I think strong mental health and social belonging are incredibly important for one’s overall joy and purpose. As humans, we are social beings that thrive with interaction, and this directly impacts our happiness and longevity.
The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sunny Jain.
Sunny Jain is the founder and CEO of Sun Genomics. He was inspired to create Floré after personally experiencing the need for efficacious probiotics in the marketplace. When doctors were unable to accurately diagnose or treat his infant son’s gut health issues, Jain took matters into his own hands. He founded Sun Genomics in 2016 to help change the lives of those who suffer from gut health issues and has since launched three assays in the field of probiotic testing. He previously worked at Illumina, where he helped establish the Illumina Clinical Services Laboratory and subsequently sequenced the first whole human genome in a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited lab. Prior to Illumina, Jain worked for Labcorp in the molecular oncology laboratory. Jain has 21 years of molecular and microbiology research experience and has been involved in setting up and running various clinical molecular testing laboratories.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I grew up in rural Iowa with a mother who encouraged creative thinking and a strong sense of community through cultural and social events. We understood that improving processes and finding better ways to approach challenges were fundamental especially with technology; We were constantly surrounded by tech, and my brother and I would find “hacks” to increase the capacity and speed of our toys. As I got older, this passion for figuring things out evolved into my personal health goals and desire to be in tune with my unique biochemistry. I noticed how different exercises and foods impacted me differently than my friends and thought there might be something to that on a molecular level: that our microbiome was as unique as our fingerprints.
My interest in biochemistry continued through high school as an academic decathlon member on the biotechnology team and my first lab job in college was washing dishes and pouring petri dishes. My senior year I started work in the Engelhardt lab and gained invaluable experience and knowledge in the field of molecular biology: in their graduate program I had the opportunity to work in several cutting-edge fields including HIV and AAV viruses. Additionally, I further studied the connection between genetics and human health and began a career in the field before officially starting Sun Genomics.
The impetus of creating Sun Genomics centered around my struggle to solve my young son’s gut health issues with generic probiotics from the shelves. This was an alarming feeling as a first-time dad, and I now know this lack of knowledge about our microbiome (and especially the microflora of young kids, toddlers and babies) is all too common for parents dealing with their children’s health. So, I set out on a mission to create a custom probiotic that worked specifically for my son by testing his unique gut microflora. From there, and many advancements along the way, Floré was born, which aims to do the same for the hundreds of millions of people who suffer from gut health and intestinal issues worldwide. Since beginning Sun Genomics and Flore and the scientific evidence the research has delivered, it has become even more clear how many health issues can be prevented or solved as early as infancy by way of the gut microbiome.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In 2016, we had an ‘Aha!’ moment regarding the importance of gut health and intestinal microflora. The resulting question was, “How do we get people to pay attention to this?”. At the time, it was a very small field and lacked the attention and professional research that now centers around gut health today. We started very small — pitch by pitch — and every time we would connect with investors and win competitions, we would engage that specific audience and saw word start to spread.
Now, we’ve seen groundbreaking changes in our patients that were once completely unexpected. One patient, a Muay Thai fighter, changed their life dramatically just by informing themselves about their microbiome and healing their gut with custom probiotics based on their individual DNA. It’s encouraging when our product can make a real difference in people’s health and lives overall, and we love to see their stories told on platforms like Trustpilot Reviews where you can search flore.com and realize the level of impact we have directly from happy consumers. From, “Floré is exceptional and so is the team at Sun Genomics,” to “thank you for giving me my life back!!!” — these testimonials are how we define success and what motivates us to deliver more insights and offer more options to help people get on the path to optimum gut health. Some participants have even shared experiences of their children who have autism spectrum disorder going from nonverbal to verbal, attributing this leap in communication to our personalized probiotics. In fact, exploring this connection deeper and understanding the mechanisms by which gut microbiota may influence neurobiology is on our continuous radar.
With more and more research, patient stories and clinical trials being conducted in the industry and the resulting mountains of data we have available, we start to see a snowball effect. And that’s how we’ve gotten momentum — you can’t ignore all these people’s journeys and real experiences. You can’t ignore the science. We started the company just focusing primarily on infant and toddler gut health, but we’ve now seen that grow to all ages and walks of life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am incredibly grateful for Mike Krenn of Connect and the San Diego Venture Group, who has helped guide me through this entrepreneurial journey. He highlighted our early work at an event in 2016 and has been a consistent mentor and inspiration for me as we aim to revolutionize the precision nutrition sector. On a similar note, I feel fortunate to be based in San Diego, a major hub for biotechnology and where it’s realistic for entrepreneurs to create their own business. We belong to an ecosystem of likeminded individuals and opportunities to build community and support one another, and groups like Connect help us do that.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Grit, hustle and humility are the three traits that have been most instrumental to my success. Grit speaks to the ability to learn how to sail with a headwind rather than a tailwind and adjust accordingly along the way. Going into an entrepreneurial journey, you have to know that you’re going to face difficult times. Its important keep focused and to be prepared for those difficult times amidst the good times and know when to sprint and when you have to slog.
Additionally, humility is critical because it’s important to be able to listen and take guidance from others, whether that’s from a new employee or a senior executive.
