This isn’t a diet. It is about being human.

This isn’t a diet. It is about being human.

An ancestral approach is much more than a diet.  Let’s start with a handful of startling facts from the industrial world:

  • 1 out of 6 children in the industrial world has a developmental delay
  • an infant as young as 1 has been diagnosed and treated with an anti-psychotic medication
  • depression is the number one disability in adult populations
  • 40 million have an anxiety disorder
  • 40 thousand suicides a year in the US alone

This is crazy! A disconnect has happened. It has led to an epidemic of chronic disease that is new. The effect on our children is most concerning. How we are living is undermining our health and particularly the ability of our brain function.

What are the solutions?   I asked this many years ago as I watched a friend develop schizophrenia. Diet changes help him a lot but the medications he was on were debilitating. Unfortunately meds are given more weight than diet in conventional medicine. And yes they are crucial at certain points. Limiting them is also very important.

A new patient in my clinic today was told that stress, diet and lifestyle have no role in her fibroids. Since the medication she was given didn’t work surgery has been suggested. Unfortunately these are the only tools doctors have. Patients are left knowing that changes are needed but not knowing what to do.

Intuitively I knew what was needed when I became ill and it wasn’t medication. When I found my doctor and mentor he reminded me of what I already knew. This information is in our bones.  He learned medicine in an oral tradition and so he shared his knowledge in this way. We need this kind of human connection.  As a First Nations man he talked about how we are all indigenous.  We all come from the same earth.  Tuning into our bodies and the genetic wisdom etched in our DNA is what reconnects us.  Its how we heal.

So yes, this is more than a diet.  The ancestral approach includes how we relate to all aspects of being human. Most people have a nature deficit.  A lack of intimacy, play and pleasure have been replaced with screen time.  Light exposure is raising our stress levels while good stress like exercise, learning and new experiences are being put aside.  We need these homeotic stressors to adapt.

“Cultivate strength of spirit.” Leni Wylliams

Leni Wylliams was one of my dance teachers when I was young.  Do you remember the words of someone you looked up to?  This phrase stayed with me.  Physical training and art strengthen our spirit.  Being immersed in nature helps us relax into being human.  Meditation allows us to live with confidence and dignity.  Anything that assists you in turning towards life, even the painful parts, is what keeps you well. Life is not about avoiding the storms, but about making sure we have the resiliency to endure them.

Noticing where we draw strength from is important.  What in your early years taught you to trust life?   Growing up on a farm and having a brilliant, stay-at-home mother gave me a good start.  At the time infant formula was being pushed and she didn’t buy into it so I was breastfed.  She taught me to honour the female body and to be skeptical of oral contraception.  She’s fabulous.  I pursued Functional Medicine because of how she raised me.  Listening to women and children is another way we can revolutionize the medical system.

Six Essential Nutrients to Consider 

Kindness

Confidence

Respect

Dignity

Being taken seriously

Feeling heard

 

 

the Ethics of Food & Why Grass-fed is Key

the Ethics of Food & Why Grass-fed is Key

Sustainable & Grass-fed Animals

The term ‘recovering vegetarian’ is interesting but ‘pegan’ is more accurate.  This was coined by Dr. Mark Hyman, MD to describe how closely the vegan and paleo diet actually are.

Nobody likes factory farming, industrial agriculture or the harm to land and animals that result.  Most people who are health conscious have been a vegetarian or vegan at some point.  However, meat that is pasture raised is nutrient dense and a source of omega 3’s and K2 which are both essential for long term health.

Is eating meat inherently bad or good?

Perhaps we need a different question.  What is our relationship to where food comes from?  Real solutions emerge from this kind of dialogue, not a moral debate.

Local Food versus the Corporate Agenda

Eating an ancestral diet helps people reclaim their health.  Its also reconnects people with their food systems.  Its about nurturing a world that is sustainable for our children and their children. The solutions are simple: grow vegetables in a way that mimics the natural world.  Nourish the soil and raise animals in the pastured model.  Small scale farming is being used in Brazil, Hawaii and on Salt Spring Island to name a few places.  It’s working.

