Personal Story

I never really cared about nutrition, exercise and health until my mid-30s. As a kid, I ate giant bowls of Corn Flakes while reading Swamp Thing comic books.  Root beer was my favourite soda, maple-flavoured cookies were the best, and I considered myself a professional ice cream devourer. I was never obese but I was definitely a pudgy kid.

I didn’t care though. I preferred plants to people and mostly kept to myself. The plan was to one day live out in the woods and become a hermit. So I enrolled in university to learn about plants – I needed to know which ones to eat and which ones to avoid if I was going to make it.

Once I entered academia, I was hooked and found it hard to leave. I began in Botany and ended in Human Nutrition. Along the way, I had taken a semester off to travel in Nepal, India, and Southeast Asia.  This trip would seriously change my views on health.

Hiking in the Himalayas carrying around an 80-pound backpack, eating nothing but yak cheese, rice, lentils and vegetables lead to some pretty serious weight loss.  For the first time in my life, I saw abs on my belly. This accidental exercise and nutrition program would kick-start a lifestyle that would include fitness as part of my lifestyle.

The West, unfortunately, is bursting with convenience foods, entertainment options, and fine restaurants. Maintaining an active lifestyle proved harder than expected. To stay accountable, I had joined the university lumberjack sports team and would eventually explore TaeKwonDo, capoeira, parkour, weight lifting, and CrossFit. But no matter how active I was, I always had a layer of fat around my mid-section.

In my university nutrition program, we were taught that the healthiest diet was that outlined by our national food guidelines, which at the time promoted the consumption of high-fibre cereals, low-fat dairy, vegetable oils, fruit juices, and low-fat meats. They also discouraged the consumption of saturated fat, salt, and sugar. Following this diet made me chronically constipated, worsened my asthma, and exacerbated my acne.

I began to question our Western dietary advice after having analyzed data from my research in the Himalayas. Tibetan Highlanders ate an enormous amount of saturated fat from animal products, regularly added salt to everything, and didn’t consume much in terms of fruits and vegetables. According to what I was taught, they were on a fast track to getting a heart attack. But cardiovascular disease is rare among this population and all biomarkers suggested they were in perfect health.

So I adopted a diet similar to theirs: higher in fat, higher in protein, and lower in carbs. Eliminating cereal grains and non-fermented dairy from my diet cleared up my skin, cured my asthma, and finally, after several frustrating years of eating high fibre cereals and psyllium powders, my constipation disappeared.

After years of following a Paleo diet template, I’ve adopted an functional, holistic approach to health. Essentially, the answer extends beyond nutrition and involves a complex interplay of genetics, circadian rhythms, hormones, gut flora populations, sunlight exposure, exercise, stress, and the concept of leisure and play. In essence, who you are, where you’re from, what you do, and how you do it will largely determine what you should eat and how you should move.

Ironically, my dream of escaping into the wild has been reduced to weekend camping getaways because I now want to be around people, and more importantly, I want to help them in any way I can!

Professional Bio

Patrick started his academic career in botany with a specialized interest in ethnobotany: the use of plants as food and medicine. His first academic manuscript was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology during his Bachelors degree.

He was awarded a National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada Postgraduate Scholarship and a Fonds de Recherche du Québec -Nature et Technologies Scholarship to study the bioactive properties of medicinal plants in Tibet, Himalayan India, and Papua New Guinea.

Patrick was the first recipient of the Ecosystem Approach to Human Health Graduate Training Award, launched by the International Development Research Centre of Canada in 2004.

He was also the first recipient of the prestigious Richard Evan Schultes Award granted by the Society of Economic Botany.

In 2010, Patrick was awarded the Elsevier Reviewer of the Year Award – Pharmacology Division, for the large number of manuscripts he reviewed for various medical and biochemical journals.

In 2008, Patrick received his doctoral degree from the Department of Human Nutrition at McGill University. He had investigated the role of local food systems of Papua New Guinea in protecting against the development of Type 2 Diabetes caused by the introduction of Western foods.