Lastly, you’ve got to hustle and show up. Everything you do creates another node of activity and awareness that feeds back into your brand. As an entrepreneur, I’ve seen how crucial this is because you never know who you could meet or the impact you could make on the day you just show up.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
We’ve been able to rally an amazing team and ecosystem surrounding gut health. In 2016, people believed either your gut microbiome changed every minute, or it was a fingerprint that could never be changed. I think we were the first ones to demonstrate that there is truth in both — the gut microbiome has a stable component, but it also has a variable component impacted by diet and precision supplements like Floré. You are in charge of your own gut health, and we were one of the first groups to bring awareness to this and offer consumers a solution.
Additionally, we’ve discovered that you can avoid various chronic conditions through interventions to your gut and whole-genome methods. We helped bring this ideation to the field early on, which helped us gain awareness and recognition.
Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.
On a personal level, this experience has given me the knowledge and expertise I need to help my kids and the rest of my family maintain a healthy gut throughout their lifetime. This is critically important to me in all facets of my life — as a dad, husband, scientist, entrepreneur and more. We’ve built something here that has the potential to change so many lives.
When it comes to my own health, I’ve faced instances of diverticulitis and gastrointestinal infection where the solution proposed to me by a medical professional was to remove parts of my intestinal tract. Knowing what I know about the gut microbiome, I knew there had to be better options.
As it turns out, taking antibiotics helped get rid of the pathogens that were in my gastrointestinal system. Once recovered, I used a path of custom probiotics to rebuild the good bacteria in my microbiome, and I was able to avoid the proposed surgery altogether. This was four years ago, and my system is now healthier than ever. Today, I’ve implemented various changes to help keep my gut microbiome balanced and healthy — all because of what I learned from this experience. The mix of fear and desire for more knowledge is what motivated me to get myself and my family to where we are now.
Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)
#1: A Healthy Gut Microbiome: There is research to support the fact that nearly every chronic condition has a connection to the gut microbiome. Proper nutrition and a customized probiotic are key to regulating your gut and helping you feel your best.
#2: Feedback Loops: Utilize digital health trackers, test your biomarkers periodically and perform routine checkups. Testing is critical to longevity to make sure those values don’t stray or to catch it in a timely fashion when they do.
#3: Exercise: There are just as many publications that show the importance of the microbiome’s impact on health as that of exercise. Muscle tension, strength and retention as you age are all critical. It’s important to find a form of exercise that keeps you motivated, and consistency is key to experiencing the long-term effects. Personally, I’ve found tennis to be my favorite, as it simultaneously helps with longevity (there are even studies showing that playing tennis can add nearly 10 years to your lifespan!)
#4: Mental Health and Wellness: To me, this doesn’t simply mean being mentally strong or absent from disease but choosing to actively do things to improve your mental health. This includes meditation, proper sleep and more. These seemingly minor practices are the building blocks for a successful mental health routine as you age.
#5: Metabolic and Mitochondrial Health: Researchers are beginning to look at the cellular level to determine how healthy you are. This is an emerging space but as technology improves, we can understand both more clearly, as well as how they impact overall health and longevity.
Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?
I think strong mental health and social belonging are incredibly important for one’s overall joy and purpose. As humans, we are social beings that thrive with interaction, and this directly impacts our happiness and longevity. Additionally, consistent and positive social engagement with our networks (family, friends, pets, etc.) has a lasting effect on us both mentally and physiologically. Focusing on our “healthspan” and not just our lifespan is a slightly different goal than just living as long as possible: you want to be able to function and enjoy life as much as you want to stay around as long as you can.
Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?
Solely looking at genetics and DNA won’t give us a clear picture of how long we’ll live, and there are challenges with predicting longevity. I believe there are many other biological markers that are better indicators of how our body is staying healthy over our lifetime. Even with those, there are various external and environmental factors that also make an impact, which often fall on the nurture side. This includes things like upbringing and parental habits, air pollution and heavy metal contamination, which should all be taken into consideration when determining longevity. To me, nature and nurture aren’t mutually exclusive, and we must place value on both when it comes to overall wellbeing.
Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?
Having experienced my own fair share of health concerns — specifically related to my gastrointestinal system — learning the importance of the gut microbiome in addressing those issues and how they correspond to my larger wellbeing has been incredibly influential. At Sun Genomics, we have a special knowledge of the microbiome that we want to share with others so that they can live a long and high-quality life, starting with a healthy gut.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Nothing great can ever be accomplished without collaboration.” I believe this to be true especially as it pertains to the microbiome and precision nutrition industry. No one person is going to unlock the truth; it takes collaborative effort of engineers, scientists and business folks to begin to open this up and see a new landscape of potential.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We have started and found ourselves at the heart of a powerful movement — gut health. We remain committed to our mission to make the microbiome the standard of care. We want to foster transparency throughout the healthcare system and expand people’s knowledge of preventative health strategies, so no one must face a difficult health issue and think, “How did this happen to me, where do I go from here?” We want to fully uncover the truth of what the microbiome is telling us — they say that the most powerful intuition stems from your gut! We advise following that, and our mission is to continue to educate as many people as possible along the way, so that as many people as possible can live their best lives starting with their guts.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Readers can follow us on social media @SunGenomics and find out more about our products at www.flore.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!