pathways beyond my hopes that it will enable us to have interstellar adventures with Richard Dean Anderson.

All this got me to thinking about the facets of bioecology that we've seemingly diverged from, or at least people have argued that we've diverged from. We have several authors and voices in the paleo community suggesting that we eat seasonally and in a manner befitting our genetic adaptations, that we get light exposure in ways that compliment our circadian rhythms, and move/exercise in ways that mimic life in the wild. Now, Dr. Kruse suggests we pay attention to the temperature of our environment. Maybe there's someting to it. We'll have to test it out and see. I'm beginning to run out of time to manage all of these divergent qualities while still maintaining a job and school. To summarize the laundry list of things we've "messed up" according to books and blogs in the paleo-sphere:
  1. Food (grains, too much sugar, the wrong fats, the wrong milk, grain-fed cattle, etc)
  2. Sleep (not enough, monophasic, biphasic, or otherwise)
  3. Light exposure (too late in the day, too much blue light,)
  4. Endocrine disruptors (to include chlorinated water, floride, parabens in food and personal care products, pesticides on food, and the remnants of birth control hormones in municipal water supplies)
  5. Activity levels (We sit too much and move too little/too slow/too fast/too far/not far enough)
  6. Electromagnetic radiation exposure (I've seen or heard everything from our cell phones being too much, to our house's electrical system messing w/ us)
  7. Contact with the earth, or lack thereof (I haven't even looked into Eathing yet)
  8. Effects of tool use (from shoes to desks and beds. Maybe the Luddites were late to the game on this)
  9. The Twilight series (Quite possibly the worst disease of civilization since the '80s pop music)
  10. And now, temperature of our environment.
The next step? I'm waiting for someone to come forward with a hypothesis related the epigenetic effects of squatting and/or living without furniture. There's already some sites on the net that sell "squatting aids" for your western toilet, which will help ease strain of fecal elimination and supposedly reduce the incidence of appendicitis and colon cancer. Or perhaps an enterprising chiropracter might incorporate squatting, John Durant's adventures in floor sleeping, and some research on sciatic nerve impingement, muscular development of the lower-limb, and the metabolic effects of efficient innervation to leg muscle, such that it leads to testosterone production. 

Am I being a jerk? No. A little absurd, perhaps. At times it seems like we keep refining and refining and refining our approaches to life, and it sends me down the rabbit-hole of infinite possibilities that could be affecting our health. I appreciate the work by all of the bloggers and thinkers out there, but my paradigms already have more strech-marks than a maternity ward. Sometimes I wish for time to master one thing before another interesting idea comes down the pike

 But, it is nice and cozy here in the rabbit-hole, so I guess I'll stay for a while. Two years ago gluten and zonulin were nowhere on my radar, and diseases of civilization was just a topic in my World Pre-History class. Who knows what will be on the radar in another two years, or two decades? I welcome the information and just wish I had enough time and resources to absorb, verify, and apply it all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The reality is virtual, the delusions are real.

Diabetes educators enlist virtual reality

Program targets those between ages 18 and 28

By Kathy Hedberg of the Lewiston Morning Tribune

A group of high-risk young adults with diabetes has been learning to cope with their disease using a virtual reality program that connects them with health care providers and others with diabetes.

The Intrepid Healthy Lifestyle Hunter was created by faculty from the University of Idaho extension program, the school of family and consumer sciences, the college of art and architecture’s virtual technology and design, and the college of business and economics.

Its purpose, said SeAnne Safaii of the UI extention staff, is to reach people 18-28 years old who often fall through the cracks between pediatric and older adult health care related to diabetes.

“They tend to fall off the grid for medical providers and health care,” Safaii said.

People in that age group are “fairly headstrong (thinking) ‘I can do it myself.’ But they often don’t have medical insurance or they’re going off to college and get dropped off their parents’ insurance. So there are just a multitude of risk factors.” (yeah, let’s not mention the crap food marketed to teens and college aged kids)

The program started two years ago and was funded through an $800,000 grant from the National Institute of Health. Safaii said the university is seeking an extension of the grand to further develop the program and even make it available to the general public (as if we needed another video game. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg will buy it and integrate it into Farmville. You know, so you can harvest your healthy whole grains and make diabetic friendly bread!)

Ninety-seven participants were divided into two groups—one that received diabetes and lifestyle instruction face-to-face and the second group that went through the program using an avatar in a virtual world (so…generally crappy information about managing blood sugar and choosing a diet that will cause an increase in blood sugar…in real life, where you have to be bothered to make an appointment, or in your apartment in front of your computer, without pants on)

“What we found is that they liked the concept of both education and discussion groups,” Safaii said. “The only thing we found that was an ‘aha!’ to us, the virtual group wanted to bond with each other face-to-face before going into that world.”

