Nichola Conlon: Molecular biologist
My Day | My Life
BY PETER BOWES | SUNDAY JUNE 18, 2022
Nichola Conlon, PhD., is a molecular biologist and the co-founder of the UK-based nutraceutical company Nuchido Laboratories. In this episode Nichola tells us about her love of intense exercise; the power of fasting; a career that explores drugs that could slow our rate of cellular aging and her passion for explaining science so that everyone can benefit. She also shares her lifestyle hacks and secrets for a good night’s sleep.
Related: Stimulating the body to repair itself – LLAMA podcast interview, December 30, 2020
My Day | My Life explores the lives of people who have, in one way or another, mastered the art of aging. Whether it be through diet, exercise, mindfulness, spirituality, nutraceutical interventions, social connections, generosity or fulfilling careers, we discover the essential elements to living life with purpose, and perhaps, longevity.
Nichola Conlon: I am 34 years old. Generally I have my alarm set for 5.45 and as soon as I wake up I jump out of bed. I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m a morning person. I don’t like to snooze. I like to immediately get up, which I think is fairly unusual. I am generally a positive person. I do have a positive view on starting the day, you know, a fresh start at the beginning of every day.
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Starting my day off right basically looks like going out and doing some exercise. For me that is the perfect start to my morning. I mix my exercise regime up every morning. Sometimes I will go to the gym and that will consist of doing some resistance training combined with some high intensity interval training. I usually go for about an hour between six and seven, and if I don’t go to the gym, I really like to be outdoors and I like to run. So generally I will do three days at the gym and I will do two days outside, running around five miles. I do all of my exercise before I eat anything, so I do it in a fasted state. I do practice intermittent fasting and because I get up so early and go to the gym so early, I haven’t ever eaten anything.
To begin with I was definitely in the belief that I needed food before I did my exercise, and I was really shocked that I seemed to perform better when I hadn’t had any food. And I tested this out a bit and I found that I could actually do some fairly long distance runs in a fasted state. So when I was marathon training, I would do my runs early in the morning and I was getting up to 15, 16 miles and feeling absolutely fine. And that was even just with water, you know, not putting any carbohydrate gels or anything taken those on board. I don’t actually eat anything after my exercise because I’m generally finished that by 7 a.m., so that’s still really quite early and I actually like to fast for a minimum of 12 hours, preferably up to 16, depending on how I’m feeling. So I don’t actually usually eat any breakfast at all. I would usually wait until around midday before I actually eat any food.
Fasting has been a challenging thing to get used to going without food for prolonged period because we are in the mindset that, you know, you have to get up and have your breakfast. That’s what we’re taught as a child. However, what I found is that I feel just as hungry by midday, whether I’ve eaten anything or not. So even if I’ve had breakfast, I still feel the same hunger. So I think for me it’s made me realize that actually we don’t need the food immediately when we wake up and we can go for a prolonged period without it. And actually, I would say that my most productive time of the day in terms of doing work is in the morning when I’m in a fasted state and after I’ve had my mid-day meal, I actually feel a bit sleepy and a bit tired and I sort of lose that cognitive function.I can definitely see a difference.
I’m a scientist. I’ve done a PhD in molecular biology which led me down the route of drug development. So I actually worked in pharmaceutical drug development, looking at drugs that will slow our rate of cellular aging with the hope of improving healthspan. Now, I got really frustrated in that career because I found that a lot of molecules that actually had some really credible science behind them, those just simply weren’t interesting to drug companies because they weren’t patentable, so they couldn’t own them. There were things like supplements and natural ingredients. Therefore, I left that world and I founded a company called Nuchido. And the basic principle behind Nuchido is how can we take this incredible science that’s happening in the field of aging and actually translate it into products and services that people can use now? So actually things like supplements and topicals and lifestyle practices rather than waiting for very long winded drug development.
So my personal attitude towards aging is that it is something that absolutely can be slowed and even reversed. It shouldn’t be viewed as this natural, spiraling process of decline, which generally is what we are brought up to believe. And the reason that I have this viewpoint is because of the unique perspective I have being a scientist, where I’m continually exposed to information and data that shows that we really can slow the cellular process of aging, and it actually is possible. So I’ve seen firsthand how this can be done in cells, how it can be done in mammals, how it can be even done in human clinical trials that are happening now. And it’s all about actually educating people about this and teaching people how they can implement it in their own lives, and that aging doesn’t have to be this negative thing that we all experience that’s associated with illness and frailty.
My job as a scientist. I find it incredibly exciting because part of what I do is to actually look and research into things that people actually don’t know the answer to. So when we are doing experiments in the lab or we’re researching different topics, often we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. So whenever we see those results, that can often be the first time that we’ve ever or anybody has ever discovered something. And that’s incredibly exciting because of the implications that those discoveries can have on the world. You know, ultimately when we’re talking about things such as aging. So part of my job is still looking at experimental practices and how we actually design clinical trials and experiments and design the molecular formulations that go into our supplements. And then on the other side of my job, I see myself as an educator, somebody who is trying to bring this often complex science out to the world and explain it to laypeople who actually want to understand a little bit more and actually want to learn how they can implement this science into their own lives.
I think a lifestyle hack that I have actually developed over the years and through my research is actually learning about our own my own biology. So learning through some bloodwork and measuring different biomarkers, what sort of supplements and what sort of lifestyle practices are actually suitable for my individual biology? For example, I did some blood tests and found that my folate levels were always really low and I really didn’t understand why, because I thought I ate a healthy diet. It has folic acid in it. Why are they so low? When I actually looked at some of my genetics, because you can actually go and look at your genetic predisposition to certain things and different mutations that you might have in your genes. I found that I had a mutation in a gene that basically converts folic acid into folate. And what that meant is my body doesn’t do it as well. So I was deficient in folate. Now, folate deficiency can actually make you tired. So I thought, okay, I know that this is my biology and I know that I can actually fix it. So I was able to start supplementing with methyl folate and I completely got my folate levels back up. Got rid of that tiredness. But I would never have known that if I hadn’t kept track of my own blood and measured my own biomarkers.
I think I’m incredibly lucky in that at the end of the day, I don’t find it too difficult to switch off in terms of winding down for sleep. I have a have just a couple of rules. And one is that wherever I’m going to sleep, it has to be dark. So in the summer, I make sure I have blackout blinds and make sure I’ve got no light in the room. I also make sure the room is cold. I always have the heat turned off in the bedroom and the final thing is noise. I do not sleep well. If there’s any noise, I like it to be completely silent. So I always wear earplugs. And if I have those three things, I generally sleep very, very well. I measure my sleep on an Oura ring which measures sleep quality, and I generally see that I do achieve a good sleep quality. If I can follow these very simple three practices. I have quite a busy mind when I’m trying to go to sleep, but I’ve become very good at being able to turn it off. I can’t really describe it. I would just say I’ve become very good at almost compartmentalizing my day into one half of my brain and almost saying, Right, Nichola, that’s enough. Stop thinking over everything. It’s sleep time. Now click my fingers. Off I go to sleep.
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.