Personal Story

My path to nutrition began with plants. 

Plants provide food and medicine and if I ever wanted to live off the land, I needed to learn everything there is to know about them. The original plan to become a forest ranger or ecologist.

Once enrolled in Plant Science, I soon developed a strong interest in the field of ethnobotany – the study of plant use by humans. My first paper investigated the use of medicinal plants to treat gout by Eastern Indigenous Canadians. 

Chronic metabolic disorders like gout, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension are rare in populations who follow a traditional diet and way of life. But their prevalence quickly rise as they start eating Western foods like sugar, white flour, and vegetable oils. I set out to investigate if certain traditional medicines could protect against the development of chronic disease.

Tibetan Highlanders fascinated me because they thrived in an environment that is relatively hostile to human survival. Life at such high altitudes precluded agronomy and favoured pastoralism. Consequently, their diet was poor in vegetables and fruits, and high in salt, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Any Western doctor would immediately label this as a heart attack waiting to happen. Yet, heart disease is virtually absent among Tibetans. It was, what I believed at the time, a dietary paradox

Up until then I had always followed a typical North American diet. I ate whole grain cereals, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, fruit juice, granola bars, and low-fat versions of everything. I basically followed the guidelines set by Canada’s Food Guide, our national dietary recommendations. But when I had travelled to the Himalayas to analyze Tibetan traditional medicines, I ate similar the locals: I drank butter tea, ate copious amounts of yak cheese, goat and lamb, along with barley and potatoes. In very little time, I noticed differences in my health. Asthma, constipation and a padded layer of body fat plagued me for most of my life, and these disappeared with my dietary transition. Clearly, there was no paradox. This diet was a perfectly normal diet for a perfectly healthy human.

The leap from studying medicinal plants to studying human nutrition made sense. Beyond supplying nutrients, foods contained compounds that affected our mood, our behaviour, and our health.

I now set out to investigate if certain traditional foods can protect against the development of chronic disease.

My studies took me Papua New Guinea, an island off the northern coast of Australia. Rapid Westernization had caused a precipitous rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. A biological analysis of several traditional Melanesian foods showed some ability to protect blood vessels from oxidation and inflammation. The conclusion however, was obvious: those who ate traditional foods avoided developing metabolic diseases.

Nutrition is an important health determinant, but it is a very complex one; one that only makes sense in the context of evolution and adaptation. To fix our health problems, we need to use a functional approach that addresses sleep, stress, hormone balance, gut flora, sun exposure, physical activity, social interactions, and psychology. In essence, the more we stray off the path of our genetic or ancestral alignment, the more we feel sick and fall ill.

From the Canadian tundra to the barren Himalayas to the Melanesian jungles, generations of humans have successfully exploited their environments to find the perfect combination of foods, the perfect way to prepare them, the perfect way to eat them, and the perfect way to preserve them. My education, field research and travel experience have formed the foundation of my approach to health: a holistic and functional approach that is evidence-based and evolutionarily framed.

Let me share this approach with you, invite me along your journey to optimal health, and together we’ll find the best path to get there.

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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