This year, I was fortunate enough to attend PaleoFX, the largest official gathering of cavemen and women in the world, in Austin TX, for the second time. Two years ago this conference was big, full of impact, and had more content than any of the conventional medical conferences I’d been to in my 4 years as a Physician Assistant. THIS year, the conference was BIGGER, BOLDER, and more mature. PaleoFX is growing up. Though the technology is more advanced, the layout of the venue more impressive, and the Expo of products had more new versions of protein bars (cricket flour anyone? How about a marijuana infused Paleo treat?) and other creative products, the maturity I’m referring to is the fact that Paleo is growing as a movement, and the topics presented are becoming more complex. Two years ago, there were several talks on macronutrients (the old fat vs. carbs debate) and micronutrients (eat green leafy things and grass fed anything), but as we in the Paleo community seem to have mastered those concepts, we’re now trying to figure out how to feed the world in this nutrient dense way (i.e. is it sustainable?) and how to use the science available to hack our own bodies to work as optimally as possible. After all, we are all different beings, and the concept that everyone on Earth should eat the same exact foods in the same macronutrient ratios is downright ludicrous.
There were so many talks that BLEW. MY. MIND. The first day of the conference offered two talks on the gut microbiome and its’ massive effect on all aspects of health. Anyone that knows me knows that I love to talk about poop, so obviously I went to these talks! The first to speak on the microbiome was Dr. Emily Deans who is a psychiatrist in MA that searches for evolutionary solutions to treat mental health conditions. Her talk was on gut flora’s uncanny ability to make or break our mental health. We are learning that with the right strains of probiotics, one can greatly improve or even eliminate disorders like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. And if popping a probiotic pill isn’t successful, the use of fecal transplants (oh yes!) is on the rise. It’s incredibly important to have potential stool donors tested for pathogens first, however, before considering a transplant. Not only do you not want to pass on communicable diseases, parasites, etc., but if your donor is depressed and you aren’t, guess what? You could BECOME depressed from their gut bugs post-transplant!
The second speaker on the microbiome was Dr. Grace Liu. Dr. Liu is a functional medical practitioner with a doctorate in pharmacy and can be found at thegutinstitute.com, Her talk was entitled “Shifting Your Gut Microbiota and Your 100 Trillion Friends for Leanness and Fat Loss.” Yes, that’s right- not only can your gut flora make you crazy, they can make you fat too! (Bugger!). On the flip side, however, it’s becoming more and more apparent that if you improve your gut health, i.e. treat pathogens and help the good guys to flourish, you have a better shot at a lean figure and an easier time losing fat. Dr. Liu emphasized the importance of eating the right kinds of fibers to feed your flora friends, like soluble fibers from starchy tubers, so again, the low carb vs. eating the right carbs/safe starch debate continues. I think we can see that again, each and every BODY is different, and we must do what is right for our individual selves.
Another favorite talk was by Robb Wolf called, “It’s Not Your Fault: On Novelty and Evolutionary Biology.” If you haven’t heard Robb Wolf speak, whether live or on his podcast, do yourself a favor and listen sometime. Not only is he one of the major players in advancing the Paleo movement across the globe in multiple ways, but the guy is hilarious, and likes to drop F-bombs, and because of all of that, I just kinda dig him. The talk’s topic was something I hadn’t really thought about before. We as humans are evolutionarily programmed to want, need, and crave novelty. Hunter-gatherers would often have foods available a few feet away but would choose to walk long distances to seek new foods for the variety in nutrient content, which had obvious health benefits. In modern times, however, we have thousands of new foods offered to us each year in grocery stores, but what are they? They’re processed junk, primarily. And yet we as humans still have this evolutionary drive to seek out what is new because of the potential health benefits. We crave new tastes and can eat MORE if a new taste is presented. Does “There’s always more room for dessert” sound familiar? There’s a reason for this: it is programmed into our DNA to be able to eat more if a new taste is provided. Robb’s point is that it’s not entirely our faults that as a society we are fat, sick, and metabolically broken. It’s in our genes to seek nutrients, to store fat as a backup for times of starvation, and to crave different tastes than what we are accustomed to. Fascinating stuff. Robb also mentioned Allan Savory’s TED talk on sustainability more than once so I thought I’d check it out when I got home, and I was so glad I did. You will be too.
A few others that stood out were Dave Asprey’s talk on ways to biohack your way toward more energy throughout the day (Dave is the founder and CEO of Bulletproof- yes, like the coffee!), Dr. Lauren Noel’s discussion on superfoods you may not have heard of (camu camu berries for Vitamin C, anyone? How about nettles for antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties?), the brilliant and funny Dr. Terry Wahls who presented an overview on the Wahls’ Protocol (and variations of this plan for different situations) for autoimmune disease, Michael Roesslein’s talk on just how many toxins are in our environment, how they are affecting us, and what to do about it (check out his work here– this guy and his crew are doing great things!), and finally, Dr. Geoffrey Miller who spoke on Sexual Fitness and Primal Mating. Dr. Miller’s was perhaps my favorite talk- we have evolved to emphasize certain physical and social traits to optimally attract the opposite sex. The physical traits that humans and other animals find attractive vary depending on location and what we have evolved to find attractive. There were so many fun tidbits in this talk that I immediately ran downstairs post-talk to buy this guy’s book because I MUST KNOW MORE! (Did you know that there have been studies done that show that men tend to call or text their wives/girlfriends more often around the time of ovulation just to “check-in” without of course knowing these women are ovulating? Hormones baby! It’s bonkers!).
Of course it wouldn’t be PaleoFX if it didn’t involve food, the beauty that is Austin, and incredibly cool people. I made some new friends, like Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, The Diet Doctor, Emily Maguire, low-carb and Paleo nutritionist extraordinaire, and of course an idol of mine and probably yours, Mr. Jimmy Moore (what hasn’t he done? Check out his books here, here, and here). It was amazing to make such connections and get to know these people better, and of course eat. Because, well, Texas BBQ. Enough said.
Looking forward to what PaleoFX will bring in the future, and again I’m so excited and humbled to be a part of this grassroots and growing movement.