The local movement is building from the ground up.  Corporations will never support this kind of decentralization.   People understand the importance and the intelligence of eating local so its spreading quickly.  I’m currently in a small town in Mexico.  I look around and see it all going down right here.  The people who are harvesting their own food benefit from this source of local wealth.  Fish, pork, chickens, fruit and produce of all kinds.  There are also mass amounts of cheap GMO corn along with all the processed, sugary junk that everyone can afford.  We are staying with a lovely family.  They’ve asked me questions about my work.  The 6 year old boy and his father are both on the road to diabetes.  We talk about parenting, technology, food and movement.  The boy wants to climb banana trees like my kid does when they play.  Yesterday he came out to a circus class to learn.

How Bad Is Meat Really?  

There has been a lot of anti-meat, anti-saturated fat rhetoric in the mainstream media still.  Its a heated debate and one I prefer to not engage in most of the time.  The standard story is that grazing animals are killing the planet (and their fat is the cause of high cholesterol causing heart disease which I debunk in this article).  Think of this continent prior to Europeans.  Think of Africa too.  How many grazing animals populated these lands then?

We know grass-fed meat is the most nutrient dense food gram for gram. Eating meat is environmental sustainable and ethical when done well.  Invest in the farmers who are committed to this approach.   Applying a natural systems and local food approach means a lot more people will be closer to their food production. The idea that meat is bad and vegetables are good is ridiculous.  Humans thrive on both.  Its how we evolved.

Let’s talk about the grain versus meat thing.  It turns out that enormous mono crops of GMO soy, corn and wheat have not solved world hunger.   We need to discuss these limitations of industrial agriculture and where  grazing animals come in.  Much of the planet is not conducive to cropping.  Animals can graze on lands that will never grow grain.  Remember too that industrial agriculture is the second largest environmental polluter not to mention how humans and animals are being affected by the fungicides, pesticides and diverted water.  Grains lack nutrients, in fact they are the lowest on the scale.  What they are used for is filler and highly refined, processed foods.  These are known to contribute to the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and cancer that we currently face.

Energy Conservation & Our Carbon Footprint

Grass fed animals are using the sun’s energy directly.  Lab meat on the other hand takes an enormous amount of energy, not to mention the unsustainable practices needed to make it happen.  Why wouldn’t we harness nature and embrace how ecosystems include both animals and plants. Biodiversity equals resiliency.  Animals provide natural fertilizer for the soil.  If they moved around, this helps the soil.  The manure gets stomped into the topsoil’s biome.  Healthy soil actually removes and stores carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.  This is another reason grass-fed animals make sense.

How things are going now is not good.  Once the topsoil is gone it doesn’t matter how much chemical fertilizer we use. Nothing is there to grow. Animal husbandry in westernized society isn’t using any of these practices anymore. Overgrazing is happening.  Pasture quality has decreased.  My dad was a farmer.  I ask him about all this and he knows how differently it looked just 30 years ago.  Predator pressure meant herds stay tightly together to protect one another. Then the cattle would eat everything and move on which is ideal for the plant life. Perennial grasslands with a lot of diversity result.  The soil is happy.

Putting more animals on smaller patches of land and moving them frequently is better. It retains carbon and water in the soil.  It also diversifies the microbiome by allowing fungus and bacteria to thrive. This is just ecology.  If humans got out of the way it’s what would happen.  Working with nature makes so much sense.

Trends in Meat Consumption:  Prepare to be surprised

People are eating less meat than they were 50 years ago.  To be exact less beef is being consumed but more poultry.  This is largely because we found a way to produce chickens that is very inexpensive.  And people were misinformed.  Red meat became evil and we forgot about the health benefits of eating grazing animals.  Chickens don’t eat grass.  Even organic chicken is raised in factories and eats grain.  Chicken doesn’t have much B12 or iron whereas red meat is our best source of both.

What are the biggest nutrient deficiencies worldwide?

Low iron and B12 contribute to serious health issues including neuropathy, insomnia and depression.  These deficiencies can result in irreversible symptoms. Infants and elders are affected the most.

Energy & Essential Minerals

When we don’t harness nature, phosphorous and other minerals get trucked in which is an incredibly costly. Mining and moving these minerals in trucks has a huge carbon footprint. In biodiverse grasslands, fungus also sequestering carbon and works with the root systems.  The sun shines, the cows trample around, the mushrooms thrive and the soil is happy.  Voila!  Observing the way that natural systems have been doing this for 6,000 or maybe a billion years really does work beautifully.

