Tom Stubbs, PhD has a background in cellular biochemistry, molecular biology, and epigenetics. With his extensive background, he created an epigenetics company called Chronomics in December 2017 to help people lead a quality lifestyle based on their results.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Hi, guys, welcome to another episode of the Body Clock podcast. Today, I’m delighted to have Dr. Tom Stubbs on our podcast. Hi, Tom. How you doing?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Fancy. Thank you. Thank you for having me on the podcast. Pleasure to be here.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And I’m glad you could come on. So you’re based in Oxford right now. So I have been following you for about a year and I think you’re doing some very interesting and diverse stuff with genetics in the field of epigenetics, which I’m sure you’ll be explaining to our listeners in this podcast. But I just want to explain Dr. Stubbs’s background, which is quite proficient. So he’s been at the University of Oxford where he studied cellular biochemistry and molecular biology. He then went on to do a PH.D. at the University of Cambridge and is specializing in computational biology, machine learning, epigenetics, and in December 2017, he founded Chronomics, which is an epigenetics company.
So a very comprehensive background there and a lot of words, which I’m sure a lot of our listeners probably aren’t aware of. But I would describe it as working in the future of health. So, Tom, it would be very nice if you could kind of explain what you’re doing with Chronomics and how you got involved in the epigenetics feel and lifestyle, which will be helping kind of consumers and patients take more control of their health. So if you could do that for our listeners that would be great.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Sure. Absolutely. Thank you. Save that introduction. So I guess as a bit of background, we’re all used to thinking about genetics as that information, that DNA that we get from our mother and our father, and that’s fixed from birth, so does not change. And it governs whether we’re going to have things like blue eyes or curly hair or be at risk for certain inherited diseases. We also know that there are people on the planet that share the exact same genetic material, so identical twins. But there are many instances where one twin gets sick, for instance, developing breast cancer when the genetically identical twin does not. Why is this? And the answer is epigenetics, which is the science of how our environment and our lifestyle affect how our DNA is controlled.
From birth, epigenetic signals influenced by factors such as smoking, sleep and stress are dictating the tracks that all life is heading down. Now, what’s exciting is that unlike this genetic information that’s fixed from birth, our epigenetic information is dynamic. This means that if we find out about factors affecting our health early enough, we can change tracks to live healthier for longer. So, as Sohaib kindly mentioned my background, I conducted PH.D. and postdoctoral research with some of the leaders in the field of epigenetics research, and I, including Professor Wolf Reik and Professor Shankar Balasubramanian. And I built epigenetic predictors of lifestyle factors on aging. During this time, I realized the potential for personalized epigenetic testing for proactive and preventive health management.
Currently, we cannot take action because we do not understand how our life choices are imprinting themselves on our DNA. So, this was already mentioned, my name is Dr. Tom Stubbs, and together with the founding team at Chronomics, we started a company to solve this problem- bringing together machine learning and epigenetic genetic testing to enable each of you. From a simple saliva test to understand how your environment and lifestyle are affecting both your DNA and also your health.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s really interesting how you’ve combined two aspects the other genetic companies aren’t doing. So I would like to ask you, a lot of people probably heard of 23andMe as being a major player in the genetics sphere. You know you hear a lot of people who are getting these tests done and then they say they’re not actionable or they don’t know what to do with the information. So by the sounds of things and kind of exploring your company, you’re doing things differently. So could you explain to the listeners how does Chronomics enable people to change their lifestyle according to the results they get?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, absolutely. So companies like 23andMe looking solely at your genetic information- so that information that’s fixed from birth. And as you mentioned, you can’t take action of that information and then see the impact of those actions on the genetic information because that genetic information isn’t changing. In contrast, the epigenetic insights that we provide people are dynamic and are actionable, so if you get your insights back from Chronomics and you make changes assisted by ourselves and our partners, you can then retest that epigenetic information to see: Has your health improved or not?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Ok, so you can get retests. And how long do you recommend retests? After what period of time?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: So our standard package involves retesting on a yearly basis with feedback throughout that year through health coaches and partners that help our users on the platform.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Ok, so you use coaching as well because at Owaves, we’re very keen on using coaching as the enabler for people to live healthier lives, and that’s what we want to be doing with student population. And I’m glad that you’re using kind of all these high-end technologies and applications of, you know, machine learning to find out all this information. But you’re using the human health coaches and professionals to kind of deliver that change for people to live a healthy life, which I think is quite unique. So someone that takes this- Is it a swab?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yes, it’s a saliva test. It’s a spit test, not a swab. Very similar.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yes. Saliva. So it’s similar to some of the other ones I’ve done. So a component of your saliva gets sent off. You get your results. So you’re looking particularly at how lifestyle factors affect people’s DNA. So epigenetics- for our listeners, so as our lifestyle changes or as we age, the environment can influence if certain genes are switched on and off. Could you explain a bit more about that?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, sure. So as you say, epigenetics you can think of as switching on and off genes. One simple way that I often used to try and explain it is- we are all used to thinking of DNA as the beautiful naked double-helix structure. But actually, the DNA in ourselves isn’t naked. It’s constantly wrapped up in clothes. Clothes that we as scientists call epigenetics. And as with changes in the environment and lifestyle that involves us changing our clothes, the same happens for the DNA and ourselves. And so what we see is that we provide information about different epigenetic indicators such as biological age or smoke exposure or metabolic state.
