On this week’s episode we have a very special guest join to talk about the future of mental well-being and hygiene. Zak Williams - son of the entertainer Robin Williams - shares how his journey has influenced the creation of his company PYM. PYM creates natural supplements with science-backed amino acids, vitamins and minerals to boost neurotransmitter health, an often overlooked part of mental health.
Research in nutritional psychiatry is gaining momentum, with organizations like Harvard Medical School and Stanford exploring the link between metabolic health and mental well-being. Zak's team at PYM has become educators and advocates, emphasizing the importance of connecting data environments to understand lifestyle factors' impact on mental health.
Big thanks to Zak for joining the pod and sharing his story!
Transcript (this is an automated transcript):
MPD: Welcome, everybody. This is Mark Peter Davis, managing partner of Interplay. I'm on a mission to help entrepreneurs advance society, and this podcast is totally part of that effort. Today, we have a really special conversation with Zak Williams, the son of the entertainer Robin Williams. As all of you probably know, Robin Williams committed suicide a number of years ago, and that took a big toll on Zak.
Zak is an accomplished business executive in his own right. He's And has taken his skills and that experience and dedicated himself to promoting mental wellness and health. He has a lot of interesting perspective on it. But what he's ended up doing is focusing on the metabolic and nutritional component of mental health.
Something that's not often discussed. And he's created a company called PYM, P Y M, and they sell packaged products that give people a lot of the nutrients that Zak believes actually help people with mental health. It's a fascinating conversation. He's very brave and very real and very raw in this.
I'm personally inspired by him and his work. So I hope you enjoy it. And without further ado, let's jump in
Zak. Thanks for being on the show today.
Zak Williams: Thanks for having me, Mark. It's a pleasure to be here. Very cool. Let's
MPD: start at the top. Will you tell everyone about your company PIM?
Zak Williams: Sure. Yeah. I started PIM because I. Found nutrition for mental well being really helpful for me after my father who was the entertainer Robin Williams died by suicide and by now wife introduced me to nutritional solutions to help manage my anxiety and depression that I was experiencing in conjunction with the trauma and I was super skeptical at the time and was so impressed with the outcomes of nutritional solutions that helped me manage my anxiety within 2 days and my depression within 2 weeks and I wanted to create a brand that.
Stood for mental health advocacy like Starbucks stands for coffee or Patagonia stands for sustainability and I've become a mental health advocate over the past almost decade and through my journey, I realized that service is my path to happiness and to establish a brand that stands for advocacy and to help educate people around nutrition for mental being and Is the best thing ever.
I've really taking great pride and joy in this journey and helping educate folks,
MPD: When I first met you, I was struck and I think probably many people are by the things you're putting together, right? Mental health issues, mental wellness, like everyone's a lot of people are talking about it.
There's a lot of awareness. In a great way that probably I don't think was like, so it was socially stigmatized even 5 to 10 years ago, but I haven't heard anyone except for you talk about the nutritional component and that was like a total light bulb for me. I've not heard. This advocated in any material way, would you give us a rundown on how nutrition interacts with mental well being health, mental health, being
Zak Williams: words?
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. It'd be my pleasure. First off, I advocate for mental hygiene and what that relates to is. Not only nutrition, but fitness, mindfulness, things like meditation, community support, therapy, when and where available and so forth. And so nutrition is a component of the mosaic of mental hygiene.
And what it comes down to really is neurotransmitter health. What I learned about myself is that because of my diet and unfortunately, this is a case with the majority of Americans I was deficient in terms of managing the nutrition relating to my neurotransmitter health. The Western diet is.
Not supporting things like the serotonin environment, the catecholamine system, which is dopamine, norepinephrine adrenaline, things like that. And in addition to that, the GABA system are not generally well supported. And so if you're looking at things that support things like the GABA system, it's fermented foods.
We don't eat a ton of fermented foods, kimchi, things like sauerkraut, pickles, so forth. In other parts of the world, you find a diet that is rich in fermented foods and so forth. Things like probiotics, a specific subclass, psychobiotics are really helpful for Managing the gut brain connection and supporting serotonin synthesis, things like that.
And and so when I started learning more about the nutritional elements of managing neurotransmitter health, I realized that things that weren't working well for me, for example, cannabinoids, I have a gene that. It makes me quite sensitive to cannabis. It was not helping anxiety at all. Certainly didn't help depression and so forth.
