Episode 47: Dr. Tommy Wood talks about neonatal brain injuries and optimizing human performance

// Sep 26, 2017

Dr. Tommy Wood is a U.K. trained MD/PhD who now lives in the U.S. He has spent most of his academic career studying ways to treat babies with brain injuries, but has also published papers on multiple sclerosis, as well as nutritional approaches to sports performance and metabolic disease.

Today’s conversation is the first of a two-part interview we did with Tommy. Part two will upload to iTunes on Oct. 10.

Tommy received an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school at the University of Oxford. He recently completed a PhD in physiology and neonatal brain metabolism at the University of Washington. He is now a Senior Fellow at the university researching neonatal brain injury.

He also is the incoming president of the Physicians for Ancestral Health, an international organization of physicians, healthcare professionals and medical students that specializes in ancestral health principles for the prevention and treatment of illness.

Tommy is also an experienced rowing, endurance, and strength coach who combines evolutionary principles with modern biochemical techniques to optimize performance. He primarily performs this work with Nourish Balance Thrive, a functional medicine clinic based in California that works largely with athletes, where he is the Chief Medical Officer.


Physicians for Ancestral Health –

Nourish Balance Thrive –

NBT automated performance analysis:

Primal Endurance podcast (ketogenic diets, athletic longevity etc):

2) High Intensity Health podcast (ketogenic diets and  gut health):

Show notes:

 03:30: Ken and Dawn welcome Tommy to the show.

03:48: Tommy talks about growing up in the U.K. and also spending time in Iceland, Germany and France.

04:43: Ken asks Tommy if he was more interested in science or sports as a youth.

05:48: Tommy talks about his time the captain of a rowing club and how he became interested in ultra-endurance sports and Crossfit training.

07:33: Dawn points out that Tommy follows a Paleo style diet, but understands that wasn’t the case when he was on a rowing team at Cambridge. She asks Tommy what caused him to change his diet.

09:51: Tommy worked as junior doctor in central London for two years after medical school before moving to Norway to get a PhD in physiology and neuroscience at the University of Oslo.  Dawn asks Tommy what motivated him to change his field of work?

11:39: Dawn asks Tommy why he has devoted so much of his research looking into multiple sclerosis.

13:23: Dawn mentions that Tommy is the incoming president of Physicians for Ancestral Health and asks him how he came involved with the organization.

15:40: Physicians for Ancestral Health work to identify natural dietary, nutritional and environmental interventions that complement standard medical therapies. Dawn asks Tommy to describe examples of natural interventions.

17:11: Tommy’s PhD focused on the physiology of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury in newborn babies using a rat model. Kens asks Tommy to talk about the disease and how it is studied in the lab.

19:25: Dawn points out that the current treatment for infants with brain injuries is therapeutic hypothermia. Dawns asks Tommy to talk about the treatment and how it works.

23:00: STEM-Talk blurb.

23:24: Considering that hypothermia was already standard of care by the time Tommy started his PhD, Ken asks what made Tommy want to focus on studying hypothermia further during his PhD.

24:45: Dawns asks Tommy how he would research the optimization of hypothermia treatment in humans?

28:29: Ken asks Tommy how he became a senior fellow in the Pediatrics Department at the University of Washington.

29:53: Tommy’s postdoc work at the University of Washington involves developing a ferret model of brain injury in premature babies. Ken asks Tommy why he chose ferrets.

32:52: Ken talks about Xenon, a noble gas that has many applications from headlights to spacecraft propulsion to biological aspects. Dawn points out that while Ken was at NASA, that Xenon was used as a fuel for a spacecraft called Deep Space 1. Ken then asks Tommy to talk about the use of Xenon in helping people suffering hypoxic-ischemic brain injuries.

36:12: Ken points out that Xenon’s activation of HIF-1alpha makes Xenon potentially ergogenic and, in some circles, regarded as a performance-enhancing substance.  The Russians admitted to using Xenon in their athletes up until WADA banned it and Argon. Ken asks Tommy for his thoughts on Xenon’s effectiveness in enhancing performance.

40:06: Dawn mentions that Xenon has been shown to increase heart and lung capacity, reduce muscle fatigue, boost testosterone and cause an improvement in mood.

40:32: Dawn talks about how Tommy has been involved in collaborative work with people in a number of fields using what Tommy has referred to as a “systems analysis approach” to look at the etiology of disease processes in multiple sclerosis and insulin resistance, as well as the application of nanotechnology to drug delivery in neurological diseases. Dawn asks Tommy to expand upon that.

42:29: In reviewing some of Tommy’s work, Ken says it seemed as if Tommy was employing a “systems approach” to avoid the dangers of reductionist thinking in medicine. Tommy agrees, and then shares a story about aliens coming to Earth and discovering the game Angry Birds to illustrate his point.

45:37: Part one of Tommy’s two-part interview ends. Part two will upload to iTunes on Tuesday, Oct. 10.