Ancestral Health Symposium 2017, Part II

Darryl Edwards, Primal Play at AHS17 in Seattle

This is part two of my recap of this year’s Ancestral Health Symposium in Seattle. See part one here.

Darryl Edwards, Primal Play and Animal Moves Sessions

Darryl Edwards offered movement sessions each day of the conference, sessions that included partner tug-of-war, one-legged tag, crawling, and play fighting. Edwards was absolutely engaging, coming across humorous and charming in his many sessions. He, like Rafe Kelly, emphasized the importance of play and recovering our sense of childlike exuberance.

  • Edwards mentioned how seriously kids will commit to their game, physically illustrating the example of a kid pretending to walk a tightrope and then continuing to pretend it is life of death even when he loses his balance and falls. While an adult would might get frustrated and self-critical at failing at some predetermined goal, for a child, the “loss” is all a part of the game. The game does not stop because the goal was not met. It was a great reminder that setbacks and “failures” are all a part of the game, a part of one’s progress. Like children, we should embrace these aspects of our journey.
  • I especially liked that Edwards always made sure to level the playing field in paired activities. He emphasized not to patronize others who are or appear weaker by holding back in your efforts. Whenever it was clear that one partner was stronger than the other, Edwards provided a way to give that person a handicap, such as having to perform the activity while balancing on one leg, which made the exercise mutually challenging and fruitful for both partners. This ability to equalize playing field was one of the best strengths of these classes. I have never seen another physical activity find a way to get people of varying abilities to engage with each other in a way that is fulfilling to all, and, as a result, many activities remain highly stratified with each level sticking to its own.
  • I never tired of watching Edwards roughhousing demonstrations. He would always overpower the participant in the first example, saying “now you know what to expect.” They would repeat the exercise, and the participant would, knowing what to expect, much more successfully stand their ground against Edwards. On the third try, you could the participant feeling much more comfortable, but Edwards would then surprise them by coming at them from a different angle, which would throw the participant off-kilter anew. As Edwards noted you will not always know what to expect in real life situations, so to always train in such a way will ill prepare you for functional usage of the movements you are learning.

Esther Gokhale, Posture Lessons from Tribal and Village Orissa

  • Gokhale talked about the importance of the hip hinge as opposed to rounding the spine when you bend.
  • She suggested placing something at the top of your head to practice alignment by pushing up through your head to meet the object you will have better alignment.
  • She surprised me by saying that she thinks the full or deep squat is not available to modern Americans without harm because most of us lack the ability to squat with a straight back. This was surprising because the squat is probably the movement I see most recommended by other movement and alignment experts. These experts, like Katy Bowman and Kelly Starrett, usually acknowledge that limited mobility  in the ankles and hips of most Americans will prevent sitting in a deep squat without discomfort initially, but they promote the idea that the deep squat can be attained through regular practice. It was not clear to me whether Gokhale believes the deep squat is eventually attainable for most Americans, but that prospect seems more credible to me than not.
Gokhale at AHS17 in Seattle
Gokhale at AHS17 in Seattle
  • Gokhale showed a device that she designed that attaches to the spinal column and can be connected  to a computer to show the movement of your spine in real time. A particularly useful feature is the ability to set an ideal spinal alignment and have the computer show you in real time whether or not you were meeting that ideal.
  • For chair sitting she suggested placing a cushion or bolster at the center top of the chair and emphasized that she recommends leaving room for the butt to extend below the bolster.

Tim Gerstmer, Microbiome Inside Your Cells

  • Gerstmer identified three things that are specially bad for the mitochondria:
    • He stated that acetaminophen depletes liver cellular glutathione which leads to mitochondrial oxidative and nitrous native stress which can lead to sell your death all Sonos apoptosis he cautions be mindful of dosing
    • He said statins diminish muscle muscle oxygen consumption and promote mitochondrial permeability. it can impair mitochondrial function in the pancreas which can lead to diabetes.
    • He argued that the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) induces mitochondrial apoptosis.
  • Gerstmer suggested detoxing,  by which he means providing adequate nutrition to your body in order to biotransform harmful substances. He recommend having a nutrient-dense diet high in protein and crucifers and alliums (garlic). He suggested adequate hydration and regular bladder and bowel movements.