So had to rule that out. Pharmaceuticals were making me personally feel numb and disconnected. They're very helpful for some people. But in my case, not helpful at all. And so I had to re I, I came to the realization that there was a set of things that I could apply to my diet that were very helpful.
And we just. Basically created for for folks concentrated nutrition, we're technically in the supplements class, but I see it as concentrated nutrition. It's just a way of reframing things.
MPD: That's awesome. Has anyone studied any of this stuff? I feel like most, Eastern medicine concepts just doesn't get funded for real research in the US.
And so we don't fully understand. What works? What doesn't?
Zak Williams: Yeah. So I think that on this. Yes. Historically, there was a lot of research done up until about the mid nineties in the U. S. And then through the commercialization of things like Prozac, there was a shift towards pharmaceutical interventions.
Research from that point on was primarily done in places like Germany and Japan and only in the past decade has research kicked back up in the U. S. And so places like Harvard Medical School, where there's the nutritional psychiatry center run by Dr Uman to do are focusing on nutritional.
Fortunately, there's places like Stanford where you have a focus on metabolic health. There's the metabolic psychiatry center, which is run by Dr. Sethi. If you're talking about nutrition, there's a major metabolic component. And if we're talking about an underlying issue with the mental health epidemic, it.
Also relates to a metabolic health epidemic, whereby 60 percent of American adults are either prediabetic or diabetic and the issue with that is if you're prediabetic or diabetic. What's going to happen is anxiety, depression, things like that is an associated comorbidity with that. There is an uptick in research, but we're in the early innings of where we can go.
Lifestyle interventions are shown to be very supportive and helpful to prevent things like crisis and also. Manage things like serious mental illness or a class of mental health issues called CMD, which is common mental disorders, moderate anxiety, things like moderate depression and so forth are in that class.
This is not clinically resistant depression. Which would be, there are more intense interventions relating to that. Nutrition can't solve everything. It's just primarily very helpful for providing a foundational support modality.
MPD: Zak, when we first talked about this I think I got off the call.
And was struck by a level of bravery that you have in pursuing this particular venture. Your opening pitch, your explanation for why you do this associates with your dad's suicide. And you have to, in order to tell this story, say that opening line every time. I think, it got me thinking about Michael Phelps, other people who have played in the mental health space.
And have championed it and the bravery that goes with it, because I feel like to get the word out, they have to, it feels to me as an outsider, like you have to reopen the wound every day. Has this been cathartic, painful? Is there some healing, going out and doing this? Does this... Does this help?
Zak Williams: My whole mantra is service is my path to happiness. And so in delving into these issues and being vulnerable, it's part of my healing process. And so what I've found personally is that, yes, it's challenging to go through, but it's providing a level of support that I didn't think was possible.
And through this journey, what I found with being vulnerable is that I'm able to connect with people in a unique way and learn more about myself through this process and, relating to my ultimate mission. I want to create a world where in my kids live free of stigma and to get to that point.
is challenging, but propels me forward every day. I have a four year old boy named Mickey and a two year old girl named Zola. And I don't want them to grow up in a world where they feel isolated, disconnected, and only feel like they get the support when they're in crisis. We need to establish daily solutions and that's the thing I refer to as mental hygiene.
MPD: appreciate that. Who are the most affected populations when you think about, mental health and wellness? Who's your focus? Who's getting hit the hardest these days?
Zak Williams: Pardon me. I apologize. Giving an example of where we're at in terms of comprehensive support 93 percent of. The American public don't have access to therapy.
It's unaffordable for 93 percent of folks. That's insane. So if you're looking at where the solutions lie, it's really 93 percent of people in need of. Of lifestyle interventions, right? And, even for the 7 percent of people who get therapy, that's not necessarily helpful in every case. For some people, it's decisively effective for other people.
They might not have the right therapist. They might be, seeking in network solutions and so forth. And that might not be the. The right path. Do we
MPD: have good measures for mental wellness and health in, in society. I feel like it's a, it's still in this category of an amorphous problem.
We all know it's a real thing. I don't think there's a lot of debate on that. When you look at like heart disease, we get, the arguments are thrown at us with stats, right? And it feels like this is a sleeping giant where, like you're saying, 93 percent of people probably aren't even bothering to get any sort of evaluation.