And with this information and an understanding of the aspects of your environment and lifestyle that you can improve, people are then able to make more informed health choices. To avoid ill health later on in life.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And have you found that people- once knowing their risk factors or what’s negatively impacting them, does that motivate people to change that behavior?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. So what we found is that, you know, we’re all used to getting relatively generic advice about lifestyle and well-being. And that is quite ineffectual because each of us is different. And each of us, because of our genetics, will respond differently to different things. And yet when you give people that personalized information about how those different things are impacting their health and you’re providing them with that information ahead of time when you’re still not suffering from diseases such as, heart disease or cancer, people are much more receptive to making change to ensure that they live healthier for longer.
It’s more of a predictive approach where people can perceive what path they might be going down on in developing disease. And so you’re looking at kind of upstream of how they may end up in the future. You talk about biological age as well. Tell me more about that. So is a younger biological age- obviously, that would be a lot better for someone. But do you see people who are, say, 30 but they have got biological age of 25? And ones that got an age of 35 or is it literally just your biological age can be more than what you are, but not less?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. Great questions. So if we take biological age, the example of an indicator, what we see is that you know, we all have a chronological age that’s defined by time, but depending on things such as your environment and your lifestyle, people can have accelerated epigenetic agents or biological agents. So as you say, if you’re 30, you can look 35. And what we know is that this is associated with increased health risks in the future. And people who have younger epigenetic or biological ages tend to have reduced health risks.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it’s a big marker of your health, really. And how do you calculate? I’m guessing you use a lot of different algorithms to kind of work out. But would you say in calculating that do you have most of the population at that biological age? Obviously, you haven’t tested them all. But from your kind of- what would you think? Are they at their age or because of our current unhealthy environment and the rise of kind of obesity and all these chronic diseases, are most people a lot older biologically than they are chronologically?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, so I guess as a couple of passed that question. So the first part is how do we measure it? So this is the amazing thing. We are measuring biological age solely from epigenetic marks on your DNA. That’s it. And what we find is that people of all ages, there’s quite a spectrum of people that have a higher epigenetic age and people that have a lower epigenetic age. So although there is, as you say, the rise in chronic diseases and this is partly due to people are living longer, but also the lifestyles that people are leading now in certain aspects are less healthy then perhaps how they used to be.
What we see is that there is this age spread. And I guess, one interesting thing is that actually at younger ages, this epigenetic age change happens faster than at older ages. So if your biological age is ticking faster during your teens and then slows down as you enter adulthood.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it’s almost more important to be healthier when you’re growing up in your key fundamental years to have that greater impact.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: So I think that whatever age people are, there’s a huge amount that any of us can do to ensure that we stay healthy over a long period of time. But definitely, the formative years of development are incredibly important for long term health.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So when you’re a student, if you’re making a decision on- because I know a lot of students I know, obviously being a student recently myself. I’m sure obviously, you’ve spent a lot of time being a student. You know, a lot of your colleagues pull all-nighters. You know, they may smoke. They may get unhealthy behaviors. And they think, “Oh, we’re young. We’ll recover from this quickly,” because we are young at the moment. And they think, “OK, once we get older, we’ll think about this.” But I think you kind of highlight that. That it’s important to kind of think about these things at all ages.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. Absolutely. Definitely. When you’re a student, health is not as top of the mind as it is for people who are older as you rightly said. People at a younger age and the choices that are being made then do impact health much further down the line than what we’ve realized. And that’s what’s great about epigenetics and why our customers are so excited is because we’re able to show them the impact that choices are happening years before they develop into symptoms or illnesses that are actually impacting their health so they can make decisions ahead of time to avoid ill health.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And as we say, everyone has slightly different genetics and that difference ranges more as we kind of get more and more diverse, different ancestral populations, et cetera. So are your health coaches prescribing or coaching people in different exercise strategies, different nutrition plans according to their results? Obviously, in athletic sport performance world, for example, the gene, ACTN, a variant that kind of predicts if you’re going to be an amazing athlete.
And a lot of athletes, they found that kind of a set variant of that gene. And then similarly for heart disease, you know, APO-E type 44 has been shown to be kind of detrimental in terms of cholesterol levels and increasing your risk of heart disease to those kinds of differences in people. Are you at the point where you can recommend a different exercise program- strengthen versus endurance? Nutrition plans? Maybe higher in fat or lowering carbs? Protein?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s definitely, as you rightly say, using those examples from genetics. There are definitely things that people are naturally more predisposed to be good at or to suffer from. And, you know, as part of Chronomics, that information forms part of what the health coaches are doing with any one individual. In terms of the epigenetic information, there’s also not only finding out, as I said earlier, what your biological age is, but actually on a personal level, what factors in your life are the ones responsible for that biological age and which ones are the ones that, you, as an individual want to change or are able to change.