Safaii said she was surprised by the finding because “I thought that sort of anonymity would have been a beneficial factor.”

The program is being modified to allow participants to meet their health care providers and others in the group first through Facebook before venturing into the virtual world.

Although the program developers tried to replicate the virtual world as much as the real world, “it’s difficult because there’s more stimuli in the real world. (you don’t say?) In the virtual world everything has to be a power-point presentation…Then wanted more interactive pieces. So they are developing a cafĂ© where they can order food and play a game ordering food. We will also have a virtual kitchen where they can take their avatars in and learn how to prepare virtual food and recipes, then they can do it in real life. (yeah…if only there were shows on that new-fangled television that did that. And if those recipes could be bound together and purchased in a single unit. Hmmm…)

Safaii said the future of the program is not yet clear, but it is hoped it can eventually be opened to all age groups that want to play and learn about living with diabetes.

“It’s a pretty fascinating world in there,” she said, referring to the virtual program. Participants are “changing their lifestyle and being held accountable. So this age group (is) so busy that they forget to eat, they forget to check their blood sugar, they crash and burn all the time.

“And they go out socializing and drinking—that you really can’t do when you have diabetes. So one of our classes teaches them skills on how to go out with your friends. If you drink alcohol, what do you do?” (assuming one actually has real friends to go out with after spending all of one’s time on 2nd Life 8: The Paula Deen edition)

This is being done right up the road from where I live. I applaud the use of current media to try and reach a demographic that is being missed when it comes to diabetic education. But then again, having worked with some diabetic educators and seeing what stuff they are instructed to push, I’m not so sure it’s not just going from the frying pan into the fire. I can’t imagine the diet and recipes they suggest in the game will be any different from the ADA diet, one that seems to do a great job of selling grains, but not so great of addressing the underlying cause of the diabetes. The article does not say whether this is for Type 1 or Type 2 diabetics, but it does mention that the program was created by people involved in consumer sciences and the college of business and econ. I don’t suppose they would be digging into the metabolic research so much as they would be attempting to apply their current methods of supporting corporate food-esque manufacturers to a digital format.

Also, at no time did I see any mention of instilling the importance of physical activity. And why would they? It would be downright boring, if not cognitively dissonant, to sit on your but in your WOW den and take your avatar to a gym to lift weights, or go for a run on a CG-levy by a CG river, complete with CG seagulls crapping on your CG head.

In some ways, this project serves as a vivid symptom of the problems in our approach to health. We embrace a medium that encourages, if not requires, sedentary behavior because it is the latest thing. But did anyone ask if it was the “best” thing? As a society we have a very teleologic misconception that “newer” somehow equals “better.” New drugs and new procedures for new symptoms of new diseases. And now, new ways to be indoctrinated educated. Seems to me the common thread there is “new.” I keep hoping one day as a society we’ll have learned enough history and anthropology to start looking back to a time when we weren’t so sick, so fat, so sad, or suffering from a deficiency of medication.

The question, “what were you doing around the time that the illness manifested?” is commonly heard while the docs I work with evaluate patients. The answer almost always yields some valuable information. Yet somehow, the self-appointed medical providers of our society ask the question, they fail to hear the answer. Instead we look to the future, to more new things, each one adding a bit more time and distance between us and our healthier ancestors.

I still have some hope. TV shows and movies get re-made. Fashions from bygone eras become popular again. It is my hope that on a scale far grander than feathered hair and legwarmers, the lifestyle of our ancestors comes back into vogue before we flat go out of style."
posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sleep well tonight, riding upon the dreams you planted...

In a rather non-paleo/anthro related post, I wanted to take a few minutes from my studies and call attention to the passing of a great man whose work has been seen by nearly everyone in the modern world...although most don't know it.

Ralph McQuarrie, the concept artist whose work got Star Wars: A New Hope greenlighted, passed away today at his home. He had a great influence on the visual qualities of the Star Wars Universe, but not just directly related the movies we saw on the screen. He also published a great deal of his concept art that fleshed out the nuances of the swamp ecosystem on Dagobah, illustrated the esoteric and rather extreme meditation practices of the B'omarr Order of monks on Tattooine, and, of course, was responsible for the iconic look of Darth Vader's helmet.

Mr. McQuarrie also worked on Back to the Future, the Indiana Jones movies, and even Batteries Not Included, all three of which were perennial favories of mine while growing up.