Are there any KPIs out there? Anything we're doing? Are there mobile apps? How do we bring this more to the fore?
Zak Williams: Yes, there are measures. Of, there's a diagnostic environment that helps us understand where we're challenged in our mental health, right? There are measures like heart rate variability which is 1 measure of.
Of general mental health state in conjunction with that sleep status, there's companies like aura that do a phenomenal job and measuring sleep. And, they have beyond your sleep score readiness score, and that relates to things like REM sleep and so forth. That is helpful because there's a strong correlation with lack of sleep and mental health dysregulation also metabolomics.
Are helpful, but, small subset of the population are actually understanding their metabolic environment again with that 60 percent number. If you're pre diabetic or diabetic anxiety and depression are comorbidity associated with it. We really need to start linking metabolic health with mental health.
And in conjunction with that, there's things like neurotransmitter testing. Unfortunately, it's in its infancy to get a true neurotransmitter reading, you'd have to do a spinal tap and let's not be in the watcher. It's not going to happen. Yeah. And you can do things like your analysis and so forth, but that's very much related to your metabolic health and so getting a reading of your general levels through urine or blood essays is not, you would need several readings to establish a baseline relating to your personal wellbeing.
It needs to be tied to actual mental health surveys to actually understand how your environment, your neurotransmitter environment, pardon me, your neurotransmitter environment is actually relating to your mental health and so forth. So it's complex and there's there are certainly opportunities, I would say.
We need to establish a more robust diagnostic environment to really get to the level of understanding how those diagnostics could be directly linked with interventions.
MPD: Now, one thing I bet you it's not, I'm making an assumption that I know the answer to this based on the way you're describing it, but I bet you is probably not a well understood thing and.
Is why your point is probably striking the idea that metabolic health, we're talking about obesity, blood sugar, blood glucose levels being off all of this stuff, right? Being tied to anxiety and depression is the anxiety and depression a correlation. Meaning people who are anxious or depressed are more likely to have the wrong diet or people who have the wrong diet are more likely to becoming anxiety and depressed about that, or is it causation the actual hormone levels, the regulatory systems in the body when it's out of sorts actually leads to these mental states.
Zak Williams: Yeah, great question. It's an excellent question. I'd hazard to say it's causation because of folks lack of awareness around their metabolic health. And that's
MPD: a big connection. If that can be made.
Zak Williams: Yeah, I would say we need to establish more studies around it specifically. There, there are studies being done by, for example, Dr.
Chris Palmer at Harvard Medical School. He's at Mass General. Oh, pardon me, at, yes, he's at Mass General. Who's establishing studies to establish to make that link? But but we need to do more research around it, specifically.
MPD: Are you going to write a book on this? Because I feel like this is going to become one of those books.
I just read Breath. I don't know if you've read that, about how we're breathing. Worth It talks about evolutionary the way we consume food, actually has changed our jaw structure, our sinus structures, all of our snoring, sleep apnea. He makes a pretty good argument that a lot of it's actually tied back to the...
The fact that we process foods and our jaws don't change shape when we're kids. And so it's who knew? And he goes back and looks at skulls straight and just go, but there's these books that come out that I think make their rounds through the community of health nuts like myself. I'd love to pick up a book.
So is someone writing it? Are you going to once we get this out? Yeah. And get it baked a little bit. Yeah. So
Zak Williams: the folks, the person I just mentioned, Dr. Chris Palmer just wrote a book around it called, Oh, what's the name of the book? We'll link to brain
MPD: energy, brain energy. Okay,
Zak Williams: great. Yeah. Thank you. And that book is about the metabolic link.
Oh, very cool. I'll read that. Thank you. Yeah. It's a start. The thing is that it's not reached mass zeitgeist at this point, and we really need to get to the point where folks start understanding that there's a metabolic connection. Because we can help with the diet. Ideally, we'd want to start establishing solutions.
With our company, PAM, I'd say, we're very much, we're not focused on personalization. We're very focused on retail solutions. But that's
MPD: a really strong start, right? It's yeah, eating something that gets you your baseline nutrients that you need.
Zak Williams: Yeah. But from a personalization standpoint there are great companies like Virta Health that are focused on reversing things like diabetes through diet.