And so all of that personal insight feeds into the discussions and the chats that the health coaches and other partners have with our customers to ensure that they can make informed choices about how to live healthier and, also, still enjoy their lives.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So you can strike that perfect balance between enjoying life, but also optimizing your health and not having those blind spots for “everything is going fine” when it may not be. So it gives you that insight into what’s actually happening. With a normal genetics company, it’s one off test. You get tested. You then have the information. You may not act on it.
It may not be actionable even. You have no aspect of coaching. And then you there’s no measurement again because that’s your blueprint. Whereas with epigenetics, you know, you have an indicator of your biological age risk-factors. And then you get measured again and you can see. You can aim for that improvement and you can see. OK. Are these things working or not? And that’s, I think, really differentiating factor with what you’re doing. And so what got you interested in this? First of all, in entrepreneurship? Having an academic background and as well as the space of lifestyle and wellness.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. Great. Great question. So as you say, my background was in academic researching in the field of epigenetics and epigenetic predictors. And what really first drove me towards entrepreneurship was just the realization of the power and the potential of personalized epigenetic testing to improve human health. Beyond that, where we are today with personalized genetic testing by actually giving people proactive insights that aren’t a death sentence. And some aspects of genetics can be more of a health compass if you like. A lifestyle tool to ensure that you are living the life that you want to lead. So that’s really what got us started on this journey. Brazing investment to really start bringing epigenetics to the people.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And would you advise students who are in the fields of academia to pursue entrepreneurship? Obviously, it’s a very stressful endeavor because a lot of uncertainty with entrepreneurship. But it seems like you, someone who is kind of stuck through and doing well with your company now. What would your advice be for people? Working this space of lifestyle and stress being a big factor for increasing your biological age, how do you manage that and what would you advise younger people listening to this?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. Great question. So I think. Yes, as you rightly say, entrepreneurship can be stressful, but I think, you know, any job can be academia can also be incredibly stressful. You’ve just got different, different levers you’re working with. I think it really comes down to what anybody wants to get out of what they’re doing and what excites them. And also what opportunities arise. So if you’re working within academia. And you see certain things happening within your research that you think would be incredibly useful to the wider world. I would encourage anyone to give it a go. Give it a try and see. See what you can make of it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I think that’s great advice, and something I take upon myself as well. Because you can go down the traditional paths and a lot of times there are amazing experiences, but sometimes what entrepreneurship or gives you is that you can apply. Like you’ve learned a great amount of knowledge from some amazing professors. And it gives you that dynamic environment to kind of move fast and apply things in the real world and kind of make that impact, which traditionally can be quite a slow process because you have to rise up the ranks and then, you can only have influence. Where the entrepreneurial world is more about you getting your idea out there and developing.
I bet it’s been a great learning experience for you, as well. I mean, you’ve been doing this since December 2017. So it’s not that long of a period, but you must have learned a lot. How have you stayed resilient or how have you tackled bouts of stress and maybe feeling a bit low? Because that’s something a lot of young people are going through these days? A lot of mental health problems due to the stresses of life and work and finding that balance.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. Great. Great question again. I would say that starting a company, and in my case, Chronomics has been a huge learning curve. There’s a lot you have to learn that you don’t learn in academia that has to do with- business, marketing, sales. That you have to pick up in order to build a company. In terms of managing stress and resilience, these sorts of things. I think one thing that’s really helpful is exercise. So I think regular exercise is a great way to ease your mind and to not let that stress build-up alongside practicing some forms of mindfulness. In addition, I think it’s incredibly important to have a strong support network around you.