Dentistry Panel: Kevin Boyd, Alvin Danenberg, Scott Solomons

Danenberg and Solomons at AHS17 in Seattle
Daneberg and Scott at AHS17 in Seattle
  • Kevin Boyd, DDS, mentioned that the first large-scale evidence of dental caries in the fossil record appear around the time humans switched to agricultural societies. He also noted that modern jaws are more retrusive and vertical, which can lead to deficiencies in nasal and esophagael airways. He noted that you can correct regressive jobs in young children with special retainers.
  • Boyd said that breastfeeding develops babies jaws and suggested baby-led weaning. He noted that babies who can sit up can also gnaw on harder foods, like bones, and recommends introducing solid foods then.
  • Alvin Danenberg, DDS, focused on the fact that dental plaque has a purpose. Normally biofilm exists in a state of homeostasis or balance. The function of dental plaque is to maintain a balanced pH in the mouth, fight off other bacteria, and remineralize the teeth. Removing plaque also removes these protective benefits. However he noted that healthy dental plaque can become unhealthy, and a person cannot tell which they have.
  • Danenberg stated that there is a study that shows less inflammation in people that eat low-carb, Mediterranean diets without flossing.
  • Danenberg argued that grains have phytic acid and pull minerals from the mouth. He also stated that gut dysbiosis can lead to mouth dysbiosis, which results in unhealthy plaque he said the mouth has to be treated separately from the gut and that brushing and flossing alone may not cut it.
  • He recommended brushing your teeth and flossing but he said you do not need to use toothpaste to brush your teeth. Water is fine. Non-chlorinated water is ideal. If you want to use toothpaste, use coconut oil and baking soda. He started that, though baking soda is slightly abrasive, it is less so than commercial toothpaste ingredients, and it restores pH and whitens.
  • Danenberg advised against oil pulling because he said the necessary duration of 20 minutes removes all bacteria including the good bacteria.  He advised that if you want to do it, do not do it for more than 30 to 60 seconds, and no more than a couple times a week. But he added that it is not necessary.
  • Danenberg said root canals are okay if done properly. He recommended going to an endodentist for root canals. He also suggested that you want to find someone who has been practicing 10 to 15 years but not much longer because you want someone who’s more well-versed in contemporary dental care practices.
  • Finally, he recommended eating fermented foods for positive dental health.
  • Solomons, DDS stated that 91% of the population have had a cavity and 91% have gingivitis he noted that diet is the number one cause of bleeding gums.

Brigita Lacovara, Oxytocin and Ancestral Health

  • The oxytocin workshop was a nice change of pace. It was utterly calm and relaxing and filled with positive energy. It started with giving each other different types of hugs.
  • Next we all sat in a circle with our bare feet touching each other’s bare feet. The moderators checked in with us and asked us what we were feeling in the moment, noting that This exercise might feel uncomfortable for some because our feet are rarely exposed and have sometimes negative connotations. I felt very cognizant in the moment that my feet are too often deprived of sensory input. Between all the people at the symposium going barefoot and Tony Federico’s sentiments in a morning lecture that the feet are a major sensory body part, I was yearning to free my feet from the confines of shoes. I made sure to enjoy walking on the grass after the workshop and be mindful to the different textures I experienced.
  • We concluded with an exercise in which we formed a line of people laying down on the grass with each person’s head on another person’s stomach. It quickly became very joyful in addition to relaxing.  you could feel when the person you were laying on breathe or laughed and their actions became contagious.

Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA

Katy Bowman and Darryl Edwards at AHS17 book signing in Seattle
Katy Bowman and Darryl Edwards at AHS17 book signing in Seattle
  • I was so excited to meet Katy Bowman since she has affected my whole perspective moving, aging, and living in general. She did not disappoint. Despite the fact that I have read many of her books (Check out Move Your DNA!), listened to her podcast Katy Says, read her blog, and listened to many interviews of her on other podcasts, I still found her lecture at the symposium thought-provoking.
  • Katy Bowman identified four movement factors:  texture, temperature, pressure, and distance. She noted that thermoregulation is a part of movement but that it has been divorced from the idea of exercise because it is not muscular-skeletal.
  • She mentioned that she chewing aids brain circulation and that there is a relationship between decreased hippocampus function and decreased ability to chew.
  • Bowman related a common definition of physical fitness as the ability to meet daily tasks and unforeseen emergencies. However, she explained, this does not incorporate how well various bodily systems function (e.g. breathing, circulation, digestion, chewing, etc.). A more appropriate definition, she suggested, would account for how well all the bodily systems function.
  • She noted that we make up for our limited range of body usage with higher intensity but narrower ranges of movement.
  • She stated that movement is historically a response to a need but now we have so little need to move that people have to create reasons to move and or rely on mental discipline and willpower.

Denise Minger, The Blood Type Diet

  • Minger made it abundantly clear that the blood type diet is a lot of hooey. However, she noted that the author of The Blood Type Diet may have unwittingly stumbled upon a few truths.
  • Eighty percent of people secrete blood antigens in bodily fluids. Type A secretors, type B secretors, and non-secretors have different microbiome populations and different levels of risk for various illnesses.
  • Non-secretors, type O, end type B are more likely to have periodontitis while type AB are less likely to have gum disease.
  • Vaginal yeast infections are more common in non-secretors because lack of ABO antigens allow yeast to attach.
  • Blood type A is more likely to get heart disease and type O is less likely. Do not fit for more than 4 hours on a plane because non-O types have high risk of thrombosis. Birth control increases clotting risks for type A.