My brother and I spend many hours looking over books of Mr. McQuarrie's work in The Illustrated Star Wars Universe.

You will be missed, General Pharl McQuarrie.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Photos of "mediocre looking" nearly naked people offer damning evidence that the Paleo diet is bunk.

To paraphrase Dr Lalonde in his AHS '11 presentation , observing uncontrolled phenomena provides us with a spot to generate hypotheses, not make conclusions. 

I was just over on Matt Stone's site, I hadn't been there before, and although he's not a fan of the Paleo diet gig, I've got no beef with him, and although I haven't listened to his presentation at the Paleo Summit yet, I'm looking forward to it.

Within the comments about the nifty Paleo Summit that Mr. Stone is a part of, someone posted a link to this news story about an "uncontacted" Peruvian tribe known as the Mashco-Piro and their violent brushes with modern society, which are evidently due to logging and other "civilized" activity pushing them out of their traditional territory.
First off, I find the use of the term "uncontacted" a rather poor choice of terms. Isolated, yes. Apparently violently xenophobic, yes. Completely uncontacted, no. Uncontacted (for whatever it means here) does not mean unmolested, unchanged, or unaffected by activities of the modern societies around them. To assume it does would be to assume that they lived in a bubble or in an alternate dimension. Which brings me to Mr. Stone's comment:
Yes, that picture will probably make it into the Paleo book, along with several other pics of primitive hunter-gatherers looking mediocre at best.
Here's the photo he's referring to:
Which is actually found on the front page of without cropping: 
Looking into the Uncontacted Tribes site, here is another pic of the same gentleman who is apparently very mediocre looking by Mr. Stone's standards:
Which begs the question, what would qualify as "top-notch"? Again, using uncontrolled and unverifiable observations, I don't see anyone in the photo who would qualify as obese by our standards. I don't see any evidence of acne on the younger people in the photos, and what's more, if you say anything bad about him, he will cut you with his capybara tooth-tipped wood knife. How many people in modern-day America are not obese, lacking acne, are willing to be photographed nearly naked, and have a kick-ass wood knife?
So I guess mediocre is a subjective term.

Issues I raised in his comment thread (still awaiting moderation as of this post) included the reliability of judging an entire people's health due to diet based off of the pictures of one family. Further, how has the illegal logging affected their diet and lifestyle? Have they moved to or from a monocrop supported diet? What were they like a hundred or two hundred years ago? These are the beginnings of hypotheses, not conclusions.

We can really go down the untestable question rabbit hole if we want: These people were able to be photographed. Why? What made them amenable to the photos? Did they know about the photos? Are they behaving differently than the other members of their tribe, such that the photos were able to be taken? Then we can get into whether or not these people are eating a paleo-traditional diet, a neo-traditional (traditional with comparatively new additions due to contact w/ the outside world) diet, or a completely "western" diet. Are these people even members of the Mashco-Piro? And on, and on...
Ultimately I can't answer those questions. What I can do is appreciate these people for whatever vestige of their traditional culture they've got left.

Other Paleo blogs and books have showed pictures of well-muscled, lean hunter gatherers, many of whom look like they hunted and gathered at the local Globo-Gym. If one had the time to waste we could start comparing pics of subjectively crappy or healthy looking indigenous peoples and get into quite the pissing match, considering that one's definition of crappy or mediocre varies based on a number of biases. If I were to go the academic route and pursue my Master's in Anthro, maybe I'd compile all the pictures of all the indigenous peoples in existence and make a big flip book so as to finally confirm the body composition of foraging/hunter-gatherer/preagricultural societes. But I don't have that much time. 

Here's an idea for another fun project. Photograph all indigenous peoples. Then photograph all "civilized" people. Then compare the percentages of those two groups who have outward-yes, just outward-signs of chronic diseases, impaired glucose control, sleep deprivaton, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, venous hypertension, etc. Despite the variation in native diet, I would surmise that the people not eating processed crap and getting no sleep or exercise will be less "mediocre."

Ultimately, photos are a nice visual way of conveying a lot of information, but when it comes to proving or disproving the validity of any eating approach, they don't hold a lot of weight in my eyes. They are crystalized representations of time and place and person. A comprehensive, longitudinal photo-documentation of people out in the world and of participants in any dietary studies like those of Dr. Lindeberg would be quite nice, but still, they are only one facet of the whole deal.  

Until then, I shall rely on Dr. Lalonde's advice and hypothesize that a paleo-esqe diet is better for me than a western diet, and I will keep carrying out my own little N=1 experiment to test that hypothesis.