 

Are Statins Really Necessary?

Are Statins Really Necessary?

Two  patients came in recently with high cholesterol levels.  One is a woman in her twenties and another is in her 60’s who recently decided to stop taking statins because of the side effects.

There are some medications that do more good than harm.  Statins are not in this category  This is one drug that is prescribed in cases where other interventions really ought to be tried first. When patients bring in labs with elevated cholesterol and other lipid markers I have a few ways I support them.  Those on Statins report serious side effects like  insomnia, muscle weakness, pain, abdominal cramping and the list goes on.  Having looked at the research I have a few suggestions.

Is cholesterol and saturated fat bad?

We now know that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat do not cause heart disease or raise blood levels of cholesterol.  What current research shows is metabolic issues, like insulin resistance, and inflammation play a much more significant role. Your risk of developing heart disease is not based on dietary fat intake.  Blood sugar dysregulation is more of a factor.

Vitamin K2 and Fat Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin K2 is only produced by grass-fed animals.  It can be found in pastured raised egg yolks, grass-fed dairy and animal products.  It is essential for bone health and protects against cardiovascular disease.  All fat soluble vitamins have a complex synergy so ensuring enough vitamin A and D from cod liver oil is also key.

Dietary Considerations

An ancestral or paleo type diet that is low in processed foods, removes industrial seed oils and increases healthy fats is a good choice for most people.  This nutrient dense approach is anti-inflammatory and includes important micronutrients.  Individualization is incredibly important and possible within this approach.  For example, those with insulin resistance, high triglycerides and low HDL will benefit from a low carbohydrate diet. For someone else who has high cholesterol but no insulin resistance, could enjoy a Mediterranean paleo diet.

A low carbohydrate diet means that 15% or less of calorie intake is from paleo-friendly carbs. This may increase LDL for 3-6 months but will then level out.  HDL increases on a low carb diet while metabolism and weight stabilize. Intermittent fasting can be a useful tool as well depending on blood sugar and stress response.

A Mediterranean diet includes more paleo -friendly carbohydrates. Aim for 25-30% of calories from fruit, starchy tubers, and full-fat dairy, white rice, or properly prepared grains. Focus more on monounsaturated fats like avocados, olives, and nuts, and long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA found in cold-water fish and shellfish.

If you are concerned with heart health, focus on fish and monounsaturated fats. These reduce LDL, triglycerides, and inflammation. They increase HDL and lower blood pressure. Aim for a pound of cold water fatty fish each week. Those fish with high levels of EPA and DHA such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and bass are excellent choices. Include shellfish like oysters, clams, and mussels.  Olives, olive oil, avocados, and macadamia nuts are great as well. All tree nuts can be included. Several studies prove several benefits to nuts in terms of cardiovascular risk factors like BMI, waist circumference, and systolic blood pressure.

Other Important Factors

I have written extensively about fermentable and soluble fibers.  Gut is the core of our health. Attending to the microbiome has clinically shown to regulate cardiovascular markers.

Antioxidant and polyphenols are found in many of the foods that are part of a paleo-type diet. A quality CoQ10 supplement may be one worth taking for a period of time.

Sleep is important.  Research shows we require 7-9 hours a night.  One night of lost sleep raises inflammation throughout the body.  Poor sleep has far-reaching effects including contributing to metabolic disorders.

Enjoying movement regularly supports a healthy weight, improves blood pressure as well as insulin sensitivity and lipid markers.

What if I have a family history?

Even with a family history of cardiovascular disease there are a number of steps you can take to prevent being on a statin.  Lifestyle and environmental factors are more relevant than genetics in most cases.  Without a trigger to activate the genetics there may never be an expression even with a strong family history present.

Keep in mind that people are diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia often without a full panel of all the relevant markers being done.  What’s important to test for is lipoprotein (a). Particle number for HDL and LDL are also important.

A functional approach is to do a full case review starting gut health, blood sugar, diet and cortisol regulation. Addressing these can bring people out of the high risk zone and provide a foundation for a happy heart and a long life.

 

 

 

 

Four Steps to a Long and Pleasurable Life

Four Steps to a Long and Pleasurable Life

When the Body Speaks

The body generally tells us what we need to know. Often this occurs more readily when we are injured or sick. These interruptions to our daily life force us to tune in and listen to the body.  In particular when we slow down our bodies will sync up or entrain to the part of us that is healthy.  This mechanism is built-in to our genetics and is similar to what happens between mother and child or doctor and patient. Next time you are in pain notice what happens when your body is still and you will likely find that the inner physician speaks up.

