Recently I attended 'Health Unplugged', a health and well-being conference in London. It's largely based around the principles of a Paleo lifestyle but it covers everything to do with holistic ancestral health: food, nutrition, exercise, the science behind food and combating modern illnesses. So, did it live up to my expectations?
The Health Unplugged Conference is in its third year now, and organisers Darryl Edwards (Fitness Explorer and Primal Play) and Jerry Dhillon (Evolution in Fitness) took a slightly different tack with it: the previous two conferences had a multi-track, high volumes of speakers approach.
This year's event was a slimmed down affair, single-track and more in-depth talks from a variety of speakers. Both styles work but it was nice to see them mix it up a little and getting more into the nitty gritty and science of health - which was both eye-opening and challenging.
First up was Professor Michael Crawford from Imperial College London, who talked about the evolution of man and the massive role brain health plays in our lives, and the food we need to nourish it. He spoke at length about how as a nation we are massively deficient in DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), an Omega 3 Fatty Acid which used to be prevalent in the diet of humans when our race began.
The links between this lack of DHA and the degenerative brain diseases and autoimmune diseases we see today are startling (and downright scary - I think everyone went away from the talk wondering how to get more oily fish in their diet!).
He wrote a book in the 1970's called 'What we eat today' outlining the deficiencies and what the impact would be on your health - all now born out in the increase in modern diseases including cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, type II diabetes, cancer to name but a few. Ahead of his time!
His talk was followed by Pedro Carrero Bastos (a Portuguese researcher and PhD candidate in Nutrition at Lund University, Sweden, under the supervision of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, author of the famous Kitava Study). He picked up on the modern Western disease epidemic and why it doesn't have to continue to be that way, and what we can do to improve our health (largely, follow a Paleo lifestyle!).
The numbers he threw around of UK people who have high blood pressure, diabetes etc was (although not news to me) unsettling to say the least.
He also talked about the benefits of the sun and how if you're not near the equator you will massively struggle to get sufficient Vitamin D in your diet (this has been born out with plentiful recent research). Did you know the sun is proven to lower you diastolic heart rate, it does much more than just provide Vitamin D (vital as that is)!
He finished by talking about what 'Optimal Phenotype' (i.e. the perfect human) needs - including adequate sun, a traditional diet (Paleo being one variation), managed stress (ha!), having fun and a sense of purpose and regular exercise amongst other things.
Next up was organiser Darryl Edwards (who throughout the day got us practising some Primal Play movements to keep us energised - it was good fun even if you did feel a little bit silly to start with, it's so important we don't forget to have fun and reconnect with our younger soul!). Darryl took us through some of the lesser known benefits of exercise on the body - from gut health to brain health and plenty in between.
He also demonstrated how ludicrous the BMI index can be as the sole measure of obesity and health, with a slide that showed some famous sportsmen with their 'overweight' BMI! It is a guide but really is only part of the overall picture. It makes you wonder what the 'true' obesity levels in the UK are, as they are currently all based off BMI.
Next up was Dr Anu Arasu from London Bioidentical Hormones, discussing the link between stress and hormones.
Did you know your body can't differentiate between physical and emotional stress? If we overdo it physically, we know about it straight away with e.g. achy limbs, breathing difficulty, thirst and exhaustion. What's not quite so obvious is the internal damage done by emotional stress on the body at the time and it can manifest itself in a number of different ways (often through a chronic inflammatory disease).
She made it clear that ultimately, one diet does not suit everyone - it depends on your sex, age, genetic predisposition and stage of illness as to how their body will react to food. She gave the example that if you gave two people a jacket potato, they would have a different GI (Glycaemic Index) response to it. That certainly rang true for me, I'm predominantly Paleo but I've tweaked the diet to what my body tolerates/digests well - we're all on our own individual journey.
She also touched on intermittent fasting and the associated health benefits, which is an area I'll be exploring in the coming months.
Next up was Liz Myers (a senior lecturer in physical education and sports pedagogy at Liverpool John Moores University and part of International Physical Literacy Association - IPLA) introducing us to the concept of Physical Literacy (PL = the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life) - we have numerical literacy, reading literacy - physical literacy is the increasingly missing piece in our children's lives.
The IPLA are trying to promote physical literacy throughout the world: it's badly needed in the UK with ever increasing academic burdens on schools and the rise and rise of use of technology (and the sedentary lifestyles our kids are exposed to as a result). It's been proven that in the early years of life, exercise (and variety of exercise) build the neural pathways needed to make a person want to exercise for life. As a mum of three young boys, it's brilliant to see the work the IPLA are doing, it was very encouraging.
Liz shared her Physical Literacy journey from birth until now – what would yours look like (mine would be really good until I hit 18, I need to pick it back up a lot more now I'm in my forties!).
The next speaker was Akos Bartha from Diet 4 Your Balance in Hungary (a country with a large Paleo community), a company at the forefront of health and anti-ageing. He explored how the blood tests we have can reveal very striking facts about your health and how you can improve your longevity.
He shared the findings of 2000 samples with Hungarian residents which showed 40% had lactose intolerance. He said the rate is lower in the UK but it was an eye-opener (although not entirely unsurprising!).
He talked about the benefits of eating gelatinous meat over lean meat (lean meat ages you) – so get making that bone broth!
The final talk was from the very lovely & warm Dr Alessandra Wall, a renown San Diego-based Clinical Psychologist from Life in Focus who talked about going ‘Beyond Behaviour' and making choices that are right … FOR YOU. That doesn't always mean what is right (and who has the right to tell you what is the right thing anyway?!).
She has a three phase approach:
1. Insight – look at what you value, need and why you want to make a change in your life. So you want to be ‘healthier'? Why? What's the end goal? (e.g. to have more energy to play with your kids or to live to 100) You need to know this to keep you motivated.
2. Roadblocks – what is stopping you from moving forward? What circumstances, beliefs or emotions are holding you back? Is it cultural or social issues or fear of failure/rejection.
3. Action – develop a plan that works for you.
She also reminded us that in our busy world, we have to take time to take stock and see how you feel every day – take 5 minutes and daydream (I'm going to try this!).
So that's the round-up, what did I think? Overall, it was an awesome day. The talks were challenging and thought-provoking and went into some real nitty gritty detail (I have to admit that sometimes the science parts lost me but I did understand more than I thought I would!).
It was great to spend the day with like-minded people who follow a more traditional and ancestral approach to well-being.
It certainly strengthened my resolve to spread the ancestral and paleo word, I want people to have the best knowledge they can about their health, food choices, exercise and well-being so they can make more informed choices that work for them.
My biggest frustration of the day? That the speakers were preaching to the converted (that's obviously not their fault though!)– the messages they shared needs to be shared with the general public and so I guess for now it's down to all the ancestral and paleo bloggers and luminaries to keep plugging away to spread the word.
Here's hoping Health Unplugged makes it to the fourth year, I for one cannot wait!