Ask ten people what they think is most important in life and eight or nine of them will call “health” without hesitation. Being able to participate fully in society, not being hindered by physical or mental limitations and staying fit, sharp and energetic into old age, that’s what everyone wants. But although we are getting older thanks to the achievements of modern medicine, the burden of disease is increasing rapidly. Diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, periodontitis, cancer, autoimmune diseases and psychiatric disorders are becoming more common, and at an ever younger age. Only a small part of the increasing burden of disease can be explained by the aging population. This worrying development not only has major consequences for the quality of life, it also places a heavy burden on the economy. Some calculations predict that healthcare will become unaffordable in the foreseeable future. Although more and more companies and government institutions are deploying far-reaching prevention programs, according to a recent analysis, these seem to have only modest effects.
The evolutionary approach
Are new medical interventions our only hope? Human history tells us that this is most likely not the case. When our living conditions suddenly change dramatically, mismatches arise and the risk of disease increases sharply. Evolutionary medicine uses various disciplines – such as anthropology, archaeology, pathology, genetics, physiology and comparative anatomy – to find out what our evolutionary environment looked like. Evolutionary medicine identifies lifestyle factors that constitute a potential mismatch and examines what happens when those mismatches are corrected. A rapidly growing body of small but well-done studies show that such interventions chosen from an evolutionary perspective are remarkably powerful, often much better than the most effective drugs. For example, type 2 diabetes, popular disease number 1, responds extremely well to eliminating foods that were not widely consumed anywhere before the introduction of agriculture. Some participants in the successful KeerDiabetesOm project, which is based on evolutionary medicine insights, were able to stop their medication. The preventive potential of evolutionary medicine (lifestyle) measures implemented in time is probably even greater.
The Dutch Ancestral Health Symposium
In the summer of 2014, sports scientist Esther Nederhof, who works as a researcher in the Psychiatry Department of the University Medical Center Groningen, conceived the idea of organising a Dutch Ancestral Health Symposium. This is to give researchers the opportunity to meet each other and to exchange knowledge and experiences and to make the evolutionary medicine perspective accessible to a wider public. Within a short time, Esther had gathered around her a group of enthusiastic and well-informed volunteers. The American original version of the AHS has been a great success since 2011. The first Dutch Ancestral Health Symposium was organised in 2015, and was also a great success.
A group of volunteers is currently organising the fifth Dutch Ancestral Health Symposium. Nutrition & Lifestyle is again the theme of this symposium. Tim Noakes*, Gary Taubes, Eric C. Westman, Amy Berger, Yvo Sijpkens and Frits Muskiet will be speaking.
In addition to the two keynote speakers, various scientists, doctors, dieticians and exercise specialists will discuss various aspects of evolutionary medicine through lectures and clinics. In addition, various authors will sign their books and there will be various commercial stands. In short, the Dutch Ancestral Health Symposium is a must for anyone who has the slightest interest in the whys of illness and health.
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* Unfortunately, Tim Noakes cannot be physically present: a video recording will be shown followed by a Q&A session via live connection.