A Conversation with Dr. Pamela Peeke
Dr. Peeke with her two German Shepards
Dr. Pamela Peeke is a nationally renowned physician, scientist, expert and thought leader in the fields of integrative and preventive medicine. In addition to writing three New York Times bestselling books, hosting a popular women’s health and wellness podcast, and being a celebrated TEDx speaker, Dr. Peeke is an avid triathlete, outdoors person, and dog lover. In June, she joined the team at Embr Labs as Chief Medical Officer [CMO]. I connected with her virtually to talk about her background, her work at Embr and her role as CMO, thermal wellness, and what she’s doing to stay well right now.
Tell me a little bit about your background, how did you get involved doing work with women’s health?
My background involves my work as a physician as well as an academic, meaning I'm a researcher and a scientist and one of my real interests is women's health care.
I spent a large number of years at the National Institute of Health, and in my laboratory, we looked at issues that involved stress hormones and stress physiology and what they really do to the human body. While I was there, the very first and only woman thus far to ever be the director of the National Institute of Health, Bernadine Healy, entered the scene and she made it very clear that the public is missing critical data on women's health and women's medical issues because women simply have not been included in most clinical trials. So, from that moment on, Bernadine codified a rule that if researchers don’t include women in trials when requesting NIH funding, or if an internal study is being run on the campus of the NIH, you better have very good justification for omitting women from your study.
I was so happy when this happened because I knew that there was so much data that we still needed to have to enhance our own knowledge about so many aspects of women's health and certainly their hormonal journey through life: you don’t have a period and then you do. Then a woman can become pregnant and then she goes through perimenopause, which can go on for at least ten years. And then there's post menopause - and it goes on and on. Where's all the information? So you see, thinking back on my years at the NIH and now as a faculty member at the University of Maryland, one of the things I've been excited about seeing is the fact that now we're opening up the horizons and making certain that women are included in studies.
So how did you end up working with Embr Labs?
I’m not just from the science side of things; I come also from the finance world, from Wall Street, where I have been an adviser to finance in biotechnology. And so I'm always looking for really interesting innovation within biotech.
I host a popular podcast called “HER” and when a friend told me about Embr, I was like “wow, this wearable really would make a great podcast episode” because I know so many of my podcast listeners would find it helpful.
So I reached out to Embr and started talking to Liz [Elizabeth Gazda, CEO of Embr Labs] and one thing led to another, and after I learned that Embr didn’t yet have a Chief Medical Officer, Liz asked me to come on board.
I was so surprised because I had called just asking for an interview for my show, and now we were in a totally different place. But I sat with it and I said to myself, you know, all my life this has happened to me. Adventures just fall in your lap when you just put it out there and you just never know what's going to happen. So I thought to myself, I know I have so many things going on. I've got so many hats I wear. But there's room enough for this because this, I think, would be quite compelling because it allows me to wear both my business hat as well as my medical and biotech hat.
I have to give it to Liz for having the creativity to come up with that one, because, boy, I'll tell you that this is definitely a unique experience and an adventure. And I am very blessed and grateful that actually happened because now I get a chance to work with the Embr community.
So what was it about thermal wellness or the potential therapeutic uses of temperature that were interesting to you?
As a researcher and physician, I discovered that thermal wellness was an unexplored thing. It's almost something that no one else has really brought up in a big way, unless you had some really, you know, extreme medical issue. For instance, we know that people have spinal cord injuries, have a lot of thermoregulatory dysfunction because you just disrupted some pretty major neuronal circuits.
So I just found it to be incredibly interesting, novel, and maverick. And I just thought that this was a place that could also help many people. So as the Chief Medical Officer, I've been looking for all kinds of interesting medical conditions that could really benefit from thermal wellness.
For example, dysautonomia [a medical condition describing the malfunction of the autonomic nervous system that can create thermoregulatory problems] is a monster.
What is the mechanism of action for our thermal regulatory device? We have skin thermal receptors and they communicate with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, which also controls things like our heart rate. So that's why we feel we perceive a sense of either cool or warmth based upon whatever we turned on with the device.
Dr. Peeke during her hike of the Grand Canyon
Can you go a little more into your role at Embr Labs? What does the work of a Chief Medical Officer look like?
One of my duties is to create clinical trials that we originate so that they can be done internally within the organization to pilot and test particular themes that we're investigating. I also help facilitate external collaborations with other entities, where we support their research financially and with whatever resources are necessary, including providing the devices.
So, for instance, at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, we went ahead and collaborated with Dr. Heather Hirsch, and she is now utilizing our devices in a study of natural menopause [menopause with no hormonal treatments]. We’re going to be investigating how this affects their base of motor symptoms. And so that's really neat.
My other hat also includes working on larger partnerships with other organizations and companies. It could be a pharmaceutical company now looking to potentially work with us on digital therapeutics. And I’ve linked up [Embr Labs] with the NAMS [North American Menopause Society] International Organization, and we're going to be looking at potential research collaborations around the country, potentially around the world, with researchers and investigators interested in looking at thermoregulation.
I help with just integrating a lot of the other divisions within the company as we push forth with initiatives that are collaborative within the company for a more systematic approach.
On a more personal note, what have been your strategies for committing to wellness practices over these last few months?
My go-to at all times is my famous 3 M’s: Mind, Mouth, and Muscle.
For "mind," I always check in with myself. It’s sort of code for having my own kind of meditating and reflecting and going to a place of stillness. I tend to be an outdoor person, which moves me to the “muscle” part. I find nature to be both mind and body. I have my two beloved German shepherds, and so I take my canines out as many times a day as I can. I live in a beautiful sort of a bucolic, countryish kind of setting. So we're out in the green all the time. And I'm enjoying just being connected to nature. And that's where I find so much as it were, mind, body fitness, mental and physical fitness, and spiritual fitness.
For “mouth,” I much prefer eating whole foods and really tend to skew more toward a plant-based diet, although I'm more of a flexitarian so I'll flex. But more often than not, things are looking pretty green. You know, it all comes together with an integrative platform that just works for me. Plenty of room for treats, plenty of room for play, mentally, physically, otherwise. That’s the way I like to roll.
A lot of it is about getting outside for me, though. I'll be taking a call and you could hear, you know, my dogs panting behind me because I’m taking a walk. I like getting a little something done out there when I'm not just absorbing the stillness and the happiness of being in nature.
I do a lot of my best thinking when I’m walking, too.
Oh yeah. I just gifted myself with a small rebounder — that's another word for trampoline — and it is the best. I'm waiting for my desk riser to arrive, which should be in another couple of days, and then I'm literally going to put the trampoline underneath so I can always have like the soft, wonderful place where I can kind of flex and move around because I seem to be on quite a few of these little Zoom meetings now. There you have it, right, and you just get creative about continuing to celebrate the fact that you can move your body.