Certified as a personal trainer and a CrossFit Level 1 Coach, Patrick combines his knowledge of nutrition with various modalities of human movement to promote health and wellness for his clients.

His evolutionary and functional approach to health has been showcased in the articles and videos he has done with the world’s largest on-line men’s magazine,

Patrick runs a functional nutrition consultation clinic in Montreal, Canada and continues to help people achieve optimal health through personalized approaches that encompasses circadian rhythm imbalances, stress management, exercise, and even ancestral heritage.

What is Ethno-Nutrition

Ethno-nutrition is the study of the food and dietary habits of human races and cultures. We’re all indigenous to a certain part of the world and our ancestors were able to exploit their immediate environment for nourishment, medicines, tools, shelter, and clothing. Differences in access and availability to certain environmental resources influenced our evolution, which explains some of the genetic variability in the way we metabolize nutrients. This is the basis for the growing interest in the exciting fields of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics. While our specific genetic origin can dictate the way we respond to certain foods or diet plans, most of today’s health problems stem from a significant departure from our evolutionary blueprint. While it’s not necessary to revert to a traditional ways, it’s easy to adopt strategies and tricks that fit with your particular modern lifestyle. So while the science of nutrition is important in understanding the interaction of food components on human biology, ethno-nutrition takes into account the environmental and cultural forces that drive genetic diversity in humans as it relates to food and nutrient metabolism.

Ethno-nutrition is the study of food and dietary habits of human cultures.
Papua New Guinea is home to the greatest cultural diversity in the world.

Research in Papua New Guinea

Pacific Islanders have experienced some of the most rapid and devastating increases in obesity and diabetes rates in the world. In Papua New Guinea, the introduction of sugar, white rice, refined flour and vegetable oil had caused a dramatic increase in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in a span of a decade. You can’t blame anyone for this – Western foods are convenient, inexpensive, non-perishable, and delicious. Halting the nutrition transition is not a practical solution, so I was curious to learn if any traditional foods could protect them against developing insulin resistance.

Nutrition research rarely considers non-food items such as medicinal plants, spices, herbs, and masticants. Yet these can provide important bioactive phytochemicals that can have biological effects. Not surprisingly, I found that villagers who ate more traditional foods had lower risk factors for developing chronic disorders. But when I studied non-food plants on their ability to protect endothelial cells from oxidized LDL and their ability to mediate glucose transport in fat cells, I found some interesting activity. Villagers who drank a tea made from the young green leaves and buds of guava (Psidium guajava L) seemed to have lower rates of diabetes despite a diet higher in fried foods, sugar, refined flour and alcohol. The same pattern was found for those who consumed noni (Morinda citrifolia L) on a regular basis. My laboratory findings using in vitro assays and cell culture supported their use as an anti-diabetic medicine. More research is needed to determine its bioactive properties and effects in humans.

An important lesson learned was that the smallest thing you eat could have the most profound physiological effect, whether harmful or beneficial. Knowing this can influence your day-to day dietary choices and debunk the “everything in moderation” dogma. Foods, herbal supplements, botanical extracts, infusions/decoctions (including tea and coffee), can exert a biological effect that goes beyond providing simple nutrients. They can modulate our hormones, influence our mental state and mood, regulate the distribution and type of bacteria in our gut, and can affect our energy levels and our ability to deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

To achieve optimal health, some people need to avoid certain foods entirely while others may not be affected by them whatsoever. Need help figuring out what foods and supplements are best for you? Contact me and I can help you out!

Screening for Diabetes and Hypertension in Wanigela, Papua New Guinea.

Interviewing a WWII veteran on the cultural and nutritional changes in the village. Kalo, Papua New Guinea.

Traveling to various testing sites, Central Province, Papua New Guinea.