So whether that be co-founders or if you’re starting a company with other people or whether that be family and friends. That’s also so incredibly, incredibly helpful because as you say, inherently, when you’re taking an idea and surfing it into the world, there are challenges and obstacles that you have to overcome. And with those challenges and obstacles comes moments of realization. And you need support there to help you through it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So you’ve emphasized relationships, which is actually one of the factors of lifestyle medicine. You know, to be healthy as well. So talking about exercise, what does your day look like? I always like mapping out people’s days. What’s a typical day for you? What time do you wake up? When you go to bed? Do you have a typical day, and when do you kind of plan your exercise, your meals, your socializing?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. I have to say, as the CEO of a startup, a typical day is maybe not something that you have. I mean, you try and put structure into it. But I guess in terms of wake-up times, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and then again by. 10:00, 10:30. And within the day, in terms of, exercise. I’m less of a morning person, so I tend to do exercise middle of the day or end of the day to help kind of shut off. So that I can get to sleep again. But again, it’s very dependent on what I’m doing that day. There’s also a lot of traveling involved in the job and that needs to be managed as well and thought about. And thought about.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: What do your meals look like? Are you on a specific diet or I’m guessing, you normally eat quite healthily? Are you into any kind of specific sports yet?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: So in terms of diet, I am not on any specific diet per se just try and eat a well-rounded diet. In terms of sports, I really enjoy climbing and running, as well.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Okay, good. So I’m guessing, you’re quite involved at your university’s. Oxford and Cambridge are well-known for their sports teams, as well. So you’re quite active as a student?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, I did. Used to be. Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Must be hard balancing all the academia and now, entrepreneurship with making time. Because time is always the limiting factor. Times cost you something. Royan identified it for finding Owaves, which was the problem for us being healthy.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the, you know, key things with Chronomics as well is that you can’t buy time. You can’t buy more time in the day. And people today want to be healthier and more aware of chronic illness. Something that affects almost all of us at some point in our life and are wanting to improve health. But if they focus solely on the generalist information that we get, there’s a huge array of things we can do and not enough time to implement all of it. And so what we do at Chronomics, and together with the health coaches, is to really focus on what are the pillars of health. What are the areas that people should be focusing on to really make a step-change in their health rather than trying to do absolutely everything to live healthier?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So you’re identifying the high yield changes. Even growing up, there were so many health kind of, I would use the word- gurus and there was a lot of advice, and every kind of personal trainer would give you different advice. And as someone who like yourself is quite academic, we look at things through data and I’m always thinking, “Okay, so if I have to do yoga for flexibility. If I have to do, you know, some mobility work as well. I want to play tennis because I enjoy tennis, but then I have to get my cardio in and then I want to strength training because I want to gain muscle.
And then, I’m like, “Okay, well, on those days I need to eat carbs for fuel, protein to increase my muscle mass. Then fasting has been shown for a lot of health benefits at the moment, which is being investigated as well. Fat loss. So with all these different objectives and everyone’s looking at it with such a 360-degree view that as a consumer or someone who wants to be healthier, you end up being so confused that you start opting for nothing because everything is so not contradictory. But you can’t fit all of that in.
So you’re right. If we get so much information, it’s difficult to digest and implement whereas, if you can do it according to what will give you the most value, it makes a lot more sense. And moving from that, I was also interested-so you talked biological age earlier and you said some people do look older than they are. So have you seen any kind of correlation? Or is it normally the case that people who look older? Now the signs of aging and looks and normally, wrinkles, loss of skin laxity, signs of aging in a quite a dermatological a manifestation as well. As you could say, with a lot of age, your memory starts to slow.
Your brain’s processing power slows. The reflexes, reaction times are kind of those measurable things that are declining. But I think your looks are the first thing that seems to be visible. So have you seen a correlation between epigenetics and people who look older than they are? Do they normally have an increased biological age as well?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yes, that’s an interesting question. So as we mentioned earlier, epigenetics is the most accurate predictor of biological age out there at the moment. In terms of looks. It’s interesting because you, first, need to define ways to quantify the age of somebody from visual appearance. And studies have been done looking at epigenetic age and linking it to facial age if you like. And then you do see correlations. But obviously, the difficulty is that those facial age estimates. There are now some algorithms that work on trying to predict facial age.
But most of those studies involved actually- just taking people or photos of people and getting other people to determine how old they think that person is. As you can imagine, that has quite a lot of error potentially associated with it. Even if you get a lot of people to guess how old they think one person is I would say in principle the signs are there. The accelerated epigenetic age is associated with facial age. But actually, the difficulty comes in how accurately we can measure facial age currently.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Very well explained because perception, subjectivity changes how accurately or how validated that can be. But I can imagine that being a trend or a study being done with that could be the case. So say I’ve used the test and my biological age comes back 10 years more than a chronological age, does that mean I can reverse? Can I get my biological age to be younger or will it just stop it from increasing if I change my lifestyle?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yes. So this is again, a very interesting question. So your biological age-we’ll never get back to zero. So these epigenetic indicators have a memory of what’s gone before. So again, if you take the smoke exposure as an example if you were a smoker and then you stopped your epigenetic age will go back to normal. But it will take time and it may never get back to as if you’d never smoked or been exposed to smoke in the first place because your epigenetics has a memory component to it. So it can remember what went before. In the case of biological age, your age is increasing chronologically. And that epigenetic or biological age measure can change and can reduce. But on the whole, there’s a tendency for it to increase. So what we really focus on with people is-can reduce the age acceleration? Can you get the difference between your biological age in chronological age to reduce? And the answer is, it’s possible.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Okay. That’s very insightful, so you can kind of slow that rate of aging through that change, which will be a massive impact. Because if you’re increasing your chronological age, then there could be a point if you slow your biological age enough that you will meet at some point where you’re actually the same. Which is interesting. So which factors have you seen as the most? Does it varies from person to person? Or impactful for people slowing down the aging process or improving their lifestyle and health?
