Thursday, October 29, 2015

AHSNZ's International Symposium: 'Looking Back, Moving Forward'

The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand (AHSNZ) held their first international symposium “Looking Back, Moving Forward” last weekend in Queenstown

There was a diverse group of speakers coming from a variety of different backgrounds, many of whom are big names in academia and the ancestral health community.  This diversity was really quite a strength of the symposium.  It allowed for the sharing of many ideas across a wide range of topics such as behaviour change, exercise, sustainability, active transport, nutrition and mental health.  Secondly getting people with a broad range of backgrounds and inviting people outside the ancestral health community helps to introduce new ideas and prevent groupthink

On that note, the presentations I found the most interesting tended to be those I wasn’t that familiar with, such as Brad Norris on personal values and behaviour, Professor Simon Kingham and Julie Anne Genter (MP) on active transport and Professor David Raubenheimer on nutritional ecology and protein leverage

Even with the diversity built in to the symposium, there were several common themes throughout the presentations, for example:

  • Health promotion is not as simple as telling people to be healthy.  Personal responsibility is still important, but you actually need to engage people with where they are at and change the environment to one that supports health promoting behaviours
  • There are several cost effective solutions to transport and sustainability issues.  The problem is inertia and not being prepared to give things a go
  • The high intake of low quality, highly processed foods (which tends to have a lot of acellular carbohydrates and added fats, but little protein, micronutrients and other beneficial substances) is the main dietary issue (for physical and mental health) that needs to be addressed and is unfortunately the type of product that is being aggressively marketed 

There were plenty of breaks for discussion and long lunch breaks to explore Queenstown and engage in movement sessions (Primal Play with Darryl Edwards and floor based movement with Phillip Beach).  I didn’t get much chance to participate but the Primal Play that Darryl introduced us to in his presentation was quite fun

I gave a presentation on saturated fat and coronary heart disease, and using that as a way to discuss some issues in nutrition science, such as the limitations of mechanisms/risk factors, observational studies and nutrient based approach to diet.  It may have surprised some people that the presentation wasn’t related to my PhD project (some of which I’ve discussed here), but my PhD project is quite technical and more theoretical than practical (not to mention I just started and have very few results).  So it would be inappropriate for an audience with a large number of clinicians (which again was a good design for the dissemination of knowledge and enabling an efficient discussion around some semi-technical concepts and research) and interested lay people.  On the other hand, Melyssa Roy gave a great talk on her PhD project which is very interesting and related to how different diet and exercise advice is put into practice 

Most if not all the talks were filmed, so I imagine they will be uploaded at some point.  You can also see some of the content of the presentations via the AHSNZ and AHSNZ15 hashtags.  I’ve seen/heard nothing but good feedback about the event, so if you can make the trip I would recommend going to the next one


  1. Certainly, I would have enjoyed it as much as you did. I just wanna note, Raubenheimer and Simpson are the authors of "The Nature of Nutrition", an excellent book of nutritional ecology and helpful for anyone interested in macronutrient metabolism. (I have a copy with his signature! One of my most precious books ;) ) Despite him being a proponent of the protein leverage hypothesis, a few of his recent publications point towards low protein diets being most beneficial regarding longevity and metabolic health - pretty interesting.

    1. Hi Thomas, he mentioned low protein for longevity and metabolic health in his presentation. I think this is still very much a developing hypothesis with the evidence being based on animal studies and proposed mechanisms. I'm not sure if the results will be able to be translated to humans (haven't seen anything on protein impairing insulin sensitivity unless it's amino acid infusions), we'll have to wait and see