Is it possible to Age Gracefully?

Research has proven a connection between mind and body. Harnessing this understanding along with our genetic history can show us how to live more fully.  For two million years of our evolution we lived embedded in our surroundings. Only in the last 0.5% of this time have adapted to agriculture and our current system of industrial food systems accounts for a tiny portion of this.  Archaeology indicates that bone health decreased as people began to homestead. The explosion of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic illness has specifically coincided with modern life.  There is a mismatch between how we are genetically adapted to live and the age of agriculture. To live a long, healthy life and age gracefully we can simply look to our ancestors.

What to Eat: it can be Simple

We know that our ancestors ate a wide variety of foods which is what I encourage my patients to do.  Enjoy a range of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  Choose foods with vivid colours and revel in the ritual of preparation. Each person has unique needs which change throughout a life span.  What is right for you can be discovered through experimentation although specific diagnosis or guidance can be important at times.  For example anyone with thyroid imbalances do better with a more consistent source of carbohydrates which will assist with the conversion of the T4 to T3.  Or, for example, anyone experiencing hypoglycemia needs to focus more on protein and to ensure fats are consumed with fruit to reduce blood sugar spikes as well as increase absorption.

Four Steps You Can Take

Once your metabolism is relatively stable it becomes easier to experiment because the need to eat is less urgent.  This is how our bodies are meant to function. If you need support to reach this place there are some simple steps that can be taken. First, focus on foods that with high levels of bioavailable nutrients and those that actually support the good digestive bacteria. Microbiota accessible carbs are best and what it basically comes down to is eating more vegetables; for example root vegetables are packed with nutrients that are easily assimilated.  Second, remove any foods that hurt your gut lining especially refined carbs and any known allergens. Third, stabilize your blood sugar which will reduce your risk of developing diabetes and dementia later in life.  Finally, add extra healthy fats to increase the assimilation of micronutrients.  A couple of examples are beta carotene and lycopene which absorb up to eighteen times more so eat your carrots with butter and add a dose of olive oil to your tomato sauce.

Facts About Fat, Protein and Micronutrients

Furthermore it is commonly understood that iron is made bioavailable by adding vitamin c but less known that non-animal sources are only 2-20% available partially due to phytate and oxalates reducing absorption.  This accounts for why up to 85% of vegetarians are deficient in this essential nutrient. Other nutrients that are often very low are vitamin D and E, B 6, zinc, calcium and magnesium.  This is because animal protein is the most nutrient dense and bioavailable source of many micronutrients.  Small amounts of well-sourced meat is a shift from the Standard North American diet and one worth taking. I encourage patients to view meat as a medicine and honour it in the way our ancestors did.

Fish and eggs are also foods we can look to as medicinal. Soft yolks are great sources of choline and lecithin that become more available once you add butter or any other fat.  Fish is our only bioavailable source of the essential long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA.  Flax and hemp oil contains ALA which is the precursor to these omega 3’s but are lacking the full benefit.  Enjoy a wide range of full fats and oils including avocado, macadamia, olive, palm, butter, and lard while avoiding all industrial seed oils including canola, safflower, sunflower etc.  Seed oils and refined carbohydrates make up for over 50% of the Standard North American Diet and is linked to nutrient deficiency, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.  Fat soluble vitamins like K2 have been proven to reduce heart disease and coronary calcification.  When you consider that one in four people is affected by heart disease it is worth ensuring that you are getting enough of this fat soluble vitamin.

I’ll be writing more about fats and oils soon.  Please send in any questions or comments.

Two Arguments for a Paleo Lifestyle

Two Arguments for a Paleo Lifestyle

Paleo is short for a nutrient dense, low allergic, anti-inflammatory and real food diet.  Using the word ‘lifestyle’ means we  include elements like sunlight, movement, pleasure, sleep and social support as key factors influencing health.  For the majority of our genetic and biological history we lived on a wide variety of foods and when the environment allowed, lived a life span similar to today but free from chronic illness.  The hunter-gatherer period lasted 66,000 years and during this time our brain development skyrocketed largely due the protein sources we began accessing.  Although we continue to evolve, with a range of individual variation, the evidence supports us to look to our ancestors so we can live a long and happy life.