Research In Tibet

If you told your doctor that you decided to eat nothing but butter, salt, cheese, barley and meat, they’d probably think you’re nuts. Yet Tibetan Highlanders have thrived for generations on just such a diet with no significant levels of heart disease or stroke. At the time, I considered this a dietary paradox and explored Tibetan spices, herbs and medicinal plants that may have offered some protective powers against developing cardiovascular disease. Although genetic adaptation wasn’t out of the question, I suspected that the increased concentration of antioxidants in high altitude plants provided extra protection. As my understanding of human evolutionary nutrition expanded, I realized that the Tibetan Highlander diet was not actually a paradox, but rather a diet on which humans have thrived on for centuries. Today, research continues to uncover the health virtues of high fat diets, from treating epilepsy to losing unwanted body fat. If you wish to try a high fat/low carb diet, a ketogenic diet or high fat/high protein diet, contact me and I’ll make sure that you do it safely and effectively!

Tibetan Highland children subsist on a diet high in animal products and low in fruits and vegetables. Metabolic disorders are rare in this population.

At this altitude, humans rely predominantly on animal products for their nourishment. Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

Tibetan medicine takes a holistic and functional approach to treating diseases. My Tibetan teachers and guides were instrumental in learning the basics.

What is Functional Nutrition?

Functional medicine and nutrition are healthcare approaches that are enjoying a resurgence as we acknowledge the complex interactions between our own inner biological systems and between us and our environment. The concept has similarities to several non-western medicinal systems in that the underlying cause of the disease, rather than the symptom, is addressed. The approach is more patient-centered rather than disease-centered, so a careful history of the patient, their lifestyle and their diet, is considered when treating the disease.

During my Master’s degree, I interviewed several Traditional Tibetan Medical Practitioners at the Tibetan Institute of Medicine and Astrology in Dharamsala, India, on how they would treat cardiovascular disease. The answer was disappointingly unclear and always began with “It depends…” It depended on the person’s age, gender, genetics, medical history, tobacco use, presenting symptoms, all of which I understood could influence a course of treatment. But it also depended on whether a person was married, if they were happy in that marriage, the housing conditions they lived in, the amount of work they had compared to family time, the amount of sleep they got, and their perceived level of happiness. These kinds of questions may seem irrelevant, (and that’s exactly what I thought at the time), but they uncover a crucial risk factor that many of us don’t take seriously enough: chronic stress.

As treatment, a Traditional Tibetan Medical Practitioner may just as easily prescribe a compound herbal medication as they would a divorce or career change. The end goal of the Tibetan doctor is to restore balance in the individual to restore health, which according to Traditional Tibetan medical theory is determined by the three humors and five elements. In Western medicine, this concept loosely describes homeostasis – the regulation of physiological systems to maintain internal stability. An imbalance in electrolyte levels, hormone levels, enzyme levels, neurotransmitter levels, or nutrient levels will cause a disturbance in the body’s normal condition and function. Therefore, metabolic disorders, including autoimmune disease, can be viewed as a consequence of an imbalance caused by a mismatch between our normal physiological condition and the environment in which we live and react to.

A functional medical approach entails a comprehensive assessment of a person that includes:

  • A detailed medical history of the person
  • Dietary habits and patterns
  • Digestive health
  • Sleeping habits and sleep quality
  • Levels of perceived stress
  • Medication and supplement use
  • Exercise and daily activity levels
  • Review of conventional lab results
  • Biometric assessment

Treatment almost always entails a change in diet, lifestyle and behaviour. It’s more difficult than simply taking a pill, but the long-term results are incomparable.

Psychological stress is linked to elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines that can lead to autoimmune disease, anxiety disorders, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

This Traditional Tibetan medical thangta is called the Root Of Health And Disease. Using a tree as a metaphor for the many factors that affect health, it gives an overview of treatments, principles and main topics in Tibetan medicine.

If you’re committed to the journey, then I’m committed to working with you until we get the answers we’re looking for.
Changing one’s habits takes time and patience, with many failures and restarts along the way. It’s therefore important to have an ongoing dialogue between you and your practitioner. It’s my job to create a customized plan that works for you, your schedule, your food preferences, and your life stage. And it’s your job to do the work.
If you’re committed to the journey, then I’m committed to working with you until we get the answers we’re looking for.
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