Thursday, July 03, 2014

New Zealand Ancestral Health Symposium - Part 2 of 3

This post is a continuation of my blog report on last weekend's Ancestral Health Symposium in Christchurch.
For Part 1 Click Here

James Murphy - Nutritionist, Synergy Health
James' Blog: Evolved Running   James' Twitter: @primalRUSH
Urban Design and Health: The Spaces in Between

James talked about the importance of Green Spaces within urban environments: how it is important that they are both there, and that we actually use them. 

Chch residents, when did YOU last take a walk up the Rapaki track or into Hagley Park??  I know, I know... we can do that anytime, but do we? 

James introduced (to me) the concept of biophilia, which has nothing to do with books, but refers to the natural affinity that humans have for other living things. 

Bio-philia = love (philia) of life / living systems (bio). Very cool.

Drawing a parallel between the chronic health problems of zoo animals, and the poor state of many modern humans, James described the progressive 'concreting' of modern environments as human 'habitat loss'.  When viewed that way, it is no wonder we have the issues that we do. Urban environments are overstimulating, fatiguing and lack biodiversity, whereas exposure to nature - even if within a city park, has a rebalancing effect that is similar to mindfulness-based stress reduction.  Nice :)

Jamie Scott - Health Researcher
Jamie's blog: That Paleo Guy  Jamie's twitter: @_Jamie_Scott
I See Weak People: the Under-appreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease

I forgot to photograph Jamie during his talk, probably because I was beginning to fantasise.... about lunch, so here's one from earlier, when he introduced the conference.

As a long-term reader of the Paleo Guy blog, I'd been looking forward to Jamie's talk, and he didn't disappoint, jumping right into it with some extremely impolite observations about the people one sees while out and about. Specifically, he spoke about the alarming, and increasingly prevalent, muscular weakness that can be spotted in people's posture, and in the way they move.

Like other presenters, Jamie expressed concern for future generations. Did you know that there are studies (UK) showing a 100% increase in numbers of 10-year olds that can't hold their own bodyweight?  I didn't, but I do now. Check it out.

Using big words like sarcopenia and dynapenia, Jamie explained what happens to muscle when it is not utilised.  I'd heard of saropenia (muscle wasting) before, but dynapenia was new-to-me. Essentially, it refers to a loss of muscle power due to changed innervation, particularly of the fast twitch fibres. Therefore, even before muscle wastage sets it, a person may progressively lose the ability to perform power moves, such as climbing stairs or getting out of a chair.  This becomes a vicious cycle: as movements become more difficult, people move less.

Jamie came down hard on the 'fat focus' of health messages, and of health evaluation.  Strength is not fashionable.  Why mess up your shirt climbing the stairs, when you can take the lift?  Why concern yourself with a stable posture or muscle mass when you are size 6 and therefore 'sexy' and assumed 'healthy'? 

Lastly, Jamie talked about the role of muscles beyond just holding us up and moving us around.  I hadn't thought much about this, but muscle (particularly contracting muscle) functions as a secretory organ, expressing hormones and cytokines that, for example, modulate inflammation, affect muscle/bone mass and suppress cancer.  This part of his talk made me forget lunch and settle into an uncomfortable 'how did I not know this??' moment. I like that. From now on, I'll not consider any conference a success unless it stimulates a deep personal crisis.  


And then it was lunchtime! (always a significant part of my day). Jase, Julianne and I sprinted drove like maniacs to C1 cafe, which was packed, inhaled the most ancestral things on the menu, and got back in time for the woman tasked with harnessing the attention of a post-lunch crowd. Big job.

Mikki Williden PhD - Senior Lecturer and Researcher, AUT
Mikki's Website:  Mikki's twitter: @mikkiwilliden
Food for Thought: Nutrition and Brain Health

Mikki spoke about one of my favourite topics, which is the link between nutrition and brain development and function.  She started by emphasising how much energy the brain actually uses, compared to it's relative size within the body.

The brain is an energy hog, accounting for approximately 20% of the Basal Metabolic Rate in adults. She discussed the problems caused by glucose toxicity in the brain and that ketones (which the brain uses for fuel when nutrition is low in carbs / high in fats) have a neuroprotective effect which can be therapeutic for conditions such as MS and epilepsy.  There was some discussion about the benefits or not of extended ketosis in healthy people. The consensus on that seemed to be that short-term ketosis is not harmful, and may be beneficial, however there are no-long-term studies (yet) which could answer the question conclusively.

Mikki discussed the disturbing fact that the human brain appears to be shrinking. This 'could' be because we are becoming more compact and energy efficient, or it could be more sinister.  She referenced a Mayo clinic study, which showed that blood glucose levels in the high range of normal were correlated with cognitive impairment and reduced size of the hippocampus. I found an article about that study here.

In terms of childhood brain development, Mikki did speak about faulty nutrition being linked with hyperactivity, lower educational achievement and stunted cognitive development, however I didn't take many notes on that, as I was busy scrawling down this nutritionally dodgy list:

Coca Cola
Coca Cola (in a different size)
White bread
Baked Beans
White Bread (toast slices)
Wholegrain Bread
Coke Zero

What's that? It's a list compiled in 2009 of the top ten supermarket purchases (excluding alcohol) in New Zealand. 0_0

Thought provoking, yes?

For Part 3: Click Here


  1. Was looking for the 'like' button. Fanatastic overview - thanks!

  2. Hi Sara, yet another great summary with lots of links and key words to check out. And seeing as you asked...if I'm not in the hills in the weekend, I'm up the Bridle Path (near Rapaki Track) and technically speaking as I walk through Hagley Park to get to work everyday...

    I think that horrendous shopping list was posted on Gareth Morgan's blog. Our shopping trolley at Countdown is devoid of fruit and vegies so goodness knows what people think if they run into me! But at Liberty's it's groaning with fruit and veg thanks to being inspired by you and Terry Wahls.


I love to hear from you! Tell me what's in your brain, your heart or your dinner plate :D.