Nora Gedgaudas, Primal Fat Heads

  • Nora Gedgaudas highlight the importance of fat to human development, noting that our brains are comprised of 80% fat by dry weight.
  • Adult brains use 20 to 30% of caloric energy while babies’ brains use more, explaining the need, according to her, for a higher fat diet.
  • She argues that the transition to animal-based, fat-based diet created in humans larger brains and smaller digestive tracts.
  • Gedgaudas noted that in the last 10,000 years human brains have gotten smaller.
  • Humans different from other mammals in that our brain shrink as we age, which she attribute to are poorly matched high-carbohydrate diet.
  • She concluded that we cannot separate brain health from bodily health. This is obviously true, and, yet brain health is so under-emphasized in today’s culture. Aside from marketing gimmicks tenuously describing particular products as “smart” foods, not a lot of attention is paid to promoting the health our brains. Most attention goes to the things we can see, so our skin, fat, muscles, and hair–maybe bones and joints for people who are suffering a related ailment– not to our brains. Given that our brains drive the functioning of our entire bodies, the lack of attention to the brain in everyday life is bizarre, and I appreciate Gegaudas calling attention to the importance of supporting the brain.


Frank Forencich's Exuberant Animal Class at AHS17 in Seattle
Frank Forencich’s Exuberant Animal Class at AHS17 in Seattle


Steve Turpin, Nearsightedness: A Modern Disease

  • Turpin observed that myopia increased dramatically in the past century to 40% of population. The prevalence of myopia in native populations in various places around the world have much lower rates at .5 – 2%.
  • He suggested that exposure to sunlight and children slow the progression of myopia.  He noted that sunlight is full spectrum and much higher and intensity than artificial light. He still recommended wearing sunglasses, though.
  • Turpin argued that myopia should not be considered a disease but a homeostatic adaptation. If you don’t use farsightedness you lose it.
  • To prevent myopia, Turpin recommends limiting refined carbs and controlling blood sugar, promoting outdoor play, and looking at distant objects.
  • He stated that you cannot reverse myopia, that you can only slow it. An audience member argued with him vociferously, stating that he and numerous others he knows have corrected their myopia. The audience member’s name was Todd Becker, and he suggested that his knowledge of myopia correction can be found online by searching for his name and “myopia reversal.”

My Take: Optometry Can Be A Little Short-Sighted

I have just received new glasses that I purchased with an updated and stronger prescription than the glasses I had been using (a prescription many years old, since my last glasses broke a while ago). When I tried them on in the store, I was disturbed by how strong they felt; everything in the store felt distorted and too close. The store clerk kept directing me to look out the window a good distance away across the street. Indeed, at that farther distance, the glasses were perfect and exceeded my older prescription.

However, I am almost never looking at anything that far away. I spend most of my days in a small, windowless office in which the farthest wall is less than ten feet away from me. My apartment is larger, but not by much, with the farthest object being maybe 20 feet away from me at any time. In either case, I am usually looking at something much closer. Living in New York City, I do not drive and do not have to peer into the distance of the road. Thought it is not ideal, my lifestyle simply does not require much substantial far-sightedness, and I find my new prescription ill-suited to my actual life tasks.

In insisting on correcting my vision to a stronger prescription than I actually need, I worry that optometry is doing a disservice and will cause my eyes to adjust so that the stronger prescription becomes necessary for even closer distances. I know optometrists frown on the idea of wearing glasses beneath your prescription, but I think they erroneously presuppose that the glasses will be used regularly for a full range of vision and fail to take into account that in today’s world, many people simply will not use that full range of vision.

Personally, I am sympathetic to Becker’s idea that myopia can be reversed. If, as Turpin says, myopia is a homeostatic condition that arises in response to lifestyle behaviors,  it seems only natural that changing these lifestyle behaviors could lead to changing myopia. The difficulty is that it is not at all easy to change lifestyle. Inexplicably to me,  the vision in one of my eyes has been improving for the past few years.  while this is not a ringing endorsement of the idea of myopia reversal, it does lend some credence in my mind to the idea that correction of myopia is at least possible.

Michael Ruscio, Gut Immune Function

  • Ruscio said that most probiotics are antimicrobial and do not colonize humans, which was quite a surprise to hear. I have heard that probiotics may be ineffectual, but I have never heard that they could kill off existing microbiota.
  • However, according to Ruscio, that may not be such a bad thing. He stated that reducing gut bacteria through antimicrobial therapy can be more effective for the immune system for some people. than trying to feed the bacteria.
  • He emphasized that, despite the current trendiness of the topic, microbiota is not the cause and solution of all disease. Microbiome theories have become too faddish, Ruscio says, and we need to stop the hype.
  • He noted that children who grew up in sponge-using household for washing dishes have less allergies than those whose families used a dishwasher.
  • He argues that people are doing too much microbiome testing today, noting that microbiota mapping is not yet ready for clinical usage.

The Ancestral Health Symposium of 2017 was extremely edifying. I learned a lot, and even where I found myself incredulous at certain claims, I appreciated the exposure to the ideas. I encountered health topics, such as oxalate toxicity, that I never or rarely see covered in the medical establishment or media. Or, where a more common topic was addressed at the symposium, attendees got to challenge consensus viewpoints, tease out nuances that may be lost in standard messaging, and get feedback from experts in their fields. There were no stock talking points taken whole-sale from some health organization’s website without further engagement, which can often be the case in health media.

The symposium has its roots in the paleo world and, therefore, has a strong bias in favor of the paleo diet. I am not paleo, but I still took so much away from it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested doing more than merely scratching the surface of various health topics.

Leave a Reply