Would there be a single factor or is it actually a multiple of-smoking, exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress? Or is one of those factors more important than the others?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, great question. So you can think of epigenetic age as this holistic measure of health at a given point in time and it’s made up of lots of different things that are going on with you. Lots of different exposures. Your genetics itself. And as you say, there’s lots of different pillars of things you can affect. So you have environment, which includes things like pollution, smoke exposure, for instance. You have sleep, as you rightly mentioned, which can be impacted by things such as noise pollution but also how long you’re sleeping and different aspects of your sleep.
Then you’ve got exercise, diet, nutrition, and also social engagement. Your social interactions as well, which play a huge and under-appreciated role in your health. And the factors that are contributing most to anybody’s overall age. Acceleration or deceleration will depend on from one individual to the next. So there’s no hard and fast rule on, “exercise is contributing that many years acceleration. “It’s more just, “Okay, of all the areas of your health that you can action. Which ones should you action in order to get the best impact in long term health?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So technically, if you’re living in a polluted environment or maybe in inner-city London, you could have an accelerated biological age due to the pollution, even though you’re maximizing your other factors as compared to someone living in the countryside or in a very green and non-polluting environment.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. So, you know, you could have a situation where somebody, like you said, in the countryside perhaps doesn’t have a strong social network and that may impact that measure. But at the same time, you could have people in the city who, due to the routes they are taking to work or whatever, are exposed to more pollution than perhaps they need to be. And again, that is impacting their health. But wherever you live, it’s important to realize that you the ability to improve that situation. It’s like you said at the beginning, it’s taking into account the aspects of your health that you can change.
And focusing on the bits of your health that you can change that are most important to see big leaps in health and reduction in illnesses in the future.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: The onus is on the individual. And I love that you’ve given a big insight into how social aspects, social engagements affect epigenetics because socializing gets talked a lot about now in lifestyle medicine. At times, it can be very non-quantitative. And people are like, “Okay, I feel nice when I socialize.” But there’s no real measure. Maybe stress levels is as close as we get with cortisol, but the fact that it can affect your epigenetics is quite surreal and a very big point. So by social engagements, would it be the frequency that you’re interacting with good social relationships or the fact that the quality of your relationships that you have or your network?
Or the wider the network is, the better for you? What are you thinking with social engagements? Is it the quality time you’re spending in a social environment?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yes, so great question. So I think the important thing to realize as well with social engagement is that it’s not an isolated thing. So social engagement, as you mentioned, there’s lots of different aspect to that, like the quality, the size of the network, the length of interactions, et cetera. In-person interactions versus kind of online obviously being less strong. There’s also the fact that they impact our measures of mental well-being. They impact how you choose to say, eat or exercise or the environment you choose to be in. Or potentially how you are sleeping, so that’s not an isolated thing.
But I think the importance for me, of social engagement, is highlighted by the fact that the leading cause of death in older age people is isolation or lack of social engagement.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I came across that statistic as well. It’s quite frightening, really. That’s something we sometimes ignore is such a big factor in our health. And as you pointed out, it’s an interesting thing because the busier you get or especially in an entrepreneurial journey or academia, the first thing to go from your daily plan will sometimes, can be socializing because you think you are. Sometimes you feel guilty about socializing, whereas maybe an exercise session you see is self-improvement or eating healthy. And you’re investing that time to cook a healthy meal. Sleep was seen like that as well. I think sleep is another one.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Where people almost think that this is especially the entrepreneurship world. And I guess in the traditional jobs as well, sleep is seen as a weakness. And that paradigm is shifting slowly, but not in the mainstream. It’s more kind of health professionals were realizing how important sleep is now. So with kind of circadian rhythms in mind, because Owaves started up as a concept around circadian biology, do you think circadian? It might be premature for you to say, but from your research we were reading or your inclination, do you think a circadian rhythm disruption-you say you travel a lot, jet lag, sleeping quite late.
That circadian shift. There have been links towards ill health and perhaps aging as well. To see if that could be a contributing factor to an increased biological age and your epigenetics not being how they should be.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, I think you raise a couple of interesting points there. One is this tendency for people to focus on diet and exercise and ignore the more holistic picture of health because as you say, there are things that are more quantifiable in a sense. And also, like you say, they feel like you’re making self-improvements in things. But actually, if you’re doing them to such an extent that there’s a detrimental effect on other aspects of your health and well-being, then perhaps the overall benefit is not so great for exercising huge amounts. Let’s say, in the case of circadian rhythms, so that’s a really interesting one.