Diseases of civilization are the epidemic of our time. Now over 80 autoimmune disorders are recognized with more added each year.  Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease and LDL particle count is now known to be the best risk assessment tool we have but medical practice is slow to catch up.  Diabetes and dementia are growing at alarming rates and most concerning of all it is predicted that the majority of children today will live shorter lives than their parents.

For twelve years I’ve studied and worked in health both in clinical practice and in transformative education.  Like many who work in this field I have a story of recovering from debilitating illness using an ancestral or ‘paleo’ approach.  A vegetarian diet combined with a high intensity lifestyle training as a dancer throughout puberty led to a complete crash in my early 20’s. I was weak and contracted multiple parasites first from a farm and then from travel to Asia.  Using chlorine to purify my water as I climbed the Himalayas was the move that wiped out my gut bacteria and immunity.

Recovering my health was not a simple or short journey.  My aim as a clinician and educator is to make it much easier for others by offering the latest in medical research and nutritional science.  Even if we rule out the evolutionary perspective of the paleo movement, its focus on nutrient density and bioavailability is difficult to argue with.  Clinically I’ve witnessed results I couldn’t have imagined when people commit to the recommendations even for a short period of time.  The amazing part is that this lifestyle is so engaging and enjoyable that it’s not difficult to stick with for a lifetime.

So here goes.  Let’s discuss some of the most heavily researched proteins.  Gliadin is the peptide in gluten and like all grains it is very difficult to break down.  The unique problem with gliadin is that it is known to increase gut permeability which is the root of many autoimmune disease.  Grains are very low on the nutrient density scale and unless they are soaked or fermented the phytic acid content decreases the bioavailability of these nutrients.  Grains and legumes are seeds and therefore built to pass through mammals undigested in order to sprout elsewhere.  Prior to agriculture these were not used widely and any traditional culture who consumed them learned to pre-digest them through a long process.  Industrial agriculture has shown us that grains are not the long-term solution to a growing population because of the cost to top soil health.  Harvard scientist Matt Lalonde explains that for humans develop the ability to break down grains and legumes into food would take an evolutionary leap equivalent to growing wings.

Dairy on the other hand is another story from an evolutionary perspective.  As infants humans produce lactase and therefore it is a simple genetic step to continue producing.  In fact 33% of the world’s population have evolved to tolerate dairy and this happened for good reason.  Milk became more available as people started to farm and grains became our staple diet. Research shows that places that had diets high in grains experienced deficiencies of protein, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and iron.  Infectious disease was also higher.  Under this pressure, milk became a way to mitigate some of these deficiencies. Evolution happens with time and pressure and this step didn’t require much time but the pressure was strong. People were not thriving with the onset of agriculture.  For example they were 5-6 inches shorter than their hunter-gatherer predecessors.

Soy is a unique legume and by looking at it we can understand a lot about inflammation in the body and the increase in allergies.  One benefit of soy is that it is a phytoestrogen however the downside is that it is highly allergenic.  This means that it doesn’t just cause sensitivities where inflammation increases but can also cause full-blown allergic reactions.  When the immune system is in high alert most of the time the body is not able to function optimally or even normally.  This is where we are seeing more people reacting to a wider range of foods or developing autoimmune problems.

Individuals wanting to recover health can begin by removing the foods that are known to cause problems in many people and then slowly reintroduce them.  There are also tests that can point you in the right direction.  Eating a diet full of real foods including some animal protein, fish and a wide variety of vegetables with some fruits is an excellent starting point.  This style of eating is very satiating and remarkably easy once you get started.  Understanding that the standard North American diet is made up of over 50% of foods that have no nutrient value but are high in calories and anti-nutrients or toxins is motivation enough to cut these foods down and then out of your family’s life.  Flours, sugars and industrial seed oils are leading to rising numbers of people who suffer from disease due to inflammation, malnutrition and depression.

The focus on local, organic and wild or pasture-raised food is powerful. It is the quickest way to stabilize your metabolism, mood, energy and weight.  For ongoing inspiration please stay connected as I’ll be offering bi-weekly articles to strengthen our resilience, interconnectedness and ability to co-create solutions.  Questions and comments are welcome.