The thing is, if you reverse diabetes or a pre diabetic state, you're going to have a better time in general. There's a major connection between metabolic health and mental health, as we've previously discussed. And there... Is an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs to focus on that?
MPD: What are the blockers in the space?
Maybe another way to ask this is if you were king, what would you change?
Zak Williams: Okay. So I'm a systems based mental health advocate. So I'm going to, I'm going to abstract the data environment. Is in need of more connections, so payer systems, the public sector companies need to be sharing data, connecting data for talking about the digitalization of health care records were at, and this is in accordance with.
Oracles data. We're at about 40 percent of digitalization and we need to start under, we need to start connecting how, pardon me, we need to start connecting how people's mental health relates to what they're doing in their lifestyle, what they're eating, how they're sleeping, their fitness level, what they're doing on a day to day basis in terms of, things like, Okay.
Breathwork meditation, I'd say that's a, an added plus the breathwork and meditation side of things, but a direct connection to diet and mental health and dysregulation is is from a data perspective in its early stages. So we need to tie data environments together.
It needs to be connected with. Things folks are doing. And and also we need to establish ways in which we can engage people upstream prior to them being in crisis.
MPD: Appreciate that. This has gotta be an interesting journey, right? Building this company and there's a lot of mission-driven companies out there, but only a certain number of them hit like mainstream, understood challenges.
What have you learned from running this company? Anything surprise you?
Zak Williams: Yeah, I never set out to create a consumer goods company and, most stages of my career. For me, the thing that was most pronounced is we've ended up recruiting a team that are, that's focused around education and advocacy.
And we've become educators and advocates. As a moat, I sit down with nutritional experts at our retail partners and so forth and talk to them and their mind is blown around how supportive nutrition can being. And these are experts. And so the thing is that there's just a lack of awareness and education and our team has just got super has become super excited around.
Educating folks. And so We've become a content and education company and lockstep with delivering supportive consumer goods
MPD: What does the industry need you're out solving this part of it? What should entrepreneurs be doing would be people who could look at this space. What do you want them to do to come in and help?
Zak Williams: Folks need to be tripling down on research Really it's challenging because already running a consumer goods company is very hard and then, allocating resources to research and double blind randomized studies and things like that is, is often last thing folks want to additionally allocate capital to, but it's needed and required.
And for us it's a necessity we need to establish more research backed. Physical goods companies,
MPD: I know in the beginning of this conversation, we talked, we covered kind of the cute thing with your dad that got you on this path where there was this kind of always a journey for you, where you always thinking kind of mental health was a topic, anything else that shaped your trajectory?
Zak Williams: I have a consumer tech background. I started my career at electronic arts. I was at Conde Nast prior to starting PIM. I was the chief operating officer of crossing lines. The. Artificial intelligence company and and I never set out to be a mental health advocate and entrepreneur. The thing for me is I started realizing that my personal experience with stigma was preventing me from achieving everything I wanted in life.
Yeah, in part, which is. Happiness, but also a sense of personal security and self esteem and so forth and in becoming a mental health advocate, it's become very clear that this mission oriented approach is making me and folks like me, for lack of a better word, unstoppable. We just.
Need to be doing what we're doing through any means. And so I just happened to be focusing on the private sector. There are folks in the nonprofit sector in the public sector and so forth that are establishing incredible forms of impact and making a major difference. But, I have an MBA and I've spent the better part of 20 years focused on, on Establishing a difference in the private sector.
So that's how I know how to make a difference. There are folks with MBAs who do incredible things in the public sector and nonprofit sector. But for me, that's how I know to be effective is taking my experience and establishing a systems based strategy to make a difference.
MPD: This very sincerely.
Thank you for your bravery. And taking this journey. It's awesome. And thanks for joining us today and
Zak Williams: sharing this. Thank you, Mark. I deeply appreciate having the opportunity to speak with you.
MPD: I don't think there's a lot I need to say after that one. Huge thanks to Zak for coming in and taking up this mantle because it would have been probably a lot easier to not. have to think about these challenges or face this every day. He's very brave and strong. I like what he's doing. We were all wishing him the best of luck and success.
Definitely check out his products in the store. You're voting with your dollars to support him and the mission. And I hope you enjoy the show.