And definitely proteins involved in circadian rhythms are epigenetic, genetically controlled. And, I guess, with ages, there’s a potential for a dampening of circadian rhythms so they’re not as pronounced and that is an issue. Because lots of your metabolism-again, linking into the kind of diet, exercise, mental well-being, and sleep is all governed by circadian processes or at least partially governed by circadian processes. And so if, you know, in effect dampening these circadian states. By not sleeping enough, traveling a lot, etc. that is going to have an impact on your overall health. And with it, likely your biological age.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it seems quite like a complicated puzzle where you have to be on top of a lot of different things. But in current life, traveling is increased. We’re traveling longer distances. A lot of people who are suffering from insomnia and especially due to jet lag. With the constant travel being entrepreneur, yourself-I mean, you said you went to Canada recently and you’re traveling around. Do you use any strategies to counteract that at all?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: So I think it depends on how long you’re traveling for. So if it’s short trips, I try as much as possible to stay relatively on the time zone that I spend most of my time out rather than trying to adjust. But that obviously also has its own difficulties. I don’t think there’s any real right answer to that. I just, yeah. I think it’s an important thing to bear in mind, the importance of the day-night cycle in people’s health.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah. And I think that’s more pronounced especially with shift workers as well. I did a blog recently for Owaves, working as a doctor doing night shift and how that really impacts your health. I mean your thinking isn’t as clear but you have to, obviously, we have a demanding society where that needs to happen
Dr. Tom Stubbs: I mean, there’s a body of research looking at shiftwork and the detrimental health impacts of it. To some extent, for long term shift work, there’s a couple of research papers suggesting whether it should be labeled a carcinogen or not. Because of the rise in diseases that are associated with it. So it’s definitely, yeah. It’s definitely important to be working in line with your circadian rhythms.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s great advice because I’ve been coming across that research as well. It does scare you sometimes when you are working in that environment. Especially for someone who is so into health optimization, human performance. So we talked about kind of preventing disease. Is there any marker of or do you see a marker in the future of seeing how our health is improving? I know, so a lot of Silicon Valley enthusiasts, biohacking is becoming quite big right now especially and how people are thinking, “Okay, let’s not just opt for normal.” How do we enhance health? How do we be happier? How do we be younger?
How do we become smarter, you know, get a better memory, stronger, faster? A lot of these attributes. So there’s a lot of different theories out there and especially a lot of things happening in California. What’s your take on this? Do you think there will be more quantitative measures in the future or applying some of the things that you’re well-trained in with machine learning and computational biology to prove that someone’s health has improved? You know, hitting that kind of Superman’s status or enhanced health status.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: So there’s definitely this shift currently in health moving from generalist and reactive. So waiting until people are sick before taking action to take this more personalized and proactive. And as you say, asking the question not how can I stop being ill, but actually. How can I be healthy or be healthier? And one thing that we do at Chronomics as we mentioned with some of these epigenetic indicators is to be able to provide people with measures of improvement in health. So if we take again, just for simplicity, the example of smoke exposure. If that score gets better. You’re in effect improving your health.
You’ve reduced your chances of linked diseases associated with smoking and you can quantify. You can see it. So I think there is going to be this increase in biomarkers for health rather than people focusing so much on trying to predict disease, definitely.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And what wearable? Do you use any wearables? You look at any data specifically yourself.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: So I personally don’t use wearable devices. Couple of the people at Chronomics do, so they use sleep devices or on heart monitoring devices. I do not.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Okay, and with technology advancing. Do you see apps and augmented devices, such as voice assistance, etc., playing an increased role in coaching and helping people be healthier?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, I mean, does there’s no question that technology is enabling more people to access health information and insights and now with, the advent of machine learning linked to health, personalized insights. And I think there’s no question in the future that’s only going to grow stronger. That element of personalization that can come from technology-driven through either censored information or other types of information.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And with mental health being such a big topic these days, obviously, everyone goes through difficult times and lifestyle seems to be one of the things, which is the best approach to combat that. And young people need to be more empowered to do that. Did you think young people being having access to coaching, economics uses, coaching, etc. and other companies are using a coaching model? Because looking back sometimes as a student, due to the access and affordability and you know your priorities, it’s very difficult to go to a health coach. Would you see the democratization of health coaches and something which could help you adopt healthy habits at an early stage, so when you do start working life, it’s a seamless transition.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Absolutely. At Chronomics, we’re passionate about democratizing health for everyone, so making it as accessible as possible for people to get access to ways to proactively improve their health and to do it using knowledge, using information, using epigenetics. So that absolutely I think it’s hugely valuable for people to get access to this stuff and to really shift that paradigm to not wait until you’re sick before taking action. And to really make use of what’s becoming more and more accessible and easy to tap into to start asking, how can I improve my health or stay healthy?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And with specific genes and genetic markers. So obviously, in medical school, we don’t get taught a lot about how to interpret genetics, which will probably be a need as we’re going forward.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Now there’s a lot of people do approach me and others, as well, when they do get these results from companies such as 23andMe, which might suggest something, like they’re more predisposed to one condition or they, have a gene, which gives them this trait. How accurate is that? Is that something which-because every population is quite different. It depends on the data set. How do they make this correlation? How do they come up with these insights?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of interesting points there. So one, again, if we’re talking about genetic information that’s fixed from birth and you can’t change those genetic models or risk profiles either derived from single position changes in somebody’s DNA, or single position changes across lots of positions in someone’s DNA and linking that, or building a model of that link to a certain condition. So whether that be heart disease or something else, then what’s important to remember just going back to epigenetics is that information is fixed and it misses a huge amount of what you can do to affect the outcome of anything that you have.
You know, it’s kind of one of our big mantras, I guess, is that you aren’t predetermined. There’s a whole host of things that you can do that are completely within your control to stay healthy. I think a great example of that is if you look at heart disease. So if you look at heart disease and you look at genetic risk of heart disease, the difference between somebody with high risk genetically and somebody with low risk is fourfold. So somebody could be four times more likely than somebody else to suffer from heart disease. But if you look at the difference in risk. Across environment and lifestyle, you see, the difference is five thousand-fold.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Oh Wow. So magnitude greater.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Magnitude greater. Yeah. So I think it’s really important for people to understand these genetic predispositions are subtle probabilities. And as you say, they are very dependent on the populations used in the data set and what’s behind it. But often what’s left out in those discussions is actually the amount of risk that you’re in control of. And I personally wouldn’t be worrying about, you know, whether I had a one, two or three-fold higher risk of something, I’d be worrying about while thinking about how can I make the best out of that five thousand-fold difference between people? What can I do then?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Because that’s where the big value is. Because it’s a much greater risk. So it’s worth it and it’s-.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: It’s in your control.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yes, your control. You can’t do anything about the blueprint you’re given back. So it actually makes the information useful. Otherwise, it could just become fearsome. So absolutely. A lot of genes with, what confuses me is, for example-with obesity. There are some genetics-FTO, different genes that indicate your susceptibility of getting obese. You know, increased hunger signaling, so you feel more hungry or you don’t get adequate fullness response-your metabolism, etc. But there are so many different genes that we don’t know how they interact and say you have fifteen genes positive for obesity and 50 negative.
It’s very hard for us to work out what that means. Obviously, some correlations are stronger than others. So now you’re looking at a level to a gene, such as a gene for caffeine metabolism. That’s a common one at the moment being tested. If I get told my caffeine metabolism is slow, is that something which is always objectifiable as it is that something which if I drink caffeine and I have a slow metabolism according to my DNA test and someone else has a normal metabolism? Would we be able to drink caffeine and then see that it takes longer for my system to clear the caffeine? So I have the effects for longer or trouble sleeping, whereas they can metabolize it quite quickly? Or is this all guesswork at the moment?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, so I guess, there’s maybe two things that you mentioned. So in the case of genetics, when you’re talking about something like obesity, which as you say is quite a complicated phenomenon where there are lots of different genes involved the way that people are now. Again, from that genetic fix, from the birth perspective is to take those different positions and build an overarching model from those positions to then define an obesity risk, if you like. Rather than looking at-okay, these 10 positions look good. Those 10 look bad. Is it good or bad? Is kind of pulling together to bring those that information together into one score.
Which is known as a polytechnic risk score. But again, with something like obesity. You know, telling somebody whether they have a slightly higher or lower risk of being obese when there are essentially a baby isn’t going to inform as much as perhaps environment and lifestyle will on that person’s chances of becoming obese or not. So again, I think it hides a lot of the fact of-in the majority of cases, not saying there aren’t some cases where it is very much genetically determined. But in the majority of cases, it is again, something that people are in control of and you aren’t predetermined by your DNA.
In the case of caffeine, so this is an interesting one because it’s a piece of genetic information that because of your piece of genetic information that you may have in terms of being able to respond caffeine versus somebody else. You can actually make health choices based off that to reduce any impact that will have on you. So another common one linked to that, for instance, is alcohol tolerance. So if you look at people who are more tolerant to alcohol versus people who are less tolerant, and if all of those people are drinking, the people that are less tolerant to alcohol are less tolerant because they’re building up a toxic component or metabolite or chemical in the process of getting rid of that alcohol.
That they actually struggle to then get rid of as quickly as somebody else. And what you see is that if all of those different people drink, the people who have lower ability to metabolize alcohol will end up with more adverse health outcomes. So, again, it’s information you can get from your genetics that you can use to inform your health proactively. So that yeah, probably two different things.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s very well explained. So there are single traits like caffeine metabolism, alcohol metabolism, which might be useful as a general DNA test. But more complicated things like obesity, which you need a risk call really because it’s so many different genes playing a part. Are there any other single genetic traits which, you know, when you get your genetics you know? Because sometimes people doubt that even if they get their genetics, they like, “Do we really have this, do we not? Is there any other that you’re aware of that are commonly quoted or given?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yes. So I guess, you know, when you’re talking about wellness, so talking about kind of your caffeine tolerance, alcohol tolerance. There are also elements of your behavior. So, how much of an addictive personality do you have? For instance, so if you are to start smoking or to start drinking caffeine or to start drinking alcohol, how difficult would it be for you to give up those different things? So I think those are quite interesting. But again, more complex to try to really understand what’s happening. There’s also other-
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I find it really interesting, the behavior. I think that’s something that’s really going to grow computational behavior in psychiatry because that could give a lot of information. Because I used another company, iddna, where they sent me all these traits and a lot of it was behavior. Looking at it was just hard for me to kind of work out. It gave you personality traits such as the example, like the warrior gene. There are a few others as well, like schizophrenia risk, seasonal affective disorder, and even the clock genes for night owls versus morning larks but, obviously, I would have to look into every individual paper to see the correlations.
This company seems to have done that. But hearing you say that there is this research being done in where behavior can be predicted through genetics. I find it quite fascinating.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, it’s definitely interesting that there are aspects of that explained by genetics. But I think, again, with all these things and what excites me about epigenetics as well and the work we do, Chronomics is that people need to understand that these are tools and our health outcomes are not predetermined. And we as individuals can make choices. Use information well to live longer and also enjoy living at the same time.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah, we’re going towards an informed person, an individual who can mitigate any genetic predispositions they have through a healthy lifestyle, but still balance it with enjoyment. Because if you know your information and risks and it’s kind of like the inputs that you have, then you can kind of have control of the outputs and you can work out for yourself. Say what makes you happy, but within what limit, you can enjoy certain unhealthy behaviors, but overall still be healthy and be optimizing your health. So I think that’s a great point there. I find it very interesting.
Your insight into epigenetics and also genetics generally and where it’s going. So do you feel there will be with genetics moving forward? So in the UK, the NHS wants to sequence people’s genomes. Do you find full genome sequencing a lot more valuable than, as you said, the snips or the single nucleotides that most of the consumer genetic companies are doing or not really?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yes. So I guess, just yeah. To recap on what you’re saying just then. So I think it’s really exciting that now we’re living in this informed, personalized world where you have that genetic baseline layer of information with that updatable epigenetic information on top to enable you to monitor those risks over time. And I think that’s going to be really exciting moving forward in terms of what you’re saying now. Which is linked to NHS and the work that’s going on there. What’s the difference between genetic testing versus whole genome sequencing?
So I think to really answer that question, there are two points. One is, genetic testing as done by the majority of company’s uses what’s called Array technology. And what happens is a couple of hundred thousand positions are zeroed in on. And these positions in the first place were chosen because there’s quite a bit of variation and they’re interesting positions within populations. So originally used for population-based studies. Whole-genome sequencing, on the other hand, instead of looking at a couple of hundred thousand positions, you’re looking at three billion positions. So you’re looking at all the letters in somebody’s DNA.
And you’re not cherry-picking those positions for positions that are common. You’re looking at everything that’s there. And I think what’s exciting about whole-genome sequencing is it’s really future-proofing yourself for in our increased understanding of what all different positions within the genome mean, whilst also giving you access to potentially more rare positions that you have that maybe lots of other people don’t have and are actually likely to be more informative for disease. So I guess just to put it another way, if something’s very common in a population, it’s unlikely to be that detrimental.
Whereas if something’s rarer in a population, it’s more likely to be informative for disease. And that’s where I think whole genome sequencing is going to be really powerful. And actually as a company, Chronomics, we do epigenetic testing and we also do a combined whole-genome testing with epigenetic testing as a package as well. And we chose whole-genome sequencing because of the improved accuracy. The fact that you are future-proofing yourself in giving yourself access to all future genetic insights that come out from academic research, from industry research, and you’re really getting the best baseline view of you to then build epigenetics on top.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s very comprehensive testing that will be very useful for a lot of people to go through that. And where can people follow Chronomics and yourself and, you know, order a test and get in touch?
Dr. Tom Stubbs: Yeah, absolutely. So people can follow Chronomics on Instagram, Facebook, Medium, and LinkedIn at Chronomics, so C-H-R-O-N-O-M-I-C-S. We’re also on Twitter at Chronometary, so C-H-R-O-N-O-M-E-N-T-A-R-Y. And our website is at www.Chronomics.com and if people have any questions they can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org in terms of purchasing a test as part of the thank you for having us on here to do the podcast. Save, we will give you a special discount code to go with the podcast.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Amazing.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: That will then link people through to the website for a special package.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s very kind of you. I mean, it’s been a fascinating discussion and I’m looking forward to going through some testing as well. It sounds like you’re doing some great stuff in health innovation and I think a lot of our listeners will be interested in this type of testing. And to bring things home, the fact that you emphasized lifestyle changes being the key to all of this is really great for how Owaves is operating as well. Trying to make people healthier through coaching and lifestyle. Really appreciate you taking the time and offering us a code as well. We’ll be putting that on our web site. So we’ll be making an O for you.
So you’ll be able to see Dr. Stubbs’s daily plan on our website quite soon when the podcast goes out. So thanks, Tom, for being on the podcast. It’s been a delight. And I’ve learned a lot.
Dr. Tom Stubbs: No, thank you for having us and look forward to chatting again soon